Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Adrian Ocegueda

What about Royce?

Gromer Jeffers examines the question of whether State Sen. Royce West will jump into the Democratic primary for US Senate in 2020.

Sen. Royce West

For several months, there’s been speculation that Democrats, against the wishes of some party leaders and donors, will have a competitive contest for the party’s Senate nomination.

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, the Democratic Party’s 2006 nominee for governor, is considering running. Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards is also contemplating a campaign, according to numerous Democrats.

Three mostly lesser-known Democrats are already running: Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

But the most intriguing potential candidate is state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who has contemplated statewide campaigns before. He’s now weighing running for his party’s Senate nomination.

West has not spoken publicly about his plans and has shrugged off questions about the timing of his decision. But he’s been making the rounds in party circles, getting pledges from colleagues in the Legislature and testing whether he can raise the money needed not only to get past [[MJ] Hegar, but also beat Cornyn.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said West and Edwards would be formidable opponents for Hegar because they have strong Democratic vote bases in Dallas and Houston. Jones added that West is more of a centrist, which would help him against Cornyn.

The prospect of a contested Senate primary signals that Democrats are entering a new era in Texas politics. They don’t have to find sacrificial lambs to fill out candidate slates.

“We’re at a point where a credible Democrat may not want to give Hegar a free ride,” Jones said.

There are several reasons this may be the year West takes the plunge. It’s kind of now or never. At age 66, his window for a Washington career is closing. And the changing face of Texas means voters could prefer other emerging politicians in future election cycles. West wouldn’t have to give up much to make the run. He was re-elected last year and won’t be up again until 2022, so he wouldn’t have to surrender his Texas Senate seat. In politics, there’s nothing more sought after than a free look at a campaign for higher office. All that would be at stake is pride.

The longtime Texas lawmaker would also come into the Democratic Party contest with the ability to win — and win big — in North Texas. No other candidate can boast such a launching pad. And he’ll be strong in other parts of the state, particularly where black voters are influential, such as Houston and East Texas. West’s challenge would be garnering support where he’s not well-known, which is most of the state. And he’ll have to prove that he can raise tens of millions of dollars, while captivating the fancy of Texas voters.

Hegar is out there campaigning now – she was just in Houston, at an event I was unable to make. Bell has put out some fundraising emails – I got one in my inbox a few days ago. I have no idea what Amanda Edwards is doing, but like Bell she has not said anything formal. As for West, he’s a good State Senator and he’d for sure start out with a sizable base in a Democratic primary. I’ll be honest, I’d be more excited about him if he’d been the first one to jump in, or if he’d run for Governor or Lt. Governor in 2018. But as I’ve said before, I’m happy for there to be a competitive primary. We need to make sure candidates are out there campaigning hard now, not later on once they’ve won the nomination. An awful lot of people are going to vote in the Dem primary in March, so no one who wants to pursue the nomination can sit around and hope for the best. Whatever Royce West – or Chris Bell, or Amanda Edwards, or anyone else – is thinking about doing, my advice would be to think fast.

An early review of the Senate campaign so far

I have thoughts about this.

MJ Hegar

When U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro announced earlier this month that he would not run for U.S. Senate in 2020, the San Antonio Democrat cleared up one major question hanging over his party’s primary. But the field is anything but settled.

Two weeks later, the clock is ticking for Democrats to mount serious campaigns to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, an uphill battle even with Texas’ changing political landscape. Arguably the most prominent Democrat already running, MJ Hegar, announced her campaign three weeks ago but has been — on the surface, at least — off to a slow start that has done little to dissuade at least three other Democrats from considering their own runs.

Among them is Amanda Edwards, an at-large Houston City Council member who has been mulling a campaign since at least early March and appears to be moving closer to running. She has been in conversations with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and is heading to Washington, D.C, next week to continue those discussions, according to a source familiar with her plans.

Edwards, who is African American, has been emphatic that Texas Democrats need a U.S. Senate nominee who can mobilize the party’s base, particularly underrepresented groups that suffer the most from low turnout.

“It is imperative — there is no way around it,” she told reporters earlier this month in Houston. “If you don’t galvanize people of color, young people under the age of 35 … Democrats are not going to be successful.”

