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Cornyn on shortlist to replace Comey

Interesting.

Big John Cornyn

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is on the short list to succeed James Comey as FBI director, according to a White House official.

Cornyn is one of about 11 contenders for the post, according to Fox News.

He has strong relationships with members of his conference and would likely sail through confirmation. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2002, Cornyn served as Texas attorney general, a Texas Supreme Court justice and a local judge.

In the immediate aftermath of Comey’s firing, Cornyn did not take the opportunity to lobby for the position.

“I’m happy serving my state and my country,” he told reporters off the Senate floor.

But that comment came Wednesday, which was a lifetime ago during a dramatic week in Washington.

[…]

A Senate vacancy could make for dramatic change in the state’s political pecking order.

Gov. Greg Abbott would be tasked with a short-term appointment, but several months later the state would hold a special election to finish the duration of the term, which ends in 2021.

When Lloyd Bentsen resigned from the U.S. Senate to become Treasury Secretary in 1993, Gov. Ann Richards appointed former U.S. Rep. Bob Krueger, a Democrat, to hold the post until a special election could be held. That was a noisy affair with two dozen candidates — including a couple of sitting members of Congress at the time — that ended with Texas Treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison beating Krueger in the special election runoff. She ran successfully for a full term the next year and remained in the U.S. Senate until the end of 2012.

As the story notes, the odds of this happening are quite slim, so anything we say here is highly speculative. But hey, isn’t that what a blog is for? The main thing I would note is the timing of a special election to complete Cornyn’s unexpired term. The special election in 1993 to succeed Lloyd Bentsen took place on May 1, 1993, which was the first uniform election date available after Bentsen resigned and Krueger was appointed. That means a special election to replace Cornyn – again, in the unlikely event this comes to pass – would then be in November of this year, with that person serving through 2020. The good news here is that it means that an elected official who isn’t subject to a resign-to-run law would be able to run for this seat without having to give up the seat they currently hold. I’m sure if we put our heads together, we can think of a sitting member of Congress who might be enticed to jump into such a race.

Two other points to note. One is that, at least according to the story, Abbott is not allowed to appoint himself. It’s not clear to me why that is so – the story references “precedent based in common law, not statute”, so I presume there was a lawsuit or maybe an AG opinion in there somewhere. I know I recall people urging Ann Richards to appoint herself in 1993, but it may be the case that she was not allowed to due to the same precedent. Someone with a more extensive understanding of Texas history will need to clarify here. Point two is that if Abbott names a sitting Republican officeholder, then there would of course be a special election to replace that person, either (most likely) this November for a member of Congress or next year for a statewide official. And yes, Abbott could appoint Dan Patrick, perhaps to take him out of any possible challenge to himself in 2018. Keep that in mind if your first instinct is to cheer a possible Cornyn departure. Like I said, all highly speculative, so have fun batting this around but don’t take any of it too seriously just yet.

Would a contested primary for Senate be bad for Dems in 2018?

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A primary showdown between two well-liked and well-funded Democrats would add an extra layer of time and money for [Rep. Beto] O’Rourke and potentially [Rep. Joaquin] Castro – and could make it easier for Cruz to brand the winner as an out-of-touch liberal if O’Rourke and Castro need to spend time winning over the state’s liberal base.

“A competitive primary will split the party, leave hard feelings and limit the ability to raise the money needed to compete in the general” election, said University of Houston professor Brandon Rottinghaus, author of a recent book on Texas politics. “Two competitive Democrats in the primary who have run in the past has fractured the party and created new fault lines that Dem voters weren’t able to cross.”

Rottinghaus brought up the 2002 election, in which former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk won a four-way Democratic primary to challenge Sen. John Cornyn for an open seat at the time. While Republicans were united behind Cornyn’s ultimately successful bid, Democrats were divided by geographical and ideological interests that made it harder to win the general election.

In recent years, big-name Democrats have largely stayed out of one another’s way in statewide races. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth faced nominal opposition in her 2014 gubernatorial bid against Greg Abbott, which she lost. Democrats did not contest primaries in races for lieutenant governor or attorney general.

1. I dispute the notion that a contested primary is necessarily a “good” or “bad” thing for a party’s chances in November. I certainly disagree with the assertion about the 2002 Senate primary. For one thing, it was mostly overshadowed by the Tony Sanchez/Dan Morales gubernatorial primary. For another, Ron Kirk was one of the better-performing Democrats, getting a higher percentage of the vote than any Dem after John Sharp and Margaret Mirabal. I’m gonna need to see some numbers before I buy that argument. Plenty of candidates have won general elections after winning nasty, brutal primary fights – see Ann Richards in 1990 and Ted Cruz in 2012, to pick two off the top of my head. I’ll bet a dollar right now that if Ted Cruz is re-elected next year, a primary between Beto O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro will be very low on the list of reasons why he won.

2. We don’t know yet if Castro will run or not – he says he’ll tell us later this month. As was the case last week in Dallas, Castro has made multiple appearances at events with Beto O’Rourke, which for now at least has kept everything nice and civil. I’ve said that I don’t think Castro will give up his safe Congressional seat and increasingly high profile within the party for what everyone would agree is a longshot run against Cruz. (Though perhaps somewhat less of a longshot if the political conditions from that Kansas special election persist through next November.) If he does, however, and especially if he does in the context of having to win a March election first, then I’d suggest it’s because he thinks his odds of winning are better than the current empirical evidence would imply. Maybe he’d be wrong about that, but I believe if Castro jumps in, it’s because he really believes he can win, above and beyond the usual amount that candidates believe.

