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Joaquin Castro

Castro says he’ll make a Senate decision “soon”

Yes, please.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro said he still has not made a decision on whether he will run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2020.

“I’ll have an announcement soon,” Castro said during a stop at the Texas Capitol Building on Wednesday.

Castro, the 44-year-old San Antonio Democrat, pointed out that in past races he’s made a decision by May 1.

As Castro weighed his decision, other prominent Democrats have said they, too, are looking at jumping into the race. MJ Hegar, a former U.S. Air Force helicopter pilot, has said on social media that she is considering making a bid.

When asked about Hegar on Wednesday, Castro spoke more generally about how competitive primaries are likely going to be the norm in Texas politics.

“I think probably the era of uncontested primaries in both parties in Texas is over,” Castro said.

Castro has been reported to be in for a month, with everyone waiting for the official announcement since. Whether this possible timeline has been affected by Hegar’s repeatedly expressed interest in the race – or, perhaps, has had an effect on Hegar’s intentions – is a question we can’t answer at this time. I do agree that a competitive primary among serious candidates is a good thing and a sign of health. Check back on May 1 and we’ll see where we stand.

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.

Once again with EMILY’s List and the Senate

Pretty much the same story as before, but still worth noting.

Big John Cornyn

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro is considering jumping into the Texas Senate race, but he might not have the primary to himself if EMILY’s List gets its way.

The influential group, which backs female Democrats who support abortion rights, is in talks with three potential candidates: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who lost a House race in 2018; Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards; and former state Sen. Wendy Davis.

“We would love to see a woman take Sen. [John] Cornyn on,” EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock told reporters Thursday. “We are in some conversations and really would like to find the candidate and then get everybody behind a strong woman to run for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas.”

Castro’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to Texas Monthly, Davis encouraged Castro to run and would consider running herself if he does not.

Hegar has been mentioned as a potential Senate candidate since she raised millions last cycle in her unsuccessful race against GOP Rep. John Carter — she lost by 3 points. Hegar tweeted this week that she is “taking a very close look” at running for Senate.

See here for previous reporting, which came from the Trib’s email newsletter. Wendy Davis took her name out of consideration for the Senate the day after this story appeared, and I cannot find any mention of Amanda Edwards possibly considering a Senate run anywhere else. She’s up for re-election to City Council this year, so she would have some decisions to make about how she wants to spend her time over the next few months or more. As such, I think this basically comes down to whether or not MJ Hegar is in fact “taking a very close look” at this or not. I’ve run through those possibilities before, so let me just say that as someone whose interest is in having the best ticket top to bottom, my first choice would be Joaquin for Senate and MJ taking another shot at CD31. But it’s not up to me, so we’re back to waiting for someone to make an official announcement. (And to note that given how long it used to take any candidate to appear in so many races in past cycles, being able to impatiently anticipate such announcements in April the year before is quite the #FirstWorldProblem for us Texas Dems to have.) This will all sort itself out eventually.

They’re coming for Cornyn

Let’s bring it on.

Big John Cornyn

Texas Democrats are launching a multimillion-dollar initiative to help take down U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, regardless of who they ultimately choose as their nominee next year.

Emboldened after their gains in 2018 — including the closer-than-expected Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke — the state party is establishing a “Cornyn War Room” to “define Cornyn before he defines himself,” according to a memo. It is unlike anything the party has done in recent history surrounding a U.S. Senate race, and it reflects the urgency with which Texas Democrats are approaching a potentially pivotal election cycle.

“In 2020, we must seize the opportunity to flip Texas,” says the memo from the state party, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. It cites recent polling that found Texas “essentially tied” in the 2020 presidential election and that 64 percent of voters do not know or dislike Cornyn. “We cannot wait for the primary dust to settle before we launch our attacks on John Cornyn.”

The project, the memo adds, will “define Cornyn and reveal him for what he is — a coward, afraid of shadows on his right and left.”

The offensive has five fronts: digital, communications, messaging and polling, research, and data and targeting. There will be staff dedicated to the project and coordination with affiliated groups, county parties and activists.

The memo says the effort is “funded, in part, by record-breaking fundraising, including the most successful February totals in Texas Democratic Party history.” The memo does not specify the figures.

[…]

Several prominent Democrats are considering challenging Cornyn, perhaps most notably U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar, who said Tuesday she is “taking a very close look” at the race. Three lower-profile Democrats have already declared their candidacies.

With no disrespect intended to MJ Hegar, just as it was my assumption that the Senate race was Beto’s if he wanted it, it is now my assumption that it’s Joaquin’s if he wants it. Doesn’t mean anyone else has to agree with that, just that I’d expect the establishment – most of it, anyway – would fall in line with Joaquin if he follows through on his reported interest in the race. Some people are already in line, they just need Joaquin to get to the head of it. My guess is that Hegar’s “close look” is at least one part a “just in case Joaquin doesn’t run” contingency. Someone has to get to the front of that line, after all. But she might jump in anyway, and if she does she’d be formidable, and might put Joaquin on the spot. My advice to him would be to make his mind up quickly. Easy for me to say, I know, but still.

The polls in question don’t really mean much – the “essentially tied” poll tested Cornyn versus Beto, not Cornyn versus anyone else or Cornyn versus a generic Dem – but compared to what we’re used to, they’re not bad at all. The bottom line is that the conventional wisdom at this time is that Texas will be competitive in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I need to sit down every time I say that. We are in exciting times.

What the rest of this means remains to be seen. Beto’s campaign in 2018 was singular, and I have no idea how much of it is foundational to this effort. Be that as it may, this is the sort of thing that a viable, competitive statewide party needs to be doing, and having the resources for it is fantastic. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. See the TDP statement for more.

Van de Putte has her eye on Castro’s seat

With seemingly-informed speculation that Rep. Joaquin Castro will run for Senate in 2020, someone else will need to run for the Congressional seat he’d be abandoning. That speculation has now begun, with some familiar names in the conversation.

Leticia Van de Putte

Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is seriously considering a run for the congressional seat likely to be vacated by Joaquin Castro.

Van de Putte, 64, a San Antonio Democrat who served for 24 years in the Legislature, is discussing the ramifications of a possible congressional campaign with her family, according to multiple sources.

[…]

Almost certainly, however, she would enter the race with the highest name recognition and the most campaign experience. She probably would also command the strongest fundraising base.

During her bid for lieutenant governor, Van de Putte raised more than $8.2 million.

Insiders suggest that a successful District 20 primary campaign will require more than $1 million in funds.

While most prospective District 20 candidates are still in a watching-and-waiting phase, some prominent names are in the mix, including state lawmakers Ina Minjarez, Diego Bernal and Trey Martinez Fischer and City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales.

There also are two highly accomplished Latinas working in the private sector, contemplating their first campaigns as candidates:

Dr. Erika Gonzalez, a physician who served as the chief of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, spent 10 years in the Air Force and is the 2020 chair-elect of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Melanie Aranda Tawil, a tech business owner, Democratic activist (New Mexico youth vote field organizer for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign) and community leader whose credits include serving on the city’s 2017-22 Parks & Recreation bond committee.

