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No, we should not fear a competitive primary for Senate

This comes up all the time, for both parties. It’s way overblown.

Big John Cornyn

Democrats are closer than they’ve been in decades to winning statewide in Texas. But a looming clash between two of the party’s top prospects could blow their shot.

A pair of prominent Democrats — Rep. Joaquín Castro and MJ Hegar, a veteran who narrowly lost a House race last year —are seriously considering Senate campaigns, and a potential showdown between them is already dividing the party over who is best positioned to challenge three-term GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

Neither Hegar nor Castro has announced they’re running, but both have met with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) to discuss it. And both have prominent Democratic supporters convinced they represent the party’s best option to turn Texas blue. But a divisive primary would likely leave the eventual nominee damaged and cash-depleted, making the uphill climb to unseat Cornyn that much steeper.

[…]

So far in the Senate race, Hegar appears to be moving faster than Castro. She met with Schumer in New York in early March, right after O’Rourke announced he would forgo another campaign to run for president instead.

Hegar wrote an email to supporters last week that she was “taking a very close look” at running for the Senate race and said the incumbent had shown a “complete lack of leadership” in Washington. Her timetable for an official announcement is not yet clear, but one source familiar with Hegar’s thinking said she remains “full steam ahead” on the race.

Castro’s intentions are less clear, according to conversations with more than a half-dozen Democrats in Washington and Texas. Castro met with Schumer last week to discuss the race, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting. Texas Monthly published a story last month quoting a source familiar with Castro’s thinking that he was “all but certain” to enter the race, which many Democrats interpreted as a hint an announcement was imminent.

But Castro has not publicly signaled what his plans are in the weeks since, leaving most Democrats uncertain if he will run — and some frustrated by his indecision.

“I’m going to kill him,” said one source close to Castro, exaggerating for effect to relate his frustration over the congressman’s equivocation.

Castro declined multiple requests to comment on his Senate deliberations outside the Capitol in the past week. His political adviser, Matthew Jones, said an announcement would be in the near future: “Joaquin will make his announcement about running for Senate on his own timeline and in a way that works best for the people of Texas and his own family.”

Hegar and Castro both have significant allies pushing for them to enter the race. Leaders at EMILY’s List have called for a woman to run in Texas, and Latino Victory Fund has launched a draft effort to push Castro into the race, including endorsements from four members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Texas Democrats are fully prepared for the possibility of a primary between Hegar and Castro, and it remains possible other candidates will enter the race — including Amanda Edwards, an African American city council member in Houston. Edwards told POLITICO in an interview she is seriously considering a bid, and that Hegar and Castro’s decisions wouldn’t influence hers. She has spoken to EMILY’s List and the DSCC about the race, and said a decision could come “sooner rather than later.”

[…]

Some top Democrats, however, argue a primary would actually be helpful, allowing candidates to sharpen their messages and introduce themselves to a wider set of voters.

“Nobody will be hurt in a contested primary, and you would have stronger candidates come out,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the state Democratic Party, which recently launched a war room to attack Cornyn over the coming months. “Not that I’m hoping for a contested primary, but we’re not afraid to see that.”

Other Democrats are more nervous about the prospect. A contested primary would rob the candidates of months of time to focus solely on Cornyn and would drain resources in an extremely expensive state. The primary is in early March, earlier than any other state, and would allow ample time to pivot to the general election.

But if other candidates enter the race, and no candidate reaches 50 percent, the top two finishers would meet in a runoff at the end of May, robbing them of valuable time to raise money and build support to take on Cornyn. One veteran Democratic operative, requesting anonymity to speak candidly, said even the prospect of a runoff “hurts everyone.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Clearly, I need to revisit my assumption that Castro would have a clear path to the nomination if he declared his intention to run. The main inference to draw from this is that a lot of people really think Cornyn is beatable in 2020, in a way that basically nobody outside of Beto O’Rourke at this time in 2017 thought Ted Cruz was beatable. I mean, it seems obvious, but this is well beyond just putting one’s name out there. Castro, as noted many times, has a safe seat in a majority Democratic Congress, four terms of seniority, and is already a leading voice in that chamber. Hegar could let Castro run and ride his likely coattails, DCCC support, and her own strong campaign experience to as good a shot at winning CD31 as one could want. Amanda Edwards could cruise to re-election this fall, and then be in good position to run for Mayor in 2023. All three of them are willing to give it up for a chance to run statewide, even if they have to go through one or more other strong Democratic contenders in a primary. You don’t do that if you don’t have a firm belief you can win.