3. Whatever Castro does, I do hope Beto O’Rourke faces at least one primary challenger, even if that’s a fringe or perennial candidate. I want him to take it seriously and begin engaging voters as soon as possible. As I said before, I was wrong to be dismissive about the 2014 primaries and what they meant for that November. Whoever else runs, I prefer to see this primary as an opportunity and not a threat.

Mary Beth Rogers’ prescription for Texas Democrats

I’m sure you’ve seen this article by Mary Beth Rogers, onetime campaign manager for Ann Richards, about how Democrats can compete and win statewide again.

DEAR TEXAS DEMOCRATS…

First, let’s get the numbers out of the way. Let’s use the analytics as a backdrop for all that we do, but not as the only factor to consider.

If we don’t get the numbers right, we don’t have a chance to win on any other front.

This is what we know: We have to begin winning at least 35 percent of the white vote statewide to be competitive. That’s a big jump from the 25 percent that Wendy Davis got in 2014. I believe it is doable. If we are lucky — and luck will obviously play a part in all that we do — the 2016 presidential election might help us along. If we presume that Hillary Clinton, or some other relatively appealing Democratic presidential nominee, campaigns on issues that matter to centrist voters, it might be possible to draw up to 30 percent of the white vote in Texas. If that were to happen, then the margin for Republicans over Democrats could dip into the single digits, say, a seven or eight-point advantage. These numbers would not be impossible to overcome in future elections.

Although Barack Obama lost Texas in 2008 and 2012, he carried the African American vote by 98 percent. He got a paltry 26 percent of the white vote. If he had managed to win more than 30 percent of the white vote, as he did in Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina, and if he had invested heavily in a GOTV effort as he did in those states, he might have won Texas too. Hard to believe, isn’t it? If the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate attracts more white Texas voters than Obama did, Democrats would have a larger pool to begin wooing for the 2018 statewide campaigns. There are a lot of “ifs” here, I admit. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that white voters make up about two-thirds of the total electorate in off-year elections, and no Democrat since Ann Richards in the 1990s has succeeded in reaching them.

We Democrats still have to increase our vote totals among our base. That means reaching the 65 percent threshold with Hispanic voters, keeping 95 percent of African American voters, and winning Asian, millennial, and new urban voters who are more in tune with the values and issues of the Democratic Party than with the crazy extremists who hold power in Texas today. So if we can pump up the raw numbers among our solid base of Democratic voters (who can be easily identified after the 2016 presidential election), these are the percentages we need to reach in 2018:

Hispanics — 65 percent
African Americans — 95 percent
Anglos — 35 percent

This is not big news to anyone who studies Texas politics. The larger issue is how to do it. That’s always the rub — not what, but how. Here are ten ways to begin.

Read the whole thing, or buy the book if you really want to dig in. There’s nothing she says in the linked piece that I disagree with – I don’t think anyone would disagree with much of it. How to accomplish some of the things she describes will be easier to discuss than to do, and I’m sure there will be plenty of disagreement about who The Right Leader is/will be, but as a roadmap you could do far worse, and we have to start somewhere. So let’s agree that this is as good a place as any and go from there.

It’s that target of getting 35% of the white vote that is both enticing and elusive that I want to focus on. There will come a day when the non-Anglo portion of the electorate is big enough that we won’t need to worry as much about that number, but that day is not today. Rogers’ implicit distribution of the electorate is 62% Anglo, 26% Hispanic, and 12% African-American; do the math, and her targets above get you to exactly 50% of the vote. You can actually get away with a bit less than that, given the presence of third party candidates, but let’s run with that for now. This is a reasonable if an eensy bit optimistic view of the actual electorate. Looking back at a couple of 2014 polls, YouGov weighted their sample to be 65% Anglo, 19% Hispanic, 12% Af-Am, and 4% “other”, which Lord knows what that actually is. The UT/Trib sample was 63% Anglo, 18% Hispanic, 13% Af-Am, 1% Asian, and 2% multi-racial. Like I said, a bit optimistic but not out of the ballpark, and Dems are going to need to improve their base turnout anyway to be in the orbit of a winning scenario, so this is good enough for our purposes.

So how do we get to 35% of the Anglo vote? That’s the jackpot question. The good news is that there are likely to be multiple paths to this, and all of the things Rogers suggests ought to help a little. The bad news is that no two people are likely to agree on what should be prioritized to get there. Infrastructure, education, the war on women, economic populism, all of the above and then some – who knows? That’s above my pay grade. To some extent, none of it may matter much if the Texas economy is in the dumps in 2018 and enough voters decide to take out their frustrations on the people in charge. That’s a bigger factor in national elections than anyone wants to admit, so why not in a Governor’s race? If we have the right candidate, I feel confident we’ll have the right message.