See here and here for the background. After her 2014 Lt. Gov. campaign, Van de Putte jumped into the 2015 San Antonio Mayor’s race, which did former Rep. Mike Villarreal no favors, and wound up losing in a runoff to now-former Mayor Ivy Taylor, who was defeated in 2017 by Mayor Ron Nirenberg. She then co-founded a lobbying firm with former Secretary of State Hope Andrade, and seemed to be done running for office. You never know when a tantalizing opportunity will arrive. She’d definitely have competition, and it’s fair to say that primary voters have concerns on their minds now that they didn’t have the last time she ran in a primary. I could easily see such a campaign taking unexpected turns. All this is theoretical, of course – nobody’s running to succeed Joaquin Castro until Joaquin Castro confirms he’s running for Senate, which for all we know may not happen. Speculation is never out of style, however. The dominoes are lining up, it’s just going to need someone to topple them over.

More calls for Joaquin Castro to run for Senate

It’s getting louder.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Latino Victory Fund, a national advocacy group that began in San Antonio, is putting more pressure on U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro to leap into the Senate race against Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

On Friday, Latino Victory put up a Run, Joaquin, Run website urging Castro, D-San Antonio, to seek the Democrats’ 2020 nomination to challenge Cornyn, a three-term Senate veteran.

Backing the drive were four Texans in Congress, Reps. Veronica Escobar of El Paso, Sylvia Garcia of Houston, Filemon Vela of Brownsville and Vincente Gonzalez of McAllen.

Today, an additional five names were added to that list backing a Castro candidacy: State Reps. Gina Hinojosa, Celia Israel, Mary Gonzalez, Lina Ortega and Leticia Van de Putte, of San Antonio, who was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014.

Castro is reportedly in, but you know the rule, it’s not official until the words come out of his mouth. Until then, anything can happen. I’m glad to see him getting nudged by other elected officials, I figure every little bit helps. Plus, you know, getting started sooner, and thus clearing up the picture for everyone else who’s circling around this race or that race, is better. I think Joaquin Castro is the best available candidate, but first he has to be available. Let’s hope he makes his decision soon. NBC News has more.

Emily’s List takes aim at Cornyn

Interesting.

Big John Cornyn

The influential Democratic group EMILY’s List is adding U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to its target list for 2020 — and in doing so, signaling it’d like to see a woman challenge him.

EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, is giving Cornyn its “On Notice” designation, making him the seventh GOP senator to land in the group’s crosshairs ahead of next year. The announcement comes as a Democratic man, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, appears likely to launch a Cornyn challenge soon.

“In his nearly 20 years in the Senate, John Cornyn has made clear that he’ll always put his party’s dangerous and destructive agenda ahead of the people he was elected to serve,” the president of EMILY’s List, Stephanie Schriock, says in a statement. “It’s time for a change, and EMILY’s List is actively recruiting to replace him. There are plenty of Democratic women who are up for the challenge, and who will always put Texan families first.”

There are at least three women thinking about challenging Cornyn. They include Wendy Davis, the 2014 gubernatorial nominee; Amanda Edwards, a member of the Houston City Council; and M.J. Hegar, a former congressional candidate. EMILY’s List backed Hegar in her run last year against U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

There are a few ways of looking at this.

1. Rep. Joaquin Castro may be reported to be all in, but until he makes an official statement to that effect, it’s just rumor. As such, given the time and money it takes to make oneself known to the voters, it’s best to have multiple options for as long as they may be needed. I was dismissive of the speculation about him giving up his safe Congressional seat now that Dems are in the majority for a reason, and others will be as well.

2. Of course, even if Joaquin is in no one is required to consider that to be the be all and end all of the matter. EMILY’s List is in the business of getting progressive, pro-choice women elected, and they’re going to put that mission first. They may well believe that a female candidate would do better against Cornyn even compared to someone like Joaquin Castro, who starts out with some advantages. If you believe Joaquin Castro would have a 50% chance of beating John Cornyn, but (say) MJ Hegar would have a 60% chance of winning (yes, I know, these are very optimistic estimates), why wouldn’t you try to get MJ Hegar nominated?

3. Bottom line is simply that if this is likely to be a competitive race, then it is also an opportunity to increase the number of women in the Senate. Joaquin Castro has a 100% rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund as of 2017, but if you want more women elected then you either take a shot in 2020 or you wait till 2024 when Ted Cruz is up again.

As for the potential candidates listed, let’s just say that a lot of Democrats have nuanced feelings about Wendy Davis, and MJ Hegar will come under a lot of pressure to run again in CD31. This is the first I’ve heard of Amanda Edwards as a possibility. I’d always kind of assumed she’d run for Mayor in 2023, but who knows? I believe EMILY’s List is recruiting, I believe that at least some candidates will likely want to wait and see what Joaquin Castro does first, and I believe their list of potential candidates is longer than what the story suggests. We’ll see what happens next.

Joaquin reportedly in for Senate

This would be exciting.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Joaquin Castro, the Democratic congressman from San Antonio, “is all but certain” to enter next year’s race for U.S. Senate and take on incumbent Republican John Cornyn, a source familiar with Castro’s thinking said Thursday.

The move would profoundly change the dynamics of the 2020 campaign and put Texas squarely on center stage, with two Texans already in the Democratic primary race and Joaquin taking on a longtime Republican senator who many see as vulnerable, especially during a presidential election year.

“We’ll be making an announcement in the very near future,” said Matthew Jones, Castro’s campaign adviser.

“This instantly makes the race very competitive,” Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist and longtime political observer, said of Joaquin’s potential entry into the race. Running in tandem with his brother, who announced his candidacy for president on January 12 in San Antonio, would only benefit both candidates, Miller said, and “doubles up on all the positives.” When asked if Cornyn was vulnerable, Miller said, “Every Republican senator up for election next year is vulnerable.”

“This is quite an important development,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “Beto proved Texas can be competitive, and this means that Cornyn is really going to have to work hard to raise money and work hard to earn votes—and Republicans in Texas are not used to doing that.”

[…]

The source said a timeline has not been established for Joaquin to formalize any announcement, but one Democrat who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the congressman said that Joaquin has been reaching out and telling several key Democratic leaders in Texas that he has been leaning toward running. Castro’s decision may have further solidified on Thursday after O’Rourke announced he was running for president. There had been speculation that O’Rourke may have taken on Cornyn following his 2.5 percentage point defeat to Republican Ted Cruz last year.

