Democratic Senate hopeful Paul Sadler is a strong candidate with limited resources. Where have I heard that before?
In Victoria on a recent Saturday afternoon, the candidate for the U.S. Senate had the crowd on its feet, the shouts and applause washing over the meeting room like waves on the nearby Gulf. As he wrapped up his 15-minute jeremiad warning of the havoc his opponent would wreak on the Lone Star State and, as he began making his way to the back of the room, shaking hands and posing for photos along the way, an older woman in a red pantsuit sought to recapture the crowd’s attention.
“This campaign costs money,” she shouted into the microphone several times, but only those within a few feet of her were listening. One of them eventually doffed his straw hat, which became a makeshift collection basket for a statewide campaign tossing nickels and dimes at an opponent awash in money and nationwide ardor.
The Victoria experience represents the Paul Sadler campaign in miniature. Little-known statewide and underfunded, the lawyer and former state representative from Henderson is a capable campaigner, an experienced lawmaker and a credible candidate for a party desperately in need of new faces and arresting ideas.
Sadler’s problem, of course, is that his GOP opponent, tea party darling Ted Cruz, has been all but anointed the successor to retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Cruz has money, star power and the overwhelming advantage of being a Republican in the most fervid of red states. In last month’s Senate runoffs, 1.1 million Texas Republicans cast a ballot, compared to 235,000 Democrats.
I’m going to begin by going off on a tangent here. I don’t know exactly how one defines fervidness in this context, but at least by 2008 results, Texas isn’t the reddest of red states. It’s not even in the top half, if one uses margin of victory as the metric. Here are the 2008 results by state. I’ve helpfully plucked out the states carried by John McCain and sorted them by margin of victory below:
State Obama McCain Margin ================================= Wyoming 32.54 64.78 32.24 Oklahoma 34.35 65.65 31.29 Utah 34.22 62.24 28.02 Idaho 35.91 61.21 25.30 Alabama 38.74 60.32 21.58 Alaska 37.89 59.42 21.54 Arkansas 38.86 58.72 19.85 Louisiana 39.93 58.86 18.63 Kentuky 41.15 57.37 16.22 Tennessee 41.79 56.85 15.06 Nebraska 41.60 56.53 14.93 Kansas 41.55 57.37 14.92 Mississippi 43.00 56.17 13.17 W Virginia 42.51 55.60 13.09 Texas 43.63 55.39 11.76 S Carolina 44.90 53.87 8.98 N Dakota 44.50 53.15 8.65 Arizona 44.91 53.39 8.48 S Dakota 44.75 53.16 8.41 Georgia 46.90 52.10 5.20 Montana 47.11 49.49 2.38 Missouri 49.23 49.36 0.13
Fourteen states were redder than Texas in 2008. Even in 2004, when George W. Bush was running for re-election and beat John Kerry by 22 points here, Texas was only the tenth-reddest state. Now I admit that even an 11.76 point margin is still daunting, and if you go by vote margin instead of percentage margin Texas was indeed the reddest state in 2008 – McCain got 950,000 more votes than Obama; only Oklahoma and Alabama had margins greater than 450,000 – but that’s a function of population, not popularity. I mean, Alabama and Oklahoma had barely more total votes for both candidates combined than Texas had for just Obama. If fervidness is a synonym for intensity, then Texas was at best #15 for the GOP in the last Presidential election.
But numbers are one thing, perception is another, and the perception that Texas is as red as it gets is a big factor working against candidates like Sadler and other Democratic statewides. Fundraising is obviously affected by this – it’s one thing to give to an underdog, another to a hopeless cause. I believe Sadler is the former, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is by cohosting a fundraiser for him on Monday, September 24 at the Continental Club. There obviously isn’t much time for fundraising at this point, and I don’t even know what a realistic target that can make a meaningful difference might be, but I do believe a difference can be made. If you think so as well, come out and help the cause and meet the candidate on the 24th at the Continental Club. Thanks very much.