We’ve got a Presidential election to get through first, and while no one expects Texas to be in play this year, some kind of improvement over 2012 would be nice. Rogers talks about how Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders might improve on President Obama’s performance with white voters. I can see that happening at the margins, but not more than a point or two, and I suspect anyone like that is probably not a solid D voter downballot, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. To whatever extent Clinton or Sanders can persuade a Romney/McCain voter to abandon ship, I’ll leave that to them. The real potential for gain in 2016 is increased turnout. As I’ve noted before, the GOP has plateaued at about 4.5 million Presidential year voters. Dems had a big jump from 2004 to 2008, then slid back from 3.5 million to 3.3 million in 2012. I’m not going to speculate how the Presidential race might affect things in Texas this year, but there’s room for growth just based on the natural increase in total voters:


Year   Voting age pop   Reg voters  Pct reg
===========================================
2008       17,735,442   13,575,062   76.54%
2012       18,279,737   13,646,226   74.65%
2015       19,110,272   13,988,920   73.20%

We’ll get new numbers for 2016 after the primary, but they’re unlikely to be that much different so we’ll stick with the 2015 figures. In 2008, turnout was 8,077,795, or 59.50%, while in 2012 turnout was 7,993,851, or 58.58%. Surely we can do better than that, but let’s aim modestly for now. If turnout in 2016 is at 2008 levels, then 8,323,407 people will vote. (If it’s at 2012 levels, that number will be 8,194,709.) Let’s further assume that the Republican total is what it was in 2012, which is to say 4,569,843 voters. If so, then there will be 3,753,564 other voters, which is 45.1%. Some number of those people would be voting Libertarian or Green, but my point here is to give us something to strive for. Can we get to 3.7 million Dem voters this year? How about 3.8 million? That’s not even 10% growth from 2008, and it’s a long way from a win, but it would be a big step forward, and could get the Republican margin of victory under ten points. I don’t know about you, but I think that might change the narrative a bit and give us a boost going into 2018.

I realize I’m indulging in a bit of fantasy here. There’s no reason why any of this has to happen, but by the same token there’s no reason why any of it can’t happen. The original purpose of Battleground Texas was to build Democratic turnout in Presidential years. Whether they’re still working on this or not, some of that task should be reasonably easy based on population growth. I’d like to think the Presidential campaign will at least offer a little help – leaving their paid staffers in place after the primary would be a start, and more than we got in 2008. I hope someone is thinking about this.

Don’t expect the Kathie Glass effect to be much

Seems like every four years we talk about the possible effect of third party candidates on various races. Usually, it’s in the context of legislative races, where some candidates have won with less than 50% in recent years and one could make a case that the presence of a (usually) Libertarian candidate might have had an effect on the outcome. The subject came up for the Governor’s race a little while back, and I’m here to tamp down on any irrational exuberance.

Hop on the bus, Gus. Or don’t. Your call.

Don’t forget 1990.

That was the year a third-party candidate made a potentially game-changing difference in the Texas governor’s race, drawing slightly more than the number of votes separating Democratic winner Ann Richards from Republican Clayton Williams.

And while third-party gubernatorial candidates did not participate in Friday’s debate between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis, they could help decide who will be the next governor of Texas.

“Third-party candidates can mean a big difference in close elections,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Third parties can rarely win. Generally, [they] play a spoiler role.”

[…]

Observers say this year’s Nov. 4 general election could provide a number of close races where a third-party candidate might change the entire dynamics of a race.

“In these contests there exists the possibility that were one or more third-party candidates not on the ballot … the outcome of the election would [be] different,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

[…]

Political analysts say third-party candidates could make a difference in the governor’s race.

Abbott, the state’s attorney general and GOP nominee, squares off against Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth and Democratic nominee. Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Brandon Parmer are in the race as well.

If the race tightens up, Glass and Parmer combined could draw as little as 4 percent of the vote and impact the result.

“That could mean the difference in a very close election,” Saxe said.

After all, in 1990, Richards won by claiming 99,239 more votes than Williams, and Libertarian Jeff Daiell earned 129,128 votes.

“Overall, the principal impact of the Libertarian Party and Green Party candidates this fall will be to provide voters with a different perspective on how to address many of the key challenges facing the state today,” Jones said.

A key example, he said, is Glass, “who is far and away running the most visible and vibrant campaign of any third-party candidate in Texas.”

I will admit, I saw the Kathie Glass Bus on the side of the road as we were heading back from Austin on 290 a couple of weeks ago. I was tempted to take a picture of it, but I was driving at the time, and I didn’t think Tiffany would have appreciated me hauling out my cellphone at that moment. Maybe some other time. In any event, I will admit that as far as that goes, Glass’ campaign has been more visible than some other Libertarian campaigns of recent years.

Nonetheless, I’m going to play spoiler as well. Here’s a compilation of all third-party candidate performances in Texas gubernatorial races since 1990. See if you can spot the problem.

Year Lib Green Other Total Win % ======================================== 1990 3.32 0 0.30 3.62 48.19 1994 0.64 0 0 0.64 49.68 1998 0.55 0 0.02 0.57 49.72 2002 1.46 0.70 0.05 2.21 48.90 2006 0.60 0 0.01 0.61 49.69 2010 2.19 0.39 0.14 2.72 48.64

Notice how in none of these six elections how the combined Lib and Green (and write-in, which is what the Other above represents) total has reached four percent? In fact, outside of 1990, it’s never reached three percent? This could be the year that it happens – the Kathie Glass Bus is quite impressive, after all – but if you’re going to write this story, you ought to acknowledge the history. Don’t get our hopes up without justification.