See here for the background. If this turns out to be the case, then I would presume that all of the other potential Cornyn opponents will turn their attention elsewhere. That would suggest MJ Hegar and Joe Kopser take another shot at the Congressional races they ran in 2018, and Wendy Davis keep doing what she’s doing now, as an advocate and supporter of other candidates. All of which is fine by me – Joaquin Castro has always been my top non-Beto choice to run against Cornyn, I just didn’t think he’d give up his Congressional seat to do it. Expect a big scramble for that seat when and if this happens as well, by the way. We’ll save that for another day. Also, as the story notes, this likely forecloses the Senate fallback option for Beto – it’s not that he couldn’t try for Senate again if he gets no traction in the Presidential primary, it’s that it would be much more complicated and fraught for him to do so. We should know more soon enough. The Trib has more.

Add one more to the list of potential Cornyn opponents list

Joe Kopser, who made a strong showing in CD21 in 2018, puts himself on the roster of possible not-Beto challengers for John Cornyn in 2020.

Joseph Kopser

Call it the other “Beto Effect“.

Just months after Democrat Beto O’Rourke outperformed expectations by coming within three points of defeating Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Democrats are lining up to run against the sate’s other U.S. Senator, John Cornyn, in 2020.

The latest possible contender is veteran and 2018 Congressional candidate Joseph Kopser, who lost to Republican Chip Roy for an open seat previously held by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

“Everything’s on the table for me,” Kopser said in a Wednesday phone interview with the Tribune.

Kopser spoke admiringly of Cornyn, but said he was still considering a run against the state’s senior senator.

“He’s a guy I respect,” Kopser said. “But also, I think if you’ve been in Washington too long, you need to come home.”

[…]

All of the interest in running against Cornyn is a striking contrast to two years ago, when multiple Democrats passed on challenging Cruz, leaving O’Rourke as the most prominent name in the primary.

Along with looking at challenging Cornyn, both Hegar and Kopser are also debating whether to run in U.S. House rematches in 2020. Both ran in GOP-leaning districts yet came within three points of defeating their Republican opponents – U.S. Reps. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and Roy, respectively.

See here and here for the background. Kopser was not on my list of possible candidates for this slot in 2020 – neither was Wendy Davis, for that matter – but there’s no reason he couldn’t have been. At this point, I’d say if Beto really is out then Joaquin Castro is my first choice, MJ Hegar is my second choice (though that may mean a greatly diminished chance of taking CD31), and after that it’s a tossup for me between Wendy Davis and Joe Kopser. If he’d rather take another shot at CD21, that’s fine, too. I feel like there may be a wider range of decent candidates there than in CD31 if it comes to it, but if we’ve learned anything from 2018 it’s that there are many more strong possible candidates out there than we’d been giving ourselves credit for. And, as the story notes, now many of them are much more interested in running for something. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a more-good-candidates-than-available-races problem. As I said in the beginning of this cycle, I’m confident we’ll have someone worthwhile running against Cornyn. I feel that has already come true.

One more thing:

We may get multiple strong candidates in a primary for Senate regardless of how the Congressional situation sorts itself out.

Cornyn still thinks he may face Beto

He could be right, but I would not expect it.

Big John Cornyn

Beto O’Rourke has ruled out another run for the Senate, and as he edges closer to a bid for president, Texas Democrats are still searching for someone to challenge Sen. John Cornyn.

But Cornyn isn’t convinced O’Rourke has given up his Senate aspirations.

On Tuesday, he sent donors an email blast warning of “Beto’s Texas,” hinting that the El Paso Democrat could yet come after him, and asking for help filling a new “Stop Beto Fund.”

“I don’t think it’s out of the realm of the possibility that that could happen,” Cornyn said Wednesday when asked about his fundraising message. “The filing deadline is December the 9th, I believe. So my expectation is that perhaps Beto, perhaps Julian Castro or others who have indicated that they’re running for president — if they’re not getting a lot of traction then obviously it’s very easy to pivot into the Senate race.”

Cornyn is correct that no matter what Beto (or Julian, for that matter) says now, there’s a lot of time between now and December 9, and a lot of people running for President. Some number of them may very well not make it to the starting line, and if so they could easily jump into another race like this. Bill White was running for Senate, in anticipation of Kay Bailey Hutchison stepping down to run for Governor, for quite some time in 2009 before he finally figured out that KBH was staying put. Only then did he shift gears to run for Governor. It could happen. I don’t think it will because I don’t think anyone who has the capability of raising money and building a team is going to drop out before the first votes are cast, and that won’t happen till after the filing deadline. But I could be wrong. Cornyn is not wrong to tout the possibility – I figure Beto is at least as big a boogeyman among Republican campaign donors as Nancy Pelosi. May as well ride that horse till it drops.

Other interesting bits:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, had urged O’Rourke to run against Cornyn.

After O’Rourke decided against it, Schumer met with Hegar, who lost to Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, by about 8,000 votes out of 281,000.

Nearly 3 million people have viewed a 3-minute campaign video that Hegar, a decorated Air Force helicopter pilot, used in her effort to unseat Carter.

But Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the party’s House campaign arm — is urging Hegar to run against Carter, The Hill reported Wednesday.

Bustos also said that Gina Ortiz Jones, an Iraq War veteran, will take a second shot at Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio.

“I would say over the next, you know, one, two, three cycles, that that state’s going to look very different,” Bustos said.

Seems clear that what the national Dems want is Beto for Senate, and basically all of the 2018 Congressional candidates – CD24 not included – back for another go at it. Second choice is Joaquin for Senate and the rest as above. We need to know what Beto is doing before we can know what Joaquin is doing, and the rest follows from that. That’s another reason why I think it’s either/or for Beto – once he’s all in for President (or for not running at all), he will no longer have a clear pathway to the nomination for Senate. Someone else will be in that lane, and the surest way to evaporate one’s good will among the party faithful is to be a Beto-come-lately into a race where a perfectly fine candidate that some number of people will already be fiercely loyal to already exists. As someone once said, it’s now or never.

What about Wendy?

If not Beto and not Joaquin

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis of Texas said Tuesday she is considering a U.S. Senate run in 2020 but is waiting to see whether another high-profile Democrat, Rep. Joaquin Castro, goes through with challenging Republican incumbent John Cornyn.

Davis hasn’t run for office since badly losing the governor’s race in 2014 following her star-making filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the Texas Capitol, catapulting her into the national spotlight and making her a prominent voice for women’s rights.

She told The Associated Press she has urged Castro to run, calling him “uniquely poised” in Texas to give Democrats a chance at winning their first statewide office in 25 years. Castro said last week he was giving “serious” consideration to a Senate campaign but set no timetable for a decision.

Davis said she wants him to decide soon so that someone else — including her — could step up if he sits out. She said she also discussed a Senate run with MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who last year lost a close congressional challenge near Austin.

“I’m proud of the way that all of us are working together to decide how can we best beat John Cornyn. What’s the best approach? Who has the strongest opportunity?” Davis said. “As we answer that question, we are going to circle behind that person and do all we can to support them — whether it’s me, whether it’s MJ, whether it’s Joaquin, whether it’s someone else. You are going to see us come together cohesively.”