In addition to Edwards, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, also continues to draw discussion as a prospective candidate though he has said he is focused on the ongoing legislative session that ends later this month. And Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman, announced Monday that he was seriously considering a bid. Bell, the 2006 gubernatorial nominee, suggested he was not intimidated by the nascent field, saying competitive primaries can be difficult but healthy in the long run.

“It’s sort of like having a family fight, but we all get through Thanksgiving and come together the next day,” Bell said, approvingly citing Castro’s recent declaration — before he opted against running — that the era of “uncontested primaries in both parties in Texas is over.”

While it remains to be seen how viable Edwards, West and Bell would be — Bell is the only one with experience running statewide — they all appear to be undeterred by the opening weeks of Hegar’s campaign. Beyond a barrage of fundraising emails, she has kept a low profile, not holding any public campaign events and doing only a handful of media appearances — all things one would expect as a candidate looks to establish early momentum in a nationally watched race.

“It’s concerning,” said one Democratic strategist unaffiliated with any of the declared or potential candidates. “At this time two years ago, Beto was criss-crossing the state. The question I’m seeing now is where exactly has MJ Hegar been?”

At this point in his blockbuster 2018 campaign, Beto O’Rourke had visited a dozen cities throughout the state and was on his way to hitting twice as many by the end of his first month.

Oh good Lord. You know what else was happening two years ago at this time? Beto was trying very, very hard to raise his name recognition. He started out at a pretty low level. In the first poll I tracked that measured his approve/disapprove numbers, the UT/Trib poll from June of 2017, 55% of respondents answered “don’t know/no opinion” of O’Rourke (question 19). In the next few months, in addition to stories about how O’Rourke was criss-crossing the state, there were also stories about how little known he was, especially compared to Ted Cruz, about whom nearly everyone had an opinion. Just before the primary, in the February 2018 UT/Trib poll, the numbers were 58% “don’t know/no opinion” of O’Rourke. And if you want to be skeptical of the UT/Trib polling methodology, rest assured that other pollsters were finding the same thing. For example, PPP, January 2018 – “Sixty one percent of respondents had never heard of O’Rourke”. Beto’s relentless travel schedule and nonstop live appearances were a huge part of his brand and his strategy, and they paid off bigtime for him. They also took a long time to get off the ground, because Texas is a huge state with millions of voters and you can only ever hope to contact a small share of them via in-person events.

My point here is that if we’re going to be making with the Beto comparisons already, let’s be sure to tell the whole story. It’s not like any of this was a mystery, but as so often seems to be the case, I feel like I’m the only person in the state old enough to remember what had happened. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, there’s no reason to believe that Beto’s exact strategy from 2018 has to be replicated. I for one would advocate for not having a “visit all 254 counties” strategy, but more like a “visit somewhere between 100 and 150 counties”, with much more emphasis on the counties that have trended Democratic since 2012, and less on the (mostly very small, mostly rural) counties that voted more Republican in 2018 than in 2016. Call it the “Willie Sutton strategy”, where you put a higher priority on the places that have more people who have voted for you and might vote for you. Knowing who those voters are likely to be would be a good optimization on the Beto strategy, too. The advantage that MJ Hegar or any of these other candidates will have is that they can learn from and build on what Beto did. They can do more of what worked well and less of what didn’t. Crazy, I know, but true.

One more thing:

The day after announcing her campaign, Hegar was endorsed by VoteVets, the national progressive group for veterans. Beyond that, other prominent groups are waiting to see how the primary takes shape before potentially getting involved. Among them is EMILY’s List, the influential organization that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, which backed Hegar in her U.S. House bid last year and made clear in March that it wanted a woman to challenge Cornyn.

“As of right now, we’re closely watching the race,” EMILY’s List spokesman Maeve Coyle said. “We’re always thrilled to see women step up and take on these tough flip seats, especially fantastic candidates like MJ.”

In addition to Hegar, the Democrats already running include Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

Typically, Washington Democrats bristle at competitive U.S. Senate primaries. They often can become bloody affairs, resulting in unelectable candidates who are broke once they win the nomination. But Texas is different from most states.