It’s my opinion from looking at as many election results as I’ve seen over the years that the higher the profile the race, the lower the ceiling for third party candidates, our wacky 2006 Governor’s race excepted. Honestly, outside of the hardest of the hardcore political junkies and members of the third parties themselves, I doubt more than a handful of people even know who the L and G nominees are. With all due respect to Kathie Glass and her bus, the people that will be voting for her are basically the people that always vote Libertarian and the people that for whatever the reason didn’t like the nominee from the party that they tend to vote for no matter how much they protest their “independence”. Frankly, if the base party vote is reasonably close to even overall – which at this point I don’t think is likely, but I could be wrong – the place where an L and/or G candidate could affect the outcome is down ballot. I went through this exercise before, to show that one doesn’t need to get 50% of the vote to win most statewide races in Texas due to the presence of other candidates, and as you can see the higher totals for third party candidates tend to be in the lower profile races. I’m not saying that Kathie Glass and Brandon Parmer can’t have an effect on the outcome of the Governor’s race. I am saying that if I had to pick one race where there might be an effect, I’d probably pick Railroad Commissioner or Supreme Court justice. I promise to look at this again after the election.

The farm team

Roll Call takes a look at the Texas Democrats of the future.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Democrats rarely fielded competitive Senate candidates over the past two decades — the party’s three best performers in that time span received 44 percent, 43 percent and 43 percent — but that may change by the next midterm cycle. State and national Democrats are gearing up for a competitive Senate bid as early as 2018, when Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is up.

The first potential candidate names out of the mouths of most operatives are the Castro twins, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and freshman Rep. Joaquin Castro — though there are mixed opinions about which one is more likely to jump. Wendy Davis’ name comes up as well, should she comes up short in this year’s gubernatorial race, and the buzz in some Democratic circles is that Davis’ running mate, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, has as promising a political future as Davis.

Beyond those four, there is a second tier of candidates who could possibly run statewide but don’t quite yet have the same star power. It includes freshman Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who ousted eight-term Rep. Silvestre Reyes in 2012. He is young and attractive, but his geographic base is weak — El Paso is remote and actually closer to the Pacific Ocean than it is to the Louisiana border.

Democrats also named state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Chris Turner as possible statewide contenders and pointed to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, albeit with caution. Parker is openly gay, and some say that while Texas is evolving on a number of issues, gay rights is not likely to be one of them in the immediate future.

We’ve discussed the 2018 election before. Based on her comments so far, I don’t see Mayor Parker as a potential candidate for the US Senate. I see her as a candidate for Governor or Comptroller, assuming those offices are not occupied by Democrats.

Among the future contenders for [Rep. Gene] Green’s seat, Democrats identified state Reps. Armando Walle, Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez, plus Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

There is perpetual scuttlebutt in the state that [Rep. Lloyd] Doggett is vulnerable to a Hispanic primary challenge. Other Democratic strategists discount that line of thinking, citing Doggett’s war chest and ability to weather whatever lines he’s drawn into.

Whenever he leaves office, Democrats named Martinez Fischer and state Rep. Mike Villarreal as likely contenders. Martinez Fischer could also run in Joaquin Castro’s 20th District if he seeks higher office.

As for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s Houston-based 18th District, state operatives pointed to state Reps. Sylvester Turner and Garnet F. Coleman, who could also run for Rep. Al Green’s seat.

Working backwards, Rep. Sylvester Turner is running for Mayor in 2015. That would not preclude a future run for Congress, of course, but I doubt it’s on his mind right now. I love Rep. Garnet Coleman, but I’ve never really gotten the impression that he has his eye on Washington, DC. Among other things, he has school-age kids at home, and I’m not sure how much the idea of commuting to DC appeals to him. The same is true for Sen. Rodney Ellis, whose district has a lot of overlap with Rep. Al Green’s CD09. Ellis has by far the biggest campaign warchest among them, which is one reason why I had once suggested he run statewide this year. Beyond them, there’s a long list of current and former elected officials – Ronald Green, Brad Bradford, Jolanda Jones, Wanda Adams, Carroll Robinson, etc etc etc – that would surely express interest in either CD09 or CD18 if it became open. About the only thing that might alter this dynamic is if County Commissioner El Franco Lee decided to retire; the line for that office is longer than I-10.

As for Rep. Gene Green, I’d add Rep. Carol Alvarado and James Rodriguez to the list of people who’d at least consider a run to replace him. I’m less sure about Sheriff Garcia. I think everyone expects him to run for something else someday – he’s starting to get the John Sharp Obligatory Mention treatment – but I have no idea if he has any interest in Congress. And as for Rep. Doggett, all I’ll say is that he’s shown himself to be pretty hard to beat in a primary.

Texas’ 23rd, which includes much of the state’s border with Texas, is the only competitive district in the state and turns over regularly. If Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego lost re-election and Democrats were on the hunt for a new recruit, one could be state Rep. Mary González.