See here and here for the background. The pro-Davis side is easy to see: She’s run statewide before, she has some name recognition, she has demonstrated fundraising ability, this is a good time for female candidates, and in the Gorsuch/Kavanaugh era being strongly pro-choice is more of an asset than it was four years ago. The downside is just as obvious, and it all basically boils down to the disaster that was 2014. To be fair, that was a national disaster for Dems, and at the very least the turnout issue should be muted somewhat in a Presidential year, especially with Trump on the ballot. She’d still need to convince people that she’s learned from that awful experience and would run a different and better campaign this time around. I kind of think she’s positioning herself as a fallback plan, which is fine. I too would prefer Castro or Hegar, but I’ve always been a Wendy Davis fan and I’m happy to see that she’s still in the game.

One more thing:

If she doesn’t go for Senate, Davis said it was unlikely she’ll run for Congress this cycle, pointing to no obvious seats around Austin for now.

Well, Mike Siegel is running in CD10. I don’t know if Joseph Kopser is up for another shot at CD21, but I’m sure the DCCC has been in touch with him. If MJ Hegar winds up running for Senate, that would open up CD31, though as an Austin resident Davis would be quickly painted as a carpetbagger. Maybe she could talk to Julie Oliver about what it was like to run in CD25. That’s a longer shot than these other three, but I bet Davis could raise some money and put a scare into Roger Williams. Just a thought.

What about Joaquin

If Beto O’Rourke is indeed not running for Senate, Rep. Joaquin Castro may step up to do it.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro told the Associated Press on Thursday that his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is considering challenging U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

“He’s considering that, but he really has not made a decision about whether he’s going to do that,” Castro said while on the presidential campaign trail in Las Vegas.

“I think he’d beat him. My brother would win,” Castro said. “There are a lot of Texans that clearly have problems with the way that (Cornyn) has represented the state. Most recently, refusing to stand up to Trump even though a lot of land is going to get taken, a lot of Texas landowners’ property is going to get taken if there’s a wall.”

Matthew Jones, a campaign advisor to Joaquin Castro, confirmed Friday morning that, “Congressman Castro will seriously consider running for Senate in 2020.”

“Right now, he’s focused on protecting Texans—and all Americans — from the most consequential challenge to our constitutional separation of powers that we have seen in a generation,” Jones said. “He will not stand by while the president attempts to unilaterally strip Texans of their land to build a wall in a manner that most Americans, especially Texans, disagree with.”

A Joaquin Castro Senate candidacy would be an answered prayer for Texas Democrats amid the expectation that former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, who narrowly lost a Senate challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November, has decided to pass on challenging Cornyn and may soon join Julián Castro as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

[…]

Julián Castro’s dropping his brother’s name into the race also comes the same week that Joaquin’s promising congressional career — one reason he chose not to run for Senate in 2016 — truly delivered on its promise, with Castro leading the successful effort by House Democrats to pass a resolution he drafted to block President Trump’s emergency declaration, which Trump issued to secure border wall funds that Congress has denied him.

“This is the most consequential vote we will take in a generation on the balance of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government,” Castro said before the House voted Tuesday 245 to 182 in favor of the resolution. The resolution still has to pass the Senate, which is possible, and survive a certain presidential veto, which is almost certainly beyond reach. But it has already succeeded as an effective political response to the president.

The Castro twins have pursued parallel political careers, but Julián Castro, born a minute earlier, has been first among equals, serving as mayor of San Antonio and as a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, was considered for vice president by Hillary Clinton in 2016, has written a memoir, and is now running for president while his twin brother remains in Congress.

But in the less than two months since Julián Castro launched his bid for president, it is Joaquin who has had the higher political profile, punctuated by this week’s moment of triumph. He was elected chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the new Congress, and was elected vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as serving on the Education and Labor and House Intelligence committees On Homeland Security. He has been integrally involved in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and any potential Russian collusion by Trump and his campaign, and a frequent cable news presence.

As of this writing we still don’t have direct-from-Beto’s-mouth confirmation of his plans for 2020, but this seems like a decent sign that Beto is truly not a candidate for Senate next year. Which is a shame, in my opinion, but it’s his choice to make. As for Joaquin, he’s always been high on my list, but I remain skeptical that he will give up a very good gig in the Democratic-majority House for at best a coin flip for Senate. Obviously, I could be wrong about that – I’m not Joaquin Castro (spoiler alert), I don’t know what his risk profile and ambition levels are. If he does run, I think that’s a good sign that he thinks he can win, though how much of that is irrational exuberance and how much is a cold, hard assessment of the political landscape and strategic options is anyone’s guess. For certain, the fact that it even makes sense for him to publicly think about it is a clear indicator that Texas is being viewed as an opportunity for Dems next year. He may not rake in $80 million, but Joaquin Castro will have no trouble raising money if he hops in.

There are other potential candidates out there – MJ Hegar, Kim Olson, Wendy Davis, probably more though those are the most prominent ones to make noise about it. There’s a good case to be made that Dems should want a female candidate to oppose Cornyn. I feel confident saying that Beto and Joaquin are the first two in line, and if either of them says they’re in they will almost certainly have the nomination with at most token opposition. But one of them has to say they’re in first. The Trib has more.

Everyone’s talking about John Cornyn

I feel like I’ve read more stories about John Cornyn lately than I read about Beto a year ago at this time.

Big John Cornyn

As President Donald Trump embarked for El Paso on Monday to rally support for a border wall, Texas Republican John Cornyn sent out a personal message through his 2020 U.S. Senate re-election campaign:

“Texas stands with President Trump.”

For Cornyn, seeking a fourth term in the Senate, the message underscored some of the central challenges of his re-election bid: for better or worse, his fate is inextricably tied to that of a famously polarizing and unpredictable president, with whom he will share a ballot.

“As in the rest of my life, I don’t sweat too much the things I can’t control,” Cornyn said later in the week. “I look at the things I can control, and I can control my preparation for what I think will likely be a fairly serious opposition in 2020. The president is at the top of the ticket, and I believe he will be responsible for nearly 100 percent of the turnout, about half of the voters for him, and half against him.”

[…]

“The degree of difficulty John Cornyn is going to have in 2020 right now I think very much rests in the hands of Beto O’Rourke,” said political scientist James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

While Cruz labeled O’Rourke “too liberal for Texas,” Democrats like the contrast of a youthful, relative outsider against a 67-year-old incumbent who earned his stripes the old-fashioned way: working his way patiently up the Senate GOP ladder.

To many Texas Republicans, O’Rourke represents Cornyn’s worst-case-scenario. But some also see him as a one-off candidate that no other Texas Democrat can easily replicate. Next in the Democratic echelon are U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and his twin brother, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. Many believe that Julián Castro’s own White House bid takes both brothers out of the Senate race.

Other than O’Rourke – who Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak calls “a hundred-year flood” in Texas politics – that would seem to clear the decks for Cornyn.

“Whoever runs against Cornyn doesn’t start where Beto stops,” Mackowiak said. “They start wherever they are.”