So what about it then, if two or three of them (plus the assorted minor candidates) meet in the primary? I see that as largely, almost entirely, positive for the reasons cited by “some top Democrats”. Nothing will get the candidates started earlier on engaging voters, raising money, pushing registration efforts, and so on like the need to win an election in March. Money spent on voter outreach in March is still money spent on voter outreach, and I’d argue there’s even more value to it early on. Sure, it could get nasty, and sure, people get tired of family fights when they have to go into overtime, but that’s a risk worth taking. I feel like I see this kind of hand-wringy story written about potential contested primaries in both parties every time they come up, and most of the time it makes no difference in the end. As I’ve said before, my main interest is in having a strong contender in every possible race, so to that end I’d prefer to see Hegar try again in CD31. But beyond that, come in whoever wants to come in. Let the best candidate win, and we’ll go from there.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 49, O’Rourke 43

Two polls in one week.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new poll released Wednesday morning suggests a tightening race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

The newly released poll from Quinnipiac University gives Cruz a 6-point lead: 49 percent of registered Texas voters reported backing the Republican incumbent while 43 percent said they support O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat. The poll’s margin of error is 3.5 percent. The results are closer than a poll Quinnipiac released in late May, which showed Cruz holding an 11-point lead over his opponent.

“U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has a slight, by no means overwhelming, lead,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll. “Congressman Beto O’Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive. With three months until Election Day, he is clearly in contention. A Democratic victory in the Lone Star state would be a serious blow to GOP hopes of keeping their U.S. Senate majority.”

The poll found 50 percent of Texas voters had a favorable view of Cruz while 42 percent had an unfavorable view. O’Rourke, on the other hand, had a 33 percent favorability rating, with 43 percent of voters not knowing enough about the congressman to form an opinion of him.

You can see the Quinnipiac writeup of the poll here. They also show Greg Abbott leading Lupe Valdez in the Governor’s race 51-38. This Q-poll lands right in the middle of the other two. Remember when the second one, showing an 11-point lead for Cruz, was considered the “correct” poll? Averages are more useful than single results, and with this result our averages are 46.5 for Cruz and 40.2 for Beto. A persistent lead for Cruz, but not a big one.

And thus the continued closeness of this race has caused it to draw national attention.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke of El Paso had a very good day Wednesday. Publicly, two new polls showed him in striking distance of incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Privately, his Wednesday might have been even better. That’s because Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and about a dozen other senators in the Democratic leadership suddenly became interested in the Texas race. That was followed by a serious look at Texas from officials of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, whose sole function is to help finance Democrats to win seats in the upper chamber of Congress. The DSCC hasn’t shown much interest in Texas for a least a generation.

The senators held a briefing on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning with at least four political polling companies about the time that the first poll, the Texas Lyceum 2018 Poll, showed Cruz with a two-point lead over O’Rourke: 41 to 39 percent. Hours later, a Quinnipiac University Poll had Cruz leading O’Rourke by a margin of 49 to 43 percent. This is the third poll that Quinnipiac has released of likely Texas voters this election season and the six-point difference in Wednesday’s poll represents momentum by O’Rourke who was down by 11 percentage points when its last poll was released May 30.

Numbers such as these, combined with O’Rourke raising more money than Cruz in two consecutive quarters, had at least one of the pollsters present at Wednesday’ meeting declare to Schumer and his colleagues that there was a potential path to victory for Democrats in Texas, according to at least one witness present. Schumer took great interest in that assessment and began digging deeper, the witness told Texas Monthly.

There are two things that are interesting about this. One is that as we know, Democrats have a lot of seats to defend in red states this year. Conventional wisdom was that they’d be spending nearly all their resources on defense, plus Nevada and Arizona. For them to even have a meeting to talk about Texas means they’re feeling pretty good about their position, and can look to spend some money elsewhere. It also means they think there’s a chance that Texas could be in play. Maybe not a great chance, but a non-trivial one, which could grow in magnitude if the national environment gets friendlier. I suspect this is more of a move to explore options in the event of such an upgrade to the national atmosphere than anything approaching a commitment to Beto and Texas, but even that tells you something.

More Beto in the national news

From Splinter, part of the Gawker universe, a story that was front-paged on Deadspin and Jezebel:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

O’Rourke sticks around to meet every single person in Burnet who wants to meet him. He doesn’t leave until the last hand has been shaken, the last selfie snapped. It wouldn’t be impressive—that’s what politicians are supposed to do—except that nobody in Burnet can remember the last time a Senate candidate stopped by to talk to them at all, let alone hung around until he’d met everybody personally.