Should 11-term Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson retire, Democrats said attorney Taj Clayton, along with state Reps. Yvonne Davis and Eric Johnson would be likely contenders for her Dallas-based 30th District.

State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez is also a rising star. But his local seat in the Brownsville-based 34th District is unlikely to open up any time soon — Rep. Filemon Vela, from a well-known family in South Texas, was elected in 2012.

The great hope for Democrats is that continued Texas redistricting litigation will provide an additional majority Hispanic district based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. State Rep. Rafael Anchia is the obvious choice for that hypothetical seat, along with Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Sergio L. De Leon.

And then there are a handful of Texas Democrats who stir up chatter but have no obvious place to run for federal office. Democrats put former state Rep. Mark Strama and Jane Hamilton, the current chief of staff to Rep. Marc Veasey, in this category.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Lily Adams, granddaughter of Ann Richards, is a respected political operative in Washington, D.C., and recently earned attention as a possible candidate talent.

I’m rooting for Rep. Gallego to win re-election this fall, but no question I’d love to see Rep. González run for higher office at some point. Taj Clayton ran against Rep. Johnson in 2012, getting support from the Campaign for Primary Accountability (which appears to be in a resting state now), along with Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who also appears in this story as someone to watch. Rep. Anchia is someone I’ve been rooting for and would love to see get a promotion. Mark Strama is off doing Google Fiber in Austin. I have no idea if he’d want to get back in the game – like several other folks I’ve mentioned, he has young kids – but he’s been mentioned as a possible candidate for Mayor in Austin before; if he does re-enter politics, and if he has an eye on something bigger down the line, that would be a good way to go for it. Lily Adams is 27 years old and has never run for any office before, but she’s got an excellent pedigree and has apparently impressed some folks. In baseball terms, she’s tearing up it in short season A ball, but needs to show what she can do on a bigger stage before anyone gets carried away.

Anyway. Stuff like this is necessarily speculative, and that speculation about 2018 is necessarily dependent on what happens this year. If Democrats manage to beat expectations and score some wins, statewide hopefuls may find themselves waiting longer than they might have thought. If Democrats have a crappy year, by which one in which no measurable progress in getting out the vote and narrowing the gap is made, some of these folks may decide they have better things to do in 2018. As for the Congressional understudies, unless they want to go the Beto O’Rourke route and mount a primary challenge to someone, who knows how long they may have to wait. It’s entirely possible all this talk will look silly four years from now. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Lyceum poll: Abbott over Davis, 29-21

Make of this what you will.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republican Greg Abbott is leading Democrat Wendy Davis by 8 points in a hypothetical matchup for Texas governor, but it’s a statistical dead heat among women, according to a Texas Lyceum Poll of registered voters released Wednesday.

Abbott, the attorney general, leads Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth, 29 percent to 21 percent in the poll, with a whopping 50 percent undecided. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.47 percentage points.

Abbott’s lead shrinks to 2 points, within the margin of error, when only women are counted. In that slice of the electorate, Abbott had 25 percent and Davis was at 23 percent, with 51 percent undecided.

Davis, who is expected to announce her campaign for governor on Thursday, leads Abbott 36 percent to 10 percent among black voters and 22 percent to 18 percent among Hispanic voters in the poll. Abbott has a lopsided lead over Davis among independents — 18 percent to 8 percent — but in that group, 74 percent are undecided.

Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said he found the gender gap “intriguing.” Given the fact that white Texans make up two-thirds of the electorate and routinely give 70 percent or more of their votes to Republicans, Davis needs to peel off white suburban women from Abbott if she has any hope of winning.

Here’s the homepage for Lyceum polling, and for their 2013 poll. The press release for this poll is here, the executive summary is here, the poll results are here, and the crosstabs are here. I think this poll is mostly a recapitulation of name recognition, though I find it interesting that there were still this many non-answers given that both Abbott and Davis’ party memberships were mentioned. It should be noted that there was a significant gender gap in the 2012 poll results as well – see page 43 of the crosstabs for the Presidential numbers, in which Romney led Obama 63-33 among men but only 50-43 among women. Everyone knows that winning over women will be a key part of Davis’ strategy, so this will be worth watching as we go forward.

More from Trail Blazers:

There is something in the survey to hearten both candidates, pollster Daron Shaw said.

Davis should be bolstered by the fact that Abbott – despite 12 years as attorney general and five on the Texas Supreme Court – is not established with voters, Shaw said.

She still has the opportunity to tie him closely to his former protégé Ted Cruz, paint him as extremist, or define Abbott as she likes, he said.

Abbott could look at the numbers and see that if the 50 percent of undecided voters break like the rest, then the results would be 58 percent for him and 42 percent for Davis, Shaw said.

Those numbers are similar to the 2010 governor’s election when Gov. Rick Perry beat Democratic contender and former Houston mayor Bill White by 55 to 42 percent.

“If I’m Abbott, I’d be up 16 percent over the woman who’s supposed to be the celebrity of the Democratic Party. So whatever star power came to her, it hasn’t seemed to move the dial,” he said.

I don’t know that you can make that assumption about how the vote would be split among the non-answer folks. That’s pretty much going to be the crux of the whole campaign. Of interest will be whether Abbott starts spending some of his gazillions of dollars now to try to define Davis before she can amass a campaign war chest. If I thought Abbott had any idea how to talk to non-Republican primary voters, I might be a bit concerned about that. Given the track record so far, staying quiet for now is probably the wiser course.