For Texas Democrats, that means starting with an expected voter share in the high 30 to low 40 percentage points – the average electoral result pre-Beto.

See here and here for some recent examples. We don’t really learn anything new in this story – spoiler alert, his campaign manager thinks Republicans need to work on their turnout in 2020 – just that the phenomenon of John Cornyn Is Taking 2020 Seriously and Will Beto Run For Senate Against John Cornyn has not come close to petering out.

There’s also the new startup of Who Will Run Against Cornyn If It’s Not Beto stories.

Democrats who are said to be considering a Senate run: MJ Hegar, an Afghanistan war hero and author who came within 2.9 points of toppling U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and North Texas farmer Kim Olson, who lost by 4.9 points to Republican state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Another potential candidate, according to party activists is former state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who suffered a lopsided loss in the 2014 governor’s race.

On Valentine’s Day, Cornyn’s campaign launched an online fundraising appeal citing Hegar and Davis as possible candidates.

But some Texas Democrats see the party’s best chances for success in a reprise of O’Rourke’s Senate campaign. O’Rourke hasn’t publicly mentioned a Senate run as a possibility — he told Oprah Winfrey last week that he’ll decide whether to run for president by the end of the month — but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., met with O’Rourke last week to discuss a possible challenge to Cornyn, according to Politico.

“It’s very significant that Schumer is talking to Texans,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a political action committee, who said the Democratic leader had spoken to other potential candidates. “It signifies that Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee think Cornyn is vulnerable — and they’re right.”

A survey conducted Wednesday and Thursday by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found in a hypothetical matchup, 47 percent of registered Texas voters support Cornyn and 45 percent prefer O’Rourke, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

You can see more about that poll here. I got an email about it but didn’t do a post because it’s crazy early and there’s no data beyond the topline numbers. It actually would have been useful if they had included some other potential matchups for Cornyn – Big John versus MJ Hegar or Kim Olson or Joaquin Castro – just to see how they compared to Cornyn versus Beto. It would at least be a data point for where a less-known Democrat starts out in this matchup. In theory, we will have some clarity about this in about a week.

Beto may yet be a Senate candidate in 2020

He’s at least talking about the possibility.

Beto O’Rourke

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke last week to discuss a possible 2020 Senate campaign against GOP Sen. John Cornyn, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

O’Rourke, a Democrat who lost narrowly against Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, is considering running for president and hasn’t publicly discussed running again for Senate in 2020. But he also hasn’t ruled it out.

[…]

If O’Rourke chooses to challenge Cornyn instead of seeking the Democratic nomination for president, he would immediately have the support of Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) — Julián Castro’s twin brother.

“Joaquin believes Beto could beat John in 2020, and if Beto decides to see this thing through and do that, then Joaquin will give him his full support, just like he did against Ted Cruz,” a source close to Castro told POLITICO. “Otherwise, Joaquin will absolutely consider jumping in and finishing the job.”

As the story notes, we should know by the end of the month if Beto is mounting a Presidential campaign, which would almost certainly take him out of the running for Senate. That doesn’t mean he’ll run for Senate again if he decides against a Presidential bid, but we’ll have a bit more clarity on where things stand. The story also notes that MJ Hegar and Wendy Davis are looking at a Senate bid, which may apply a bit of pressure to Beto to pick a direction. The possibility that Joaquin Castro might try for the Senate intrigues me. I’ve discounted the idea of Joaquin running for Senate on the grounds that he’d be giving up four terms of seniority in what is now a Democratic Congress, with a sure path to leadership opportunities, for at best a coin flip for Senate. Obviously, I could be wrong about his thinking or his risk appetite.

I don’t know how this will be sorted out. I do think in the end, either 1) Beto announces for Senate and everyone else goes and does other things, or 2) Beto makes it clear he’s not running for Senate, and it becomes open season for whoever wants in. In the end, I think we’ll wind up with a strong candidate for Senate, whether Beto or Joaquin or MJ or Wendy or someone else. Mostly, I’m glad we’re talking about this now, and working towards getting someone officially declared now, so we can start fundraising and organizing for that person. One of the lessons learned from 2018 was that an early start was a benefit in many ways. We have the advantage of learning from and building on 2018 as we prepare for 2020. We’re running against a stronger candidate who sees us coming this time, so we’ll need every advantage we can get. The Current has more.

We may soon need another legislative special election

In Bexar County.

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

State Rep. Justin Rodriguez is expected to fill the vacant Commissioners Court seat of political icon Paul Elizondo, a major local power broker and a veteran of the commission for more than 30 years who died last week.

Multiple sources said Wednesday that Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff likely will appoint Rodriguez, who’s served in the Legislature since 2013.

Wolff declined to confirm that he plans to appoint Rodriguez, but he sketched out what he’s looking for in a successor, in deference to the death of his closest friend. Rodriguez declined to comment.

“I’ve had obviously a lot of time to think about this because Paul has had several challenges with his health,” Wolff said.

The county judge said he plans to appoint someone who has legislative experience and fiscal expertise and can help improve the county’s relationship with the city.

[…]

It’s unclear who might step in to run in a special election for Rodriguez’s seat, which would be called by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Rodriguez and a few other close allies of Elizondo have been seen as his potential successors. Among them: City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who’d known Elizondo for some four decades.

We should know pretty soon whether Rep. Rodriguez will be the choice to fill that County Commissioners seat. You may recall from when Jerry Eversole stepped down, it is the County Judge who names the successor, so whatever Judge Wolff decides is what will happen. The Rivard Report makes it sound like the choice is more up in the air, and includes Queta Rodriguez, a former employee of Precinct 2 who nearly ousted Elizondo in the 2018 primary, as a potential pick as well.

Rodriguez represents HD125 in Bexar County; he was elected in 2012 after Joaquin Castro decided to run for Congress. After a decade of turnover, he’s the second-most senior member of the Bexar delegation, after Rep. Roland Gutierrez. HD125 was solidly Democratic in 2016, as Hillary Clinton carried it 61-33, but it was closer in 2014 as Wendy Davis took it by a 56-43 margin. If he gets appointed and this becomes a race, I’d expect the Republicans to seriously challenge it. The Dems would be favored to hold it, but it would not be a slam dunk. Keep an eye on this.

The losers of 2018

Allow me to point you to the Observer’s list of six Texas political players who lost power in 2018. I’d call it five-sixths of a good list, plus one entry I don’t quite understand.

3) Bexar County Democrats

Want to understand the dysfunction and ineptitude of Texas Democrats? Look no further than Bexar County, where the local party is dead broke and mired with infighting. It’s a small miracle that Democrats were able to flip 24 county seats in November. But they still managed to bungle several other potential pickups.

After felon Carlos Uresti resigned from his San Antonio state Senate seat this year, Pete Gallego and the local party apparatus managed to lose the special election runoff, handing over a predominately Hispanic district that Democrats have held for 139 years to Republican Pete Flores. Ultimately, losing that seat allowed Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to keep his GOP supermajority in the upper chamber, as Democrats picked up two Dallas senate districts in November.