[…]

Despite the renewed interest in flipping Texas, national Democratic operatives are privately shrugging off the notion of a competitive primary in the state. It is no secret that Texas Democrats have miles to go in building out their party infrastructure, and some argue that several candidates fanning out around the state for nearly a year could accomplish some of that goal.

Yet a crowded Democratic primary sets up the possibility of a primary runoff that won’t be settled until next May, leaving the eventual nominee with perhaps three months to replenish a depleted war chest for what is likely to be a multi-million dollar ad war across Texas air waves.

Concern-trolling about runoffs aside, you know that I agree with that assessment competitive primary. I hope we have one, because money spent on it is not an expense that is lost but an investment that is made in engaging voters. And for the zillionth time, MJ Hegar and any other “serious” candidate needs to take the primary seriously, no matter who else is in it. We are very likely to have record turnout in the Dem primary next March. If those voters don’t know who they’re voting for in the Senate primary, then anything can happen and most of it won’t be good. If Hegar is doing behind-the-scenes stuff now, that’s fine. There’s time for that. As long as she and everyone working with her understands that the real campaign season starts a lot earlier than we have been used to thinking that it does.

Joaquin is out for Senate

In the end, it’s hard to see this as a surprise.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro has decided not to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. John Cornyn, choosing instead to continue pursuing a fast-rising career in Congress focusing on security and border issues.

Castro’s decision could pave the way for a contest in 2020 between Cornyn and Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, an Afghanistan war veteran who ran a strong but losing race for Congress last year and who declared her candidacy last week.

Castro, 44, of San Antonio, announced his decision to stay out of the race in an interview with Hearst Newspapers.

“Right now, I’m going to focus on my work in the House of Representatives. I’ve been doing what I feel is important and meaningful work here,” he said. “If and when I run for another office, it is likely to be something that takes me back home to Texas.”

[…]

His brother’s presidential campaign could have been helpful to Castro, creating excitement among Latino voters and national attention to the unprecedented effort of twins seeking high office.

But Joaquin Castro’s race also might have produced the uncomfortable scenario of extraordinarily close brothers parting ways on issues.

Joaquin Castro also had a ringside seat to his brother’s struggles to raise money, reporting a modest $1.1 million in receipts in the first three months of 2019. Thus far, Joaquin Castro has paid little attention to his own fundraising, bringing in just $36,000 in the first quarter, his Federal Election Commission report shows.

He said he is impressed with Hegar and others considering the race. “And like I have for many years, I’ll do everything I can to help our Democratic nominee win,” he said.

Barring another surprise at this point, that nominee will be MJ Hegar. The straws were in the wind after Hegar made her announcement. In a way, we’ve come full circle. When we started this cycle, I thought Joaquin Castro would be the best non-Beto option for Senate, but I also thought he’d stay put on the grounds that he’d be giving up too much for an iffy shot at a promotion. I should etch those words into a plaque and hang it on my wall, so I can enjoy being right about something till the end of time. I also noted that MJ Hegar was my next choice, so that all worked out pretty well.

I can totally understand why Joaquin Castro chose not to run. What I can’t understand is why we went through this whole “he’s in!” “he’s surely gonna be in as his friends give him a public pep talk” “um, someone else is in now what in the world is he doing?” “nvm, he’s out” cycle. Maybe someday someone close to him will spill the whole story to a reporter. The main lesson to learn here is don’t allow a story about how you are probably going to run for some higher office to get published unless you have a clear plan and a short time frame for following it up with a definitive answer. People are going to remember this, and when the 2022 and 2024 cycles come around and talk begins about who might run for what (Ted Cruz will be up again in 2024), there will be a strong tendency among the faithful to roll their eyes at the mention of Joaquin Castro. I hate to say this, but he may be on a path to John Sharp status.

One more thing, from the Trib:

Hegar is one of four Democrats who have announced they are running against Cornyn. The others are Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards has also said she is considering a run for the seat, and state Sen. Royce West of Dallas has been discussed as a potential candidate. Shortly after Castro announced his decision Wednesday, West told the Tribune that he is focused on the current legislative session and its two big issues: school finance and property tax reform.

