Some day, the national Democratic Party will make an investment in Texas rather than just use us as a glorified ATM. Just don’t ask me when that day will be.
Texans have become accustomed to occupying the nosebleed seats at the Democratic National Convention, extras in a production that favors states that are solidly blue or liable to swing that way. But this year, even the most cynical Texas Democrats say they sense a tangible shift — a feeling that that they’re being positioned to be closer to the front row.
There was the selection of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, an ambitious young Latino with deep Texas roots, to give the convention’s Tuesday night keynote speech.
There’s the palpable energy behind several up-and-coming Texas Democrats running in key congressional races, a couple of them competitive enough to draw out-of-state dollars.
And there’s the sense, especially among longtime Democratic operatives, that there’s a new sheriff in town — a Texas Democratic Party chairman who has no qualms about asking the national party organization to make a serious investment in Texas, or else stop monopolizing the state’s biggest Democratic donors.
“I don’t want to overstate this,” Austin-based Democratic consultant Harold Cook said. “But they are suddenly showing some fight, some signs of life, which is a lot better than a quiet, sleepy little party.”
“The Texas Democratic Party has always strained to not complain about the extent to which the national party takes more than it returns,” said Jim Henson, a University of Texas political science professor and Texas Tribune pollster.
No longer. Party insiders say they’ve reached a breaking point: They can’t sit by, losing “winnable” local races for lack of funding while they watch Texas donors fill national coffers. Former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, who took the helm at the TDP this summer, said his goal at the national convention is to “impress upon the leadership that Texas could be blue if we just got a little lovin’ from the national party.”
“Texas is the only state in the union that is majority-minority but doesn’t have a Democratic statewide elected official,” he said. “That’s something that needs to be talked about.”
I consider this to be a sort of companion piece to that story about Paul Sadler, because they both boil down to the same thing. No one thinks Texas is ready to be competitive for Democrats at the statewide level, so nobody is willing to fund statewide candidates. Bill White in 2010 was the first adequately funded statewide Democrat since 2002, and he picked the wrong year to run. But the lack of funding makes being competitive at a statewide level that much less likely and more difficult. I have no idea how Paul Sadler plus ten or fifteen million dollars would be polling against Ted Cruz right now, but I’ll bet it would be closer than people think. I often think Texas will go blue in a downballot race or two before anyone believes it could. This was the case in Harris County in 2006, when Jim Sharp carried the county in his race for the 1st Court of Appeals, and Mary Kay Green – who had a majority of the vote on Election Day – missed being elected to a Family Court bench by 7000 votes out of 550,000 cast. It wouldn’t have taken much to swing that one race and change everybody’s perception going into 2008, but it wasn’t seen as possible. But demographic change and a depressed year for turnout nearly made it happen. You just never know.
My point is simply this. We don’t know what the competitive landscape would look like in a state where the two parties were closer to financial parity. Dems did very well in legislative races in 2006 and 2008, and even did pretty well in 2004, netting a seat in an otherwise pretty red year. In those races they did have the funds to go toe to toe. Doing so at the state level is obviously a tall order, but we won’t know till we try. Unless we find out in a year where we’re not expecting it, of course. I’d rather be prepared for success than find it accidentally. The Democrats here are ready. When will the national party do its part?