People are enthusiastic about him—because he showed up, sure, and also because of how he comes off. His staff is protective of his time; even though I was in the truck with him for more than an hour, we were only slated for ten minutes of interview time, so he can make calls to the coast and stream the drive on Facebook Live. But he’s not particularly guarded in how he talks. He’s a legit cusser, and he talks about how he came to conclusions about policy—even ones that may seem contradictory to his party or his background—in a naturalistic way.

He’s big on working with veterans because of the community in El Paso around the army base in town. He’s for ending marijuana prohibition because he grew up across the border from Juarez, where cartel violence once made the city the world’s most dangerous. He’s in favor of term limits, even though they’re an idea mostly championed by conservatives, because he believes that Washington is inherently broken and corrupt—but he thinks that maybe limiting the amount of time people spend in office could fix it. He’s to the left of most of the Democratic Party, but he cherishes bipartisanship as an ideal and an end unto itself.

“When you look at the DNC or the RNC or national politics, it’s corporate rock and roll. It has very little soul to it. Maybe no soul at all.”

That all matters for O’Rourke in order to have a chance of defeating Ted Cruz. He’s running an innovative campaign, avoiding the pitfalls of doomed candidates like Wendy Davis. He hasn’t hired a single out-of-state consultant or pollster, and with the exception of the volunteer driving the car, everybody I’ve met from his campaign is either from El Paso or from the congressman’s D.C. office. But it’s still as uphill a battle as there is in politics right now.

Turning Texas blue, or at least purple, has been a dream of progressives for decades. It’s also one that seems, somehow, to always be at least four to six years away. So can a former punk rock guitar player from a part of Texas that’s never produced a statewide elected official be the one to break the streak?

It’s a good profile, and it has a few things I hadn’t seen before, so go check it out. The whole visiting-places-no-one-usually-goes-to thing has been the main news hook in stories about Beto O’Rourke. It’s sexy, it appeals to people who disdain consultant-driven campaigns, and it makes a lot of intuitive sense. Whether it works or not remains to be seen. Texas is a big state (I know, where else can you get this kind of cutting-edge analysis?), and something like 4.5 million people normally vote in off year elections. I don’t care how much time you spend driving around, it’s hard to speak in person to a significant fraction of that amount, and that’s a number that implies the usual low level of Democratic turnout. Beto needs a lot of Presidential-year Dems to vote to have a chance. The good news is that by doing what he’s doing, he’s building a narrative for those voters, one that tells them he’s something different, someone who isn’t following a playbook that hasn’t worked since Beyonce was in kindergarten. Again, it may not succeed – Vegas sure wouldn’t give good odds on it – but at least it’s not doing the same thing again and hoping for a different result.

And from Mother Jones, which devoted four stories this past week to Texas politics:

When O’Rourke announced his candidacy for what, on paper, could be the party’s tie-breaking 51st seat in the Senate, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was tempered in its enthusiasm. “Wild things can happen in 2018,” said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the DSCC’s head, but he emphasized that the committee’s focus would be on protecting incumbent senators. “We’re realistic.” (Translation: Good luck!)

O’Rourke, well aware of the long odds he faces, reasons that if nothing Democrats have tried before has worked, he might as well attempt something completely different. He announced early on that he would not hire a pollster or contract with consultants, with the exception of Revolution Messaging, the firm that built Bernie Sanders’ online mint in 2016. (O’Rourke outraised Cruz in his first full quarter as a candidate.) He is his own press secretary. Many of O’Rourke’s early trips have focused on deep-red areas that see ambitious Democrats about as often as they see snow—when he visited George W. Bush’s hometown of Midland in March, the local newspaper wrote an editorial congratulating him “for being able to find Midland.”

His approach to campaigning is similar to his approach to his day job—he does things differently. O’Rourke moved quickly into the senior ranks of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he tells supporters, not just because of El Paso’s high concentration of military personnel, but because his colleagues had flocked to other committees such as finance that offered more access to donors. He is a rare politician who has actually given himself a term limit in the House, and he promises to serve no more than 12 years in the Senate. He was one of the last members of Congress to endorse Clinton during the 2016 Democratic primary, but he supported Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan’s bid for leader of the Democratic caucus in November, arguing that Rep. Nancy Pelosi had reached a dead end.