I’m not at all surprised about Royce West not being a candidate. He was a very recent mention, and my guess is that it came up from speculation generated by Castro’s dithering rather than an actual desire on West’s part to run statewide. As for Amanda Edwards, I’d say the clock is ticking. MJ Hegar is now raising money and getting a bunch of press, and may soon have Emily’s List in her corner. Make a decision one way or the other. Finally, I stress again that Hegar needs to be running hard now, not just for November but also for March. Don’t let these no-hope candidates get primary votes by virtue of primary voters not knowing who you are. Texas Monthly and the Current have more.

Hegar is in for the Senate

Boom.

MJ Hegar

Former Democratic congressional candidate MJ Hegar is running for U.S. Senate in 2020.

Hegar, a former Air Force helicopter pilot, mounted a high-profile bid to unseat U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in November, fueled by attention-grabbing ads and massive fundraising. She ended up losing by less than 3 percentage points in the traditionally Republican district.

“Texans deserve a senator who represents our values, strength, courage, independence — putting Texas first,” Hegar said in an announcement video made in the style of her 2018 ads. “I didn’t get a pilot slot my first time trying. We Texans don’t give up easy, and everything we’ve accomplished is just the beginning.”

In the video, a motorcycle-riding Hegar emphasized Cornyn’s closeness with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Through last year, the Texan served as McConnell’s majority whip, making him the second highest-ranking Republican in the Senate.

“For those of you who don’t know, Sen. John Cornyn, he’s that tall guy lurching behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video,” Hegar said. “He calls himself Big John, but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government.”

[…]

To take on Cornyn, Hegar could face a competitive primary with U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who has said he is considering a run and will make an announcement soon. Another Democratic elected official, Houston City Councilmember Amanda Edwards, has also said she is mulling a campaign.

Three mostly lesser-known Democrats are already running: Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

I’m going to bullet-point this:

– Apparently, I’ve been saying MJ Hegar’s name wrong all this time. It’s “Hey-gar”, not “Hee-gar”, as I’ve been intoning it. I guess her pronunciation of her name in the “Doors” video didn’t make an impression on me.

– With all the attention that’s been paid to a Joaquin Castro candidacy, you have to wonder if Hegar jumping in before he (apparently) makes up his mind will cause him to reconsider. It’s one thing to give up a safe Congressional seat as a member of the majority party with some seniority for at best a coin flip shot at a Senate seat. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to give it up for a coin flip shot at getting that coin flip shot. I have no idea what Castro wants to do, but not having a clear path to the nomination has to make him recalculate his risk/benefit analysis.

– Regardless of whether Castro gets into the race or not, I can’t stress enough the importance of Hegar running a real campaign for the primary. That’s especially true if her only opponents are the no-names currently in the race, plus maybe some others like them. The history of Democrats voting for non-viable candidates in primaries because they have no idea who they’re voting for is long and grisly, and even when it doesn’t lead to the likes of Gene Kelly and Jim Hogan on the November ballot, it far too often leads to embarrassing questions about the lackluster vote totals for the anointed choices. (See: Beto O’ Rourke 2018, Wendy Davis 2014, Rick Noriega 2008, etc etc etc.) I can’t emphasize this enough: MJ Hegar not only needs to start raising money now, she needs to plan to spend a bunch of it between now and March. I don’t care how viral she was in 2018. I guarantee you, she needs to start introducing herself to voters, because she won’t like what happens if the voters don’t know who she is.

– I mean, turnout for the Dem primary in 2020 is going to be off the charts. It’s going to make 2008 look antiquated. Texas is going to play a big role in picking the Democratic Presidential nominee. An awful lot of people who are not in CD31 – millions, quite likely – will be voting in March. MJ Hegar needs to make sure they all know her name. This, more than anything else, is the reason why a high-profile, well-funded, contested primary among quality candidates is a good thing and not a bad thing. It’s the surest way to make sure that the voters do know who their candidates are.

– On a side note, I have no idea who Plan B is for CD31. Doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there, but it’s more likely than not that we don’t know who that person is yet. Alternately, CD31 may slide off the top tier pickup list, which would be a shame. I sure hope we find someone who can do half as well at exciting voters in CD31 as Hegar did in 218.