Finally, Ann Richards’ former campaign manager has some words of wisdom for Team Davis. Seems like a lot of the things that were true in 1990 can or will be true next year, too.

Experts agree: Suburban women the key for Wendy

UH political science professor Richard Murray says so.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Nationally, Democrats have done pretty well in recent elections in large part because they run so strongly with women. In 2012, for example, former Governor Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama 52 percent to 45 percent among men, but lost the overall popular vote because women went for his Democratic opponent 55 to 44 percent. The Democrats’ big national advantage with female voters is entirely driven by single women. Romney actually won married women 53 percent to 46 percent in 2012, but was crushed among unmarried women 67 percent to 31 percent.

Wendy Davis, like Ann Richards a generation earlier, will almost certainly do better with female voters in Texas, who make up 53-54 percent of the total vote, than the last four Democratic male nominees. Davis has particularly strong credentials, like Ann Richards, to appeal to single women, given her compelling person story of rising from trailer-park poverty to Harvard Law School and a successful political career.

I don’t want to suggest that gender voting will be decisive if Senator Davis runs, but it likely will be a major factor in cutting into the usual Republican majority.

UT political science professor/Texas Trib pollster James Henson agrees.

If there exists a combination of luck and strategy that can give Davis a realistic chance of victory, suburban women will likely be a necessary part of the equation.

This is because some of these women appear to be turning away from the Republican Party. Consider the last two election cycles. In the heyday of Tea Party enthusiasm, 50 percent of suburban women identified themselves as Republicans, according to the October 2010 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, but that may have been the high-water mark. Two years later, in October 2012, 43 percent identified as Republicans. And in our most recent poll, June 2013, that number had dropped to 38 percent. Democratic identification over the same period increased 9 points from 37 percent to 46 percent.

One reason to think that suburban women might be part of an electoral solution for the Democrats: They haven’t been swept up in the conservative ideological surge personified by the Tea Party. Between October 2010 and June 2013, conservative identification decreased from 49 percent to 38 percent among these women. And in June, while 20 percent of voters identified themselves as Tea Party Republicans, that number was 5 points lower for suburban women. Likewise, 27 percent of voters expressed the opinion that the Tea Party had too little influence, but only 20 percent of suburban women agreed. And while U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the guest of honor at any Tea Party, enjoys a net-favorable assessment among Texans at +9 (40 percent favorable, 31 percent unfavorable), Cruz is slightly underwater with suburban women at -2 (34 percent favorable, 36 percent unfavorable).

Davis’ recent celebrity comes as a direct consequence of her support of abortion rights, which has inspired sometimes-vicious criticism. But opposition to her is far from unanimous among women, in part because suburban women are some of the biggest supporters of abortion rights in the Texas electorate: 45 percent think that abortion should be allowed in all circumstances as a matter of personal choice. This is a big gap compared with 38 percent of all Texas women and 36 percent of Texans generally — and only 13 percent of Republicans of both genders.

[…]

Whether Davis would be able to identify with and speak to suburban women in a non-presidential-election year remains an open (and speculative) question at this stage. But should she run, her prospects will hinge only in part on her ability to expand the electorate in ways that don’t simply rely on the speeding up of glacial demographic changes. She will also have to see coalitional components in the current pool of Texans already in the habit of voting. Suburban women who appear uncomfortable with the increasing power of far-right conservatives in the Texas GOP may be the place to start — they may be ready to be persuaded to make different choices come Election Day.

If two experts agree on something, it must be true, right? One observation I’ll throw in here is that if Ted Cruz is a less popular figure among suburban women than he is among other Republican-leaning groups, it will be easy enough to take advantage of this during a campaign and tie him to Greg Abbott. Cruz was Solicitor General under Abbott, so it’s hardly a stretch to connect the two. Even better, Cruz’s extra special brand of crazy fanaticism seems to make Abbott a wee bit uncomfortable. The script for some well-targeted ads pretty much writes itself. We’ll know soon enough if there’s a reason to write it.

The people want Wendy to run for Governor

The Democratic people certainly do.

Though speculation is still rampant on state Sen. Wendy Davis’ possible run for governor, some Democratic groups aren’t waiting for her call before pledging their support.

Annie’s List, a political group that supports Democratic female candidates, announced the launch of WeWantWendyDavis.com Tuesday after reserving the domain name earlier this week.

“Besides wanting to show Wendy Davis that she has a broad network of people who want her to run, we wanted to also ask people what they wanted to do to help her,” said executive director Grace Ann Garcia. “We consider this an online recruiting effort on our part.”

The website allows supporters to fill out a form indicating opportunities to support a possible gubernatorial bid, including hosting house parties, volunteering and donating money.

[…]

Battleground Texas, a Democratic campaign to make the heavily Republican state politically competitive, is also ramping up for a possible run, emailing supporters Tuesday with a petition to encourage Davis to run for governor.

“It’s clear that if Texas Democrats want any chance of beating Attorney General Greg Abbott and his multi-million dollar war chest next November, we need somebody strong to take on the challenge. I think Wendy’s just the right woman for the job,” executive director Jenn Brown wrote in the email. “But before she makes a decision, Wendy needs to know that you’re behind her.”