What he’s offering instead of the status quo is a post-Clinton (and for that matter, post-Obama) style of politics. The party’s leading lights have run from the idea that they’re soft on drugs and immigration, but backing a border fence and a surge of Border Patrol agents didn’t fix Democratic politics—it just made things worse for Texas. So why not run on marijuana legalization and against militarization of the border? The same goes for a hawkish foreign policy. He’s proposing to turn off the spigots for overseas interventions and instead pour money into student-loan forgiveness and Medicare-for-all—a single-­payer system, he tells voters, will save them “somewhere between a lot and a shit ton.”

O’Rourke’s independent streak is a reflection of El Paso itself, which feels a world away from the rest of the state and its political power brokers. He has met Cruz just twice in the four years they’ve served together in Congress, even as Cruz and other Texas Republicans have treated O’Rourke’s beloved borderlands as a piñata.
“Ted Cruz doesn’t have an office anywhere near El Paso. John Cornyn doesn’t have an office anywhere near El Paso. Presidential candidates don’t come to El Paso. Gubernatorial candidates don’t come to El Paso. People who are focused on power don’t come to El Paso,” he said. “And I was saying that in front of the crowd in Tex­arkana, and this lady in front of the crowd said, ‘That’s how I feel!’”

“That’s how a lot of Texas feels—they feel forgotten, left behind, unrepresented, unimportant to the centers of power and the system as it currently works,” he added. “It doesn’t work for them. A lot of the state feels like El Paso feels, and a lot of the state wants their state back and wants to be recognized and represented and served. I think this campaign is all about that.”

In its simplest form, the challenges facing candidates like O’Rourke are the same ones that have confounded Democrats everywhere since 2008, only, as Texas would have it, bigger. They have to help voters navigate a system that is designed to be difficult if not discouraging. They have to battle the kind of political disengagement that sank Clinton; in Texas, “It’s not a Republican state, it’s a nonvoting state” may as well be the official Democratic Party mantra. Obama-era progressives approached the electorate with a scientific rigor, believing they could selectively target and activate different groups as needed, but huge setbacks in three of the last four national elections—including in Texas—exposed holes in that theory. By narrowing their focus in the name of precision, Democratic campaigns left millions of votes on the table, particularly in places like Texas. Awakening that sleeping giant may require connecting with communities where they are rather than expecting them to connect to the ongoing national debate. The folks at the Texas Organizing Project believe that many of those people live in Houston. O’Rourke is betting they’re in Amarillo and Texarkana, too.

That story actually covers quite a bit of ground, so reading it will not be a rerun of the first piece. There’s also a Q&A with O’Rourke here, a story about Texas’ voter ID saga here, and a brief overview of “women who are leading the resistance” here. How much does the positive press help O’Rourke? Like chemistry on a professional sports team, it’s hard to quantify. We’ll see what his third quarter finance report looks like, that’s the closest proxy for that we’re going to get.

The turnout issue in 2014

Two recent articles of interest, both about the nature of the electorate in non-Presidential years. First, via Ed Kilgore, who has been beating the drum about the volatility of the Democratic base, comes this NYT story about what the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) hopes to do about it as it has to defend numerous seats in tough territory.

The Democrats’ plan to hold onto their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment, and requires more than 4,000 paid staffers. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get out the vote, and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

[…]

Both voter registration and mobilization efforts are at the center of the Democrats’ new strategy. In Georgia, for example, the committee estimates that there are 572,000 unregistered African-American voters, and that there are more than 600,000 likely supporters of Michelle Nunn, the Democratic Senate candidate there, who voted in 2012 but not in 2010. The goal, then, is to register the African-American voters, and to target the likely Nunn voters to show up to the polls during a midterm election.

But black voters who did not register to vote in 2008 or 2012, amid all of the excitement surrounding the nation’s first black president, could pose a challenge to register in 2014.

The Bannock Street project is specifically focused on ten states — Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, and West Virginia — with plans for senior field operatives and other staff members to be in place by the end of the month.

No, Texas isn’t on their list. This isn’t a surprise, for multiple reasons. One, the Texas Senate race is on no one’s list of races to watch, though that will likely change in the improbable event that Steve Stockman manages to oust incumbent Sen. John Cornyn in the primary. Two, we don’t know who the Democratic nominee is. I’d say David Alameel is the most likely to draw interest from the DSCC if Cornyn gets past Stockman, as he can provide plenty of seed money for his race, but I wouldn’t expect much more than an email or two sent on his behalf by the DSCC. They just have too many other, larger fish to fry.