– The Republicans may express a lot of bravado about their odds of winning, but they’re not taking anything for granted. I got not one but two screeching press releases from the state GOP in the first few hours following Hegar’s announcement, including one that hilariously called on her to “disavow support from Patton Oswalt”. (No, I don’t know why. Life is too short to read stupid press releases.)

– Finally, as a friend said on Facebook, this race needs to be about Donald Trump. Lots of people turned out in 2018 to vote against Donald Trump. We need all of them and about a million more to do it again in 2020. If we do that, MJ Hegar, or Joaquin Castro, maybe even Amanda Edwards, can beat John Cornyn. Mother Jones, Daily Kos, and the Chron have more.

Lupe Valdez appears to be in for Governor as well

Wow.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

Lupe Valdez has resigned as Dallas County sheriff and is expected to soon file her candidacy for governor.

Valdez, who has led the department since 2005, could file in the Democratic primary as early as next week. She could not immediately be reached for comment.

Valdez, the state’s first gay female Hispanic sheriff, wrested the sheriff’s post from the GOP in 2004 and started the Democratic wave in Dallas County politics. Democrats are hoping that she could energize Texas’ largely untapped Hispanic voter base. She’s also the daughter of farm workers, an Army veteran, a former federal prison jailer and a former U.S. Customs senior agent.

She raised her profile somewhat last year with a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia that nominated Hillary Clinton for president.

If Valdez were to win the Democratic primary, she would be a heavy underdog against Gov. Greg Abbott. He beat Democrat Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points in 2014, reported a campaign fund balance of $41 million in July.
Dallas County commissioner John Wiley Price said the road to victory would be tough.

“She’ll do well at whatever she tries to do,” Price said. “It’s a rough state [for a Democrat]. But you know, hey, anything is possible. I never thought Trump would win. Shows you what I know.”

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said Valdez would be a heavy underdog against Abbott with no real chance to win.

But he said she could help attract Hispanic voters, bring credibility to the ticket and help down-ballot candidates.

“If not win, the hope is that she can do better than Wendy Davis and give a boost to Texas Democrats,” Jones said.

See here for the background. With all due respect to Andrew White, Sheriff Valdez is my first choice. She’s going to need to start raising money ASAP, and that means everyone, all of us, are going to have to give till it hurts.

Depending on what White does, we could have a pretty big field for the gubernatorial primary. There are already three candidates that have filed – Tom Wakely, Grady Yarbrough, and Adrian Ocegueda. Throw in White, Jeffrey Payne, and Lupe Valdez, and that’s a half dozen hopefuls. Some are more equal than others, of course, but this could be quite the interesting primary. If it winds up being expensive and goes to a runoff? That’s all right, as long as all the candidates are putting in an effort to get voters engaged. If there was ever a year for it, this is it.

Just a thought here, but maybe someone could suggest to Andrew White that the best use of his time and talent at this point might be to file for Comptroller instead. We don’t have anyone for that spot, his fundraising abilities would be awfully handy, and his ideological differences would be less of an issue. Put me in charge of the smoke-filled back room, and I’d make that happen in a heartbeat. Alas, I don’t have that power, and I figure once most people have their heart set on the top office, they’re unlikely to be persuaded to set their sights somewhere else. Like I said, just a thought. I eagerly await further word from Sheriff Valdez. The Trib and the Chron have more.

UPDATE: Hold on a minute.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a Democrat who has been exploring a run for governor, doesn’t appear ready to quit her day job for a campaign yet, despite reports she resigned ahead of a likely bid.

Multiple local news outlets in North Texas reported her resignation Wednesday evening. At least two cited Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan as the source of the news. But a few hours later, Valdez’s spokeswoman denied the reports.

“As she has stated in the past, the Sheriff is considering the next stage in her career,” said the spokeswoman Melinda Urbina. “A letter of resignation was not submitted today. The Sheriff will make a formal announcement when her final decision is made.”

Not sure what went wrong here. I hope this was just simply a case of overeagerness, and not getting the facts wrong. We’ll know soon enough, one way or the other.