On top of that, San Antonio native Gina Ortiz Jones narrowly lost her bid to oust “moderate maverick” Will Hurd in the 23rd Congressional District. In a blue wave year, the perennial swing district that stretches from San Antonio to the western border should have been a gimme. But Ortiz Jones ultimately lost by about 1,250 votes — a margin that a functioning local party in the most important part of the district easily could have made up.

Then there’s Julián Castro, the Alamo City’s hometown hero. Along with his twin brother, the supposed face of the Democratic Party’s future decided to sit out the most important election cycle of his career because he didn’t want to risk sullying his profile with a statewide loss in Texas. Then he watched from the sidelines as some nobody from El Paso became a political phenom and now sits atop the 2020 presidential wishlists.

Castro also wants to run for president and is scrambling to lay down his marker in a crowded Democratic primary field, as if nothing has changed since he became a party darling in the late 2000s. The thing is, political power doesn’t last if you try to bottle it up to use at the most opportune time.

My first thought is, do you mean the Bexar County Democratic Party? The Democratic voters of Bexar County? Some number of elected officials and other insider types who hail from Bexar County? Every other item on the list is either an individual or a concise and easily-defined group. I don’t know who exactly author Justin Miller is throwing rocks at, so I’m not sure how to react to it.

Then there’s also the matter of the examples cited for why this nebulous group deserves to be scorned. Miller starts out strong with the Pete Flores-Pete Gallego special election fiasco. Let us as always look at some numbers:

SD19 runoff, Bexar County – Flores 12,027, Gallego 10,259
SD19 election, Bexar County – Flores 3,301, Gallego 3,016, Gutierrez 4,272
SD19 2016 election, Bexar County – Uresti 89,034, Flores 54,989

Clearly, in two out of three elections the Bexar County part of SD19 was key to the Democrats. Carlos Uresti’s margin of victory in 2016 was about 37K votes, which as you can see came almost entirely from Bexar. The first round of the special election had the two top Dems getting nearly 70% of the vote in Bexar. It all fell apart in the runoff. You can blame Pete Gallego and his campaign for this, you can blame Roland Gutierrez for not endorsing and stumping for Gallego, you can blame the voters themselves. A little clarity, that’s all I ask.

As for the Hurd-Ortiz Jones matchup, the numbers do not bear out the accusation.

CD23 2018 election, Bexar County – Hurd 55,191, Ortiz Jones 50,517, Corvalan 2,260
CD23 2016 election, Bexar County – Hurd 59,406, Gallego 45,396, Corvalan 6,291

Gallego trailed Hurd by 14K votes in Bexar, while Ortiz Jones trailed him by less than 5K. She got five thousand more votes in Bexar than Gallego did. Hurd had a bigger margin in Medina County and did better in the multiple small counties, while Ortiz Jones didn’t do as well in El Paso and Maverick counties. They’re much more to blame, if one must find blame, for her loss than Bexar is.

As for the Castros, I don’t think there was room for both of them to join the 2018 ticket. Joaquin Castro, as I have noted before, is right now in a pretty good position as a four-term Congressperson in a Dem-majority House. I hardly see how one could say he was wrong for holding onto that, with the bet that the House would flip. Julian could have run for Governor, but doing so would have meant not running for President in 2020, and might have ended his career if he’d lost to the surprisingly popular and extremely well-funded Greg Abbott. Would Beto plus Julian have led to better results for Texas Dems than just Beto did? It’s certainly possible, though as always it’s easy to write your own adventure when playing the counterfactual game. I agree with the basic premise that political power is more ephemeral than anyone wants to admit. I think they both made reasonable and defensible decisions for themselves, and it’s not at all clear they’d be better off today if they’d chosen to jump into a 2018 race. Life is uncertain, you know?

Who might be next to retire from Congress?

We may see some more exits in the coming years, some voluntary and some not.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

Retirement talk is generally speculative until an incumbent makes an official announcement.

But many Republican operatives bet that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the most senior Republican from Texas in Congress, could make the upcoming term his last. That’s because Thornberry, currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is term-limited out of being the top Republican on that committee, in 2021. Thornberry’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Beyond a severe loss of power in Washington, there are potentially bigger problems ahead for Texas Republicans. Every Republican incumbent from Texas who successfully ran for re-election saw his or her margins shrink over Democrats from contested 2016 races. Some of these numbers should not be troubling. For instance, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, won his race this year by 46 points, rather than 50 points in the prior cycle.

But five GOP incumbents – [Mike] McCaul and U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and Roger Williams of Austin – saw their 2016 margins shrink this year to single digits. These members will likely have to work harder for re-election in 2020 than ever before, and those battles will take place in suburban stretches of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston that have become increasingly hostile to the GOP.

[…]

The 2018 results could well prove to have been a fluke, brought on by the coattails of outgoing U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke who ran the best Democratic statewide campaign in a generation in his unsuccessful bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But anxiety is high among members and their aides that Texas can no longer sustain so many GOP incumbents – particularly after political maps gets redrawn during redistricting in 2021. Members with an eye on retirement might well wait to see the outcome of the redraw before deciding whether to call it quits.

The East Texas seat of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, is another possible vacancy to watch, though not related to his future re-election prospects. With an increasingly higher profile as a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and a past career as a federal prosecutor, Ratcliffe has emerged as a contender to be Trump’s next U.S. attorney general to replace the current acting AG, Matthew Whitaker.

As the story notes, the delegation has been pretty stable. In 2012, after the last round of redistricting and with four new seats added, there were only eight new members. Three were in new seats, of which one (Roger Williams, CD25) was in the district Lloyd Doggett abandoned to run in the new CD35. Of the other four, two defeated incumbents: Pete Gallego knocked off Quico Canseco in CD23, Beto O’Rourke knocked off Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for CD16. Only Randy Weber in CD14 and Joaquin Castro in CD20 succeeded members that had retired. Between then and this year, Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (CD15) and Randy Neugebauer (CD19) retired, and the now-convicted Steve Stockman (CD36) left to pursue a doomed primary against Sen. John Cornyn in 2014. This year was a bonanza for new faces, and there’s a decent chance we’ll have a few more over the next two cycles.

The case against Beto (and Julian) for President

From Chris Hooks:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Democrats, taking advantage of the president’s unpopularity, stand a chance of winning control of more state legislatures in 2020 and building the foundations of their party, just as Republicans did in 2010. It’s a great opportunity, and yet Democrats seem singularly focused on the upcoming presidential primary. Democrats, God bless them, are slow learners.

The prospective field includes at least two Texans: one who drafted himself, and one who is being drafted by his followers. The first is Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Obama’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He’s written a book, which seems to be a necessary precursor these days, and he’s building a PAC. Then there’s Beto O’Rourke, whom the media has been urging to run for president since at least this summer. (He said at a town hall on Monday that he and his wife “made a decision not to rule anything out.”)