In addition to all that, there’s already a Democratic-focused and well-financed statewide turnout operation going on, that being of course Battleground Texas. It remains to be seen what effect they can have in Texas, especially in a year they originally weren’t expecting to be competitive statewide. One thing for sure is that there’s plenty of slack in the system for them to work with. Too many Presidential year Democrats don’t come out at other times, and too many potential Democrats don’t come out at all. The Trib takes a closer look at that.

Battleground Texas, started by former Obama operatives who want to turn the state away from its Republican devotions, is trying to register new voters, identify Democrats and turn them out for this year’s elections. They started a year ago and said it would take four to six years to turn Texas their way.

A couple of promising candidates showed up early, putting faces on the effort. The candidacies of Wendy Davis, who is running for governor, and Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for lieutenant governor, bring some focus to the organizing efforts. After all, it is easier to raise a crowd for a candidate or a cause than for the general promotion of civic health. It helps to be about something or somebody.

Up front, the math favors the Republicans. They have been winning statewide elections for 20 years, and it has become sort of a habit. Folk music has had a bigger comeback than Texas Democrats.

The Democratic administration remains remarkably unpopular in Texas, and conservative candidates from the bottom of the ballot to the top are running against either the president, his signature health care program or both. Even if Texas suddenly had equal numbers of voting Republicans and voting Democrats, those Democrats would have the political winds in their face this year.

That last paragraph is a fundamental misunderstanding of the race this year, one that I think is far too prevalent. The first priority of Battleground Texas is to get partisan Democrats who don’t generally vote in non-Presidential years out to the polls this year. That was the secret to the Republican wave of 2010. Having a bunch of increasingly right-wing Republican candidates out there bashing President Obama and saying all kinds of crazy and offensive things about immigration, marriage equality, abortion, Medicaid, and so forth isn’t a headwind for that effort. It’s a motivating factor. If people are angry about these things, that’s awesome. It’s much easier to channel already existing emotions into action than it is to try to get someone to feel something in the first place.

Now I agree that in a straight up turnout battle, Republicans have a clear advantage. But we can’t do anything about their level of turnout. All Dems can do is work to maximize our own numbers. Only by ensuring that piece of the puzzle can Democrats like Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte hope to change the focus to soft Republicans that might be turned off by their candidates’ brand of extremity. This can be done as well, and again I’d call the expected amount of vitriol from the Republican side a potential asset in that. It is possible to peel away some voters – Bill White received between 200,000 and 300,000 crossovers in 2010, running against Rick Perry. In a 2008 turnout context, I believe he would have won. In the absence of that, as was the case in 2010, he didn’t come close. Maximize the base first, everything follows from there. We may well fall short, but accomplishing that much would be a huge step forward, as turnout on the Dem side has basically been flat since 2002. I’ll take a look at that in some more detail tomorrow.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez

In case you haven’t heard, national Democrats may have found a Senate candidate for next year.

Democrats appear to have recruited retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to run for the U.S. Senate in Texas, setting the stage for the party to field a well-known candidate in the 2012 race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, a Democrat, confirmed that Democratic Senate campaign chief Patty Murray, D-Wash., was referring to Sanchez on Thursday when she said Democrats were close to announcing a candidate in Texas.

Sanchez, reached by phone at his San Antonio home, asked where the reports of a Senate run came from and then said, “I can neither confirm nor deny.”

Sanchez, the former top military commander in Iraq who was left under a cloud from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, would not discuss the Senate race. But he did respond to questions about his career and political philosophy.

“I would describe myself as during my military career as supporting the president and the Constitution,” Sanchez said. “After the military, I decided that socially, I’m a progressive, a fiscal conservative and a strong supporter, obviously, of national defense.”

Sanchez, a Rio Grande City native, said he was shaped by his upbringing.

“It’s my views and my history, having grown up in South Texas, depending on social programs and assistance, that America has a responsibility to its people,” he said.

It’s not official yet, but a story like this (which has also been picked up by wire services) doesn’t usually appear for no reason. It may turn out to be nothing, but not because it was a misguided rumor that got mistaken for news. I believe he’s seriously considering it, and will run or not run depending to some degree on the reaction he gets to this.

And given that the words “Abu Ghraib” will feature prominently in any story written about him, that reaction is unlikely to be muted. Juanita, Jobsanger, and McBlogger are encouraged, PDiddie most emphatically is not. Burka thinks Sanchez is the kind of candidate Dems need to run but he’s doomed anyway. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more as the news spreads.