The petition also offers a free “I want Wendy” sticker to signees.

They’re hardly alone – the Lone Star Project, the TDP, BOR – those are just the ones I’ve heard of so far. My Facebook post about her reportedly making up her mind about running has already been shared 15 times, which is a record for me. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a lot more excitement about Wendy Davis’ possible candidacy than there has been about Greg Abbott‘s actual candidacy? I get that that and $1.25 gets you a ride on a Metro bus, and I get that there’s a novelty factor at play here, but still. When was the last time any Democrat got this much buzz for a statewide race? Maybe Ann Richards, but remember, when she ran for Governor in 1990, she was already a statewide officeholder (she was State Treasurer, an office that no longer exists) and she had to survive a nasty primary against then-AG Jim Mattox. Bill White got some decent fanfare in 2010, but he had been campaigning for a Senate special election that never happened, and he was going up against the Perry-KBH primary fight. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like this before. Again, it doesn’t mean anything yet, and who knows what things will be like in another six or twelve months, but you could do a lot worse for a campaign launch than this.

UPDATE: Stace is on board, too.

Patrick and Williams keep squabbling

Just as a reminder that Senate Republicans don’t need Democrats to stir up trouble, here’s a flare-up of an earlier kerfuffle. Fire one.

In this corner…

In a recent interview with The Texas Tribune, my colleague, state Sen. Dan Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, attempted to explain his vote against our no-new-tax balanced state budget that was approved by a supermajority of Republicans.

In part, Patrick, R-Houston, said he opposed the budget due to his concerns about specific public education programs not being funded.

The problem with these comments is that Patrick was directly responsible for these same education programs not being funded. Such revisionism cannot go unchallenged.

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I appointed Patrick to lead the committee’s public education workgroup. The full committee adopted, in whole, his public education budget recommendations. These recommendations did not include funding for PSAT/SAT/ACT tests. Supplemental pre-K funding of $40 million was included in the adopted recommendations. Conference committee actions reduced the supplemental pre-K funding by $10 million, which was partially offset by an overall increase in public education formula funding.

Additionally, Patrick lamented in his Tribune interview that the new state budget lacked sufficient Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding. But he failed to acknowledge that he offered the Senate floor amendment that eliminated new CTE funding in House Bill 5.

Patrick was the Senate’s lead negotiator on that bill’s conference committee. I also served on the HB 5 conference committee, along with Sens. Robert Duncan, Kel Seliger and Leticia Van de Putte. I specifically told Patrick I would fund eighth-grade CTE (at a cost of $36.1 million) in the budget if he could get the House to agree. Ultimately, he asked me and the other conferees to sign a Conference Committee report which did not include new CTE funding.

[…]

Every member of the Legislature has the right and the duty to vote the interests of their district and their conscience. Patrick consistently supported virtually every decision made during the process of writing the appropriations bill. His unannounced opposition to the final version of Senate Bill 1 was a betrayal of every member of the finance committee who worked in good faith to prepare this budget.

I can only conclude he was looking for an excuse to distance himself from our good work to advance his own political interests.

Fire two.

And in this corner...

Patrick said Friday that he read Williams’ column “with amusement.”

“His attack on me is a classic example of a politician who has forgotten that we represent the people first and foremost,” Patrick said in a statement. “I don’t have to explain my vote to Tommy Williams. I have to explain my vote to the people and I’m happy to do that.”

Patrick described Williams’ arguments in his column as “wrong … or disingenuous at best.” He specifically refuted Williams’ suggestion that Patrick’s vote on the budget was unexpected.

“He had no reason to be surprised by my ‘no’ vote,” Patrick said. “I told him I would be a ‘no’ vote on the budget several days before the bill came to the floor.”

Patrick said Williams’ column is in line with the Senate finance chairman’s recent “attacks” on groups that have criticized the budget, including the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Following the regular session, Williams also tried to strip Patrick of his chairmanship of the education committee.

“His attacks have been personal in nature and offensive,” Patrick said.

See here for the opening salvo. I have two thoughts about this. One, Dan Patrick is probably going to run for Lite Guv – he has a press conference scheduled for today to discuss his 2014 electoral plans – and in a field with David Dewhurst, Todd Staples, and Jerry Patterson he’s got to have a decent chance to make a runoff. Given how many intramural fights he’s gotten into lately, I have to wonder if stuff like this helps him or hurts him with the seething masses of the GOP primary electorate. Being “anti-establishment”, even as a multi-term incumbent, is generally a positive in those races, and that’s been his brand. Do these quarrels help fire up his base or does it drive people who might otherwise agree with him away? I have no idea, but perhaps the reaction to Patrick’s announcement, if it is what we think it might be, will give us a clue.