Castro was, and in some quarters still is, seen as one of Texas’ great Democratic up-and-comers. O’Rourke started his campaign with little chance of success, but fought like hell. Castro, on the other hand, has stayed on the sidelines, which makes his ambitions for the presidency all the more odd. For years, Castro told allies he thought he could win a close statewide race, perhaps for governor or lieutenant governor or attorney general. But he didn’t like his chances if he started with a 10- to 20-point deficit. Given Democratic performance in Texas, it didn’t seem like his time had come yet. Beto, by contrast, jumped into what looked from the start like a 20-point race. Through Herculean effort, he closed it to less than a three-point gap. When it became clear that Beto was doing something real, many Democrats privately grumbled that Castro hadn’t run for governor or another statewide office.

Texas Democrats should fervently hope that neither Castro nor O’Rourke runs for president, for the simple reason that Texas needs them a lot more than the nation does. It’s important that a Democrat beat Trump in 2020, but only one person can win the nomination. Most failed presidential campaigns are high-risk bids for personal glory and a waste of time and money. Meanwhile, state government and Congress bend and shapes people’s lives in unseen ways. Texas is in dire need of strong Democratic candidates who can run good campaigns and reverse the damage that decades of Republican control has done to the state. In 2020, Senator John Cornyn will be up for re-election, and the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other statewide offices will be chosen by voters in 2022.

Before I go on, let the record show that Nonsequiteuse was singing from this hymnal two weeks before Hooks:

Beto, we need you in Texas.

Your work here is not done. Our work here is not done. We knocked it out of the park in the state’s largest county. And we came painfully close in many other races. But we didn’t get the prize of putting Democrats in statewide offices. We’re still a state shamefully represented by a Lt. Gov. obsessed to a troubling degree with how and where people urinate, and a thrice-indicted Attorney General.

Please don’t abandon Texas. Don’t leave us to try to recreate what you’ve built. We know all too well what years of chronic under-investment and infighting does to Democrats’ chances on the ballot. It’s time to find out what happens when we do the opposite and keep doing it, over and over again.

You’ve shown you are willing to do the painstaking work that kind of movement requires.

Analyzing the numbers shows where the Democrats need to focus going forward, and your campaign shows what sort of outreach and activism turns citizens into voters. And you’ve got some great newly-elected Democrats from Congress on down who will be there to keep the work going, too.

So Iowa may be calling, and New Hampshire is going to love you, trust me. Speaking engagements on college campuses and with Democratic organizations around the county will be yours for the taking, and undoubtedly, podcasts and political talk shows are already clamoring to book you.

But, as one of my heroes would say, I sure hope you’ll dance with them what brung you. Keep talking with us, listening to us, and working alongside us in this Lone Star State.

As you know, I want Beto to run for Senate in 2020. There are other good options for this, including Julian Castro – I’d only considered Joaquin Castro, as he had expressed some interest in running for Senate in 2018 – but suffice it to say Beto is my first round draft choice. I agree that Texas needs him more than the cattle call of Democratic Presidential wannabes need him, and just because he’d have to survive a bruising primary against some really talented politicians, his odds of being elected to the Senate seem higher to me. Any way I look at it, this is the path I would point him towards.

As for Julian, he’s been talking about the Presidency for a couple of years, he has been a Cabinet secretary, he was on the short list for VP in 2016, etc. And not to put too fine a point on it, but in 2020 the choice for a statewide person who is not a judge is the Senate and the Railroad Commission. Neither Beto O’Rourke nor Julian Castro is going to run for Railroad Commissioner, so as far as 2020 goes, it’s US Senate or bust, at least in Texas.

So yeah, if we had to do it all over again, Julian should have run for Governor this year. He’d have surely done better than Lupe Valdez, though it’s hard to believe that the Dems left many votes on the table, given that Beto exceeded Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. If we want to look all the way to 2022, there are two issues to consider. One is that Julian Castro will have been out of government for six years by then – everyone has a shelf life, like it or not – and if God willing 2022 is the first midterm of a Democratic administration, the climate could be a lot less hospitable than it was this year.

We’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The key for 2020 is to build on what was done in 2018. I believe Beto is best positioned to do that, but Julian could also do it if Beto declines. (As could several other folks.) Julian is probably better placed to run for President if he wants to, and who knows, if he’s on the ticket that in and of itself could be a big boost for Texas Dems. But yeah, bottom line is I hope Beto resists the siren call to run for President. The most good he can do is here.

Seven suggestions for Senate 2020

Big John Cornyn

Someone has to run against Big John Cornyn in 2020. I feel reasonably confident we can get someone higher up on the political food chain than David Alameel this time around. Here are my thoughts as to who that might be. I’m going to evaluate the prospects by three Cs: Charisma, contrast (with Cornyn), and cash (as in, ability to raise it).

1. Beto O’Rourke – I don’t need to explain or justify this one, right? I have no idea what Beto wants to do next – let’s give the man a few peaceful days with his family before we start bugging him about that, please – but I think we can all agree that if he expresses interest in trying again in 2020, no one will stand in his way. He probably has the best chance to win, too.

Why he might not run: Well, for one thing, there are a lot of people right now who think he’d make a pretty good Presidential candidate. I refuse to think about that right now, but we know there are some other Dems out there who think the same thing about themselves, so that’s a much less clear path forward. Nonetheless, if he has any interest in such a thing, he’ll have no trouble putting together a team for it. Basically, all options are open to Beto, including the option where he finds a nice steady well-paying job in the private sector.

2. Rep. Joaquin Castro – We all remember that Castro was thinking about running for Senate in 2018, right? He’s still a rising star in his own right as well as a young politician with ambitions, and it would be no surprise if he’s looked at the results from this year and concluded he could do at least as well. If Beto is out, then Castro is clearly next in line. Like Beto, if he wants it – and Beto doesn’t – I suspect the field would be clear for him.

Why he might not run: He’s also still someone who has a path to a leadership position in the House, and now that he’s in the majority, that looks a lot more appealing. Castro is the one person on my list who has something to lose if he runs. He’s got a safe seat and is gaining seniority. If he just keeps running for re-election, he’ll wind up accumulating a lot of power, with basically no risk. He may be ambitious, but he has more than one way to express that.

3. MJ Hegar – Probably the most charismatic of the Democratic Congressional candidates, and everything about her stands in bright contrast to the buttoned-up Mr. Establishment career politician Cornyn. She did pretty well in the fundraising department, too, and came about as close to winning as Beto did in a district that was about as Republican as the state as a whole. If she’s up for a similar political challenge on a bigger stage, she’d be a good fit.

Why she might not run: Like Beto, she might just be done with politics and want to go back to her nice private life. She too could do anything she wanted to at this point. Like everyone else who ran this cycle, she’s not a new face any more and thus won’t necessarily get the breathless profiles written about her that she did this time, and you can only ever release an ad like her now-iconic “Doors” ad once. That said, if Beto’s out and Castro stays put, she’s my first choice.