Personally, I’m with those that are encouraged. We’re not exactly overflowing with credible potential candidates around here. If Sanchez can be decent on the issues and can get support from the money people (something that was never really available to Rick Noriega), then glory be. If not, there will be other races for me to care about next year. Sanchez is the only game in town now, as John Sharp appears to have given up the ghost. I want to hear what he has to say for himself, and we’ll go from there.

One thing to keep in mind here: Having Sanchez in the race doesn’t mean he’ll be the nominee. I expect there will be plenty of Democrats who aren’t happy with this announcement and will not want to support him under any circumstances. That presents an opening, and I’ll be surprised if someone doesn’t try to take advantage of it. It’s not hard to imagine a nasty primary fight, and it’s not hard to imagine a multi-candidate scenario where Sanchez gets forced into a runoff. I hope the people who are gigging Sanchez to run have given some thought to this.

DSCC looks to Texas

Moe specifically, they’re looking at the Bill White campaign for a competitive race here.

Democrats see political opportunity in Texas thanks to a departing Republican senator, a special election to replace her and Houston’s mayor bidding for her seat.

Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Tuesday Democrats could be on the road to a competitive Senate race in Texas.

“I’m not going to overstate it. Texas is a hard place, except that what we’re talking about here is a special election with a much different universe of voters coming out and someone like (Houston Mayor) Bill White” running, Menendez said.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is expected to resign from the Senate as early as this year to focus on her challenge of incumbent Gov. Rick Perry to be the GOP nominee for governor.

Menendez said White is well positioned because he is from Houston — which is the state’s largest city — and is a Texas Democrat who “represents the values and positions that would appeal to a broad cross-section” of voters.

A special election to replace Hutchison would draw a “special universe of voters,” also giving Democrats a chance, Menendez said. Special elections do not include party primaries.

“In a special election … the turnout can create the opportunity for someone like Bill White to succeed,” he said.

The usual caveats apply. I’ll believe KBH is resigning when I actually see her do it. There may be a “special universe of voters” in this election, whenever it is, but that doesn’t mean it would be any less Republican. More to the point, the runoff is unlikely to be any less Republican than a regular statewide election, and that’s where the challenge really lies. Be that as it may, it is easy to see why the national folks are excited about Bill White’s candidacy. Wednesday was the campaign finance reporting deadline for the third quarter, so we’ll soon have another idea of how strong his campaign has been

As for John Sharp, who was also mentioned in this article? I’ll let KT handle that one.

That Gallup poll of partisan preferences

I’m sure by now you’ve seen that Gallup poll, which measured party affiliation in all 50 states and showed Democrats to have a slight edge, by a 43-41 margin, over Republicans in Texas. For a discussion of the methodology, you should of course read Nate Silver. I’ll note simply that while the national trend is for those who call themselves independents to lean Democratic, I don’t believe that to be the case here. For the most part, I think independents here are still folks who tend to vote Republican, though not monolithically as perhaps some of them once did, but aren’t calling themselves Republican any more. My best guess would be that these voters are similar to many of the now-Democratic-leaning independents elsewhere in the country, but who have mostly switched to Democrats at the local level. If and when they start voting for Democrats at the state level, then the description of Texas as “competitive” will be more fitting.

That’s one of the points that Burka raises in his lengthy analysis, with which I largely agree. Where I do disagree is that I think the Democrats can raise enough money to compete at both the state and local levels. There hasn’t been any focus on this – all the emphasis has been on local races, with great success – and the lack of a bench is a real problem as well. There’s just very few Democrats who start out with any kind of name recognition, which makes the hill that much steeper to climb.

But I do believe the money is there to make statewide races competitive. Not as much as there is for the Republicans – the advantage they have as incumbents is the ability to stockpile funds in a way that the Democrats cannot – but enough to be in the same ballpark. There are many more sources for raising funds for local races now, and a lot of that hasn’t really been tapped for statewide efforts. There’s still a lot of money being raised in Texas for races outside of Texas – the Presidential race, and that million dollar DSCC event from 2007 are two examples of this. And frankly, there’s a lot of Democratic incumbents (plus a few now-retired officeholders) at all levels of government, in safe seats, sitting on millions of dollars that could be used to help win other races. I don’t blame any of these folks for raising all that money for themselves, but I do wonder if any of their donors ever wonder why it is that we can’t seem to compete statewide. Seems to me there’s a connection there that maybe some of them ought to consider.