Two, I wonder if these high-profile personality clashes between people who have little ideological distance between them is a sign of healthy debate for a party that hasn’t been greatly challenged at the state level, or a sign of an impending fall by a longstanding hegemon that may be getting a tad stale because it hasn’t needed for years to talk to voters who don’t participate in their increasingly parochial primary elections? In other words, is this further evidence that the Texas GOP of 2013 looks a lot like the Texas Democrats of 1983? (This is the flip side of Colin Strother’s thesis.) I wasn’t around for much of the Texas Dems’ fall, and I wasn’t paying close attention for the time that I was here, but I do remember how nasty the Jim Mattox/Ann Richards primary of 1990 was, and as I recall it went beyond the usual nastiness of politics. Williams/Patrick is on a smaller scale than that – among other things, they’re not both running for the same office – but it’s still pretty similar. They’re also not the only ones talking to a small subset of the electorate to the exclusion of anyone else – everyone from empty suits like Barry Smitherman and longstanding ideologues like Greg Abbott to people with more balanced records of policy and engagement like Dan Branch and Jerry Patterson are doing it. I know, everyone has a primary to win, but does anyone expect anything different after the nominations are settled? I don’t. Like the Dems of the late 80s and early 90s, the inability to talk to voters who aren’t already on your side – and may not be if someone else manages to get through to them – will come back to bite these guys. The question is when. Harold makes a similar point in discussing the SB5 debate, and Burka has more on Patrick v Williams.

Draft Cecile?

Nonsequiteuse looks ahead.

Cecile Richards

I hereby kick-off (or join, because maybe others have beat me to it since I’ve been in a deep wormhole this summer) THE DRAFT CECILE RICHARDS TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR OF TEXAS MOVEMENT.

She’s going to be speaking at the DNC, and we all know that spot at the podium sets people up for a pretty sweet trajectory. She’s tough, smart, and must be at least a full foot taller than Goodhair. She could send him into hiding with a single side-eye.

More than that, she’s a clear win on the compassion front. She understands what it takes to take care of the least among us. She gets that strong, healthy women mean strong, healthy families, and that translates directly into a strong, healthy economy and community.

And, in this time of legitimate rape and vaginal probes and kamikaze Komen, she knows how to capitalize on the zeitgeist and rake in the big bucks. I’m nothing if not practical: serious green is what it will take to turn Texas blue.

Planned Parenthood might not be ready to let her go, but consider what it would mean to accelerate the demographic shift in Texas politics. I know great women are standing in the wings who could carry on the proud tradition Cecile has become a part of, leading that institution.

I believe federal law now mandates that all such movements begin with a Facebook page. I personally have hopped on the Draft Henry bandwagon so I’ll leave that task to someone else, but I’ll be happy to give the page a Like once it’s up.

That said, I’d be delighted to see this happen. I’d suggest that the second thing to do, after the Facebook page, is to convince Ms. Richards and her family to move back to Texas, since she currently resides in New York, according to her Wikipedia page. Her roots are deep enough here to overcome that, but better sooner than later, you know?

One more thing I’d point out is this: In addition to the “serious green” that Nonsequiteuse mentions will be needed to run and win a gubernatorial campaign, the other thing that we really ought to be looking for is a candidate with some personality. The last Democratic candidate for Governor for whom the word “charismatic” would be on the short list of accurate adjectives was Cecile’s mother, Ann Richards, in 1994. That’s a long time to go without pizzazz. Henry Cisneros has it, Cecile Richards has it, Julian Castro has it if he ever decides to move up his time frame (2018 is such a long way off), maybe someone else besides them who could mount a campaign will have it. I’m hardly the first person to suggest such a quality – McBlogger, call your office – but after so many elections without it, it’s hard to see why we’d not want to be looking for it this time around. Surely having a bit of Elvis in our candidate would help with the green-raising as well. That’s the argument, now it’s time for some drafting. Who’s on board with this? See Sarah Killf’s well-timed post for more on Ms. Richards.

Mercy is a rare quality

I’ve never doubted that Rick Perry isn’t particularly interested in looking for opportunities to grant clemency to death row inmates. But there’s a big question that needs to be answered by this story and isn’t.

Texas has executed 200 convicts under Perry’s watch, but he has spared just one condemned man’s life in a case in which he was not compelled to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, the inmate Perry saved in 2007 was not a killer but the admitted driver of a getaway car, condemned alongside the triggerman in a joint trial under Texas’ tough “law of parties.”

Clemency — the use of executive power to reduce, forgive or delay a sentence — is considered the last fail-safe in the death penalty review process nationwide.

Yet in Texas, it is almost never granted. In fact, at least 50 of the past 200 executions were carried out without any clemency board review at all, a Chronicle analysis of state execution and parole board statistics shows. Other death row inmates’ final pleas for mercy were rejected for arriving after the board’s deadline.

That’s bad, very bad. It’s below the meager minimum standards I’d expect for this – what, is it too much trouble for the board to review a document before rubberstamping another lethal injection? It’s more evidence that our entire system is out of whack and needs a real top-to-bottom review if it wants to claim that it really is justice.

But what isn’t clear is how Perry compares to other Texas governors in this regard. We know by now that the clemency process was slipshod and careless under George Bush. That information might have been useful in this story. I seem to recall reading that Ann Richards never commuted a death sentence, though that doesn’t say anything about how she made her decisions. I know nothing about how things were under Bill Clements or Mark White. Maybe some of this information isn’t easily accessible now, but whatever we do know would have been nice to have had in the story, if only so we could tell how much of this problem is Rick Perry, and how much of it is the process itself. I suspect it’s more the former than the latter, but I’d prefer not to have to guess.