4. Justin Nelson, and 5. Kim Olson – Grouping these two together, as the best-performing statewide candidates from this year that I can see taking a shot at this race. I love Mike Collier, but I don’t get the sense that the Senate might interest him, and he provides the least contrast to Cornyn. Nelson did a decent job raising money and has the kind of attack mentality that would be needed, but as a white guy who went to an Ivy League law school there’s not much contrast with Cornyn. Olson has grade A charisma and would provide the contrast, but is unproven as a fundraiser. They both know what it takes to run statewide, and they both came close to winning.

Why they might not run: Either would have to answer questions about how they’d plan to raise the gazillion dollars they’d need in a Presidential year against a moneybags like Cornyn. While they’ve both run statewide, they got to draft behind Beto most of the time. Despite having run statewide, they’re probably the two least known candidates on this list, and they haven’t had the experience of running a big, well-funded campaign.

6. Sri Kulkarni – Very similar in profile to MJ Hegar, and though it took longer for the national press to notice him, he did garner his share of positive coverage for how he ran his campaign, and he turned a race that wasn’t on anyone’s radar a year ago into a close contest.

Why he might not run: Again, basically the same as Hegar, and you can’t discount the potential for racism and xenophobia as he campaigns around the state. Who needs that in their lives?

7. Someone who didn’t run for something in 2018 and whom we know nothing about right now – If we’ve learned anything from the 2018 election cycle, it’s that there are a lot of compelling and potentially successful candidates out there among the teeming millions of people who have never even considered running for office before. The candidate pool is as big as it’s ever been, too, with so many “first fill-in-the-blank” people getting elected this year. Who’s to say that the next rising star won’t come out of nowhere?

That’s what I’ve got. What do you think?

At some point we will be able to stop talking about who may run for Governor as a Democrat

That day is December 11. I am looking forward to it.

Andrew White

With less than a month before the filing deadline, the most prominent declared candidate for Texas governor is probably Andrew White, the son of former governor Mark White. White, a self-described “very conservative Democrat,” has never run for elected office and holds views on abortion likely to alienate some Democratic primary voters. (He says he wants to “increase access to healthcare and make abortion rare.”) In a November 2 Facebook post, Davis — a major figure in the state’s reproductive justice scene — called White “anti-choice” and summarized her reaction to his candidacy: “Uhh — no. Just no.”

For lieutenant governor, mild-mannered accountant Mike Collier — who lost a run for comptroller last cycle by 21 percentage points — is challenging Dan Patrick, one of the state’s most effective and well-funded conservative firebrands. Attorney General Ken Paxton, who will be fighting his securities fraud indictment during campaign season, drew a largely unheard-of Democratic opponent last week in attorney Justin Nelson, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Candidate filing officially opened Saturday and ends December 11, but candidates who haven’t declared are missing opportunities for fundraising, building name recognition and organizing a campaign.

“Texas Democrats have quite clearly thrown in the towel for 2018,” said Mark P. Jones, a Rice University political scientist. “People truly committed to running would already be running; [the party] may be able to cajole, coerce or convince some higher-profile candidates to run, but with every passing day that’s less likely.”

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced last week that she’s considering a gubernatorial run, but her staff refused further comment and Valdez has yet to file. Whoever faces off with Governor Greg Abbott will be staring down a $41 million war chest.

Democratic party officials insist more candidates are forthcoming: “We’ve taken our punches for withholding the names of who we’re talking to,” said Manny Garcia, deputy director with the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s been personally frustrating to me because I know who we’re talking to and I know they’re exciting people.”

Castro agreed with Garcia: “I do believe that before the filing deadline you’re going to see people stepping up to run,” he told the Observer.

The lone bright spot on the statewide slate, said Jones, is Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman taking on Ted Cruz. Highlighting the value of announcing early, O’Rourke has raised an impressive $4 million since March off mostly individual donations.

“Like in Battlestar Galactica, O’Rourke is Battlestar Galactica and then there’s this ragtag fleet of garbage ships and transports accompanying him,” Jones said of the current Democratic lineup, noting that even O’Rourke was a second-string option to Congressman Joaquín Castro.

Look, either Manny Garcia is right and we’ll be pleasantly surprised come December 12, or he’s being irrationally exuberant and we’ll all enjoy some gallows humor at his expense. Yeah, it would be nice to have a brand-name candidate out there raising money and his or her profile right now, but how much does two or three months really matter? Bill White was still running for a Senate seat that turned out not to be available at this time in 2009; he didn’t officially shift to Governor until the first week of December. If there is a candidate out there that will broadly satisfy people we’ll know soon enough; if not, we’ll need to get to work for the candidates we do have. Such is life.

In other filing news, you can see the 2018 Harris County GOP lineup to date here. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the HCDP has no such publicly available list at this time. You can see some pictures of candidates who have filed on the HCDP Facebook page, but most of those pictures have no captions and I have no idea who some of those people are. The SOS primary filings page is useless, and the TDP webpage has nothing, too. As for the Harris County GOP, a few notes:

– State Rep. Kevin Roberts is indeed in for CD02. He’s alone in that so far, and there isn’t a candidate for HD126 yet.

– Marc Cowart is their candidate for HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large, the seat being vacated by Diane Trautman.

– So far, Sarah Davis is the only incumbent lucky enough to have drawn a primary challenger, but I expect that will change.

That’s about it for anything interesting. There really aren’t any good targets for them beyond that At Large HCDE seat, as the second edge of the redistricting sword is really safe seats for the other party, since you have to pack them in somewhere. Feel free to leave any good speculation or innuendo in the comments.

Julian 2020?

He has raised the possibility.

Julian Castro

Texas Democrat Julian Castro confirmed Sunday he is seriously considering running for president in 2020 and former state Sen. Wendy Davis left open the possibility she will take another run at running for governor in 2018.

“I might,” Castro told more than 350 people at a political conference near the University of Texas on Sunday morning. Davis’ comments came at the same event.

Castro, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, said the country needs a very different president than what is in office now and he will spend 2018 weighing a bid. He said the country needs someone “fundamentally honest” in the White House.

“We’ve had too much lying out of the White House,” Castro said.

Well, it’s hard to argue with that. There has been talk of Julian Castro running for President in 2020 – it’s even had an effect on Joaquin Castro’s consideration of running for Governor this year. I’ve no doubt that Julian Castro has been thinking about running since approximately November 9 of last year. It’s mostly a question of how he goes about it. I’ll be happy to see Julian run and will give strong consideration to supporting him, but for now all I care about is 2018.

Speaking of 2018, from the same story:

At the same event, Davis meanwhile left open the possibility that she will be running for governor again in 2020.

The former state senator from Fort Worth said although she was defeated in 2014 by Gov. Greg Abbott, it was before voters knew how far right he would go in supporting legislation like SB 4, which she called the “show me your papers” law that threatens every citizen with brown skin. Supporters of SB 4 have said the legislation was to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities and allow local law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they pull over.

Davis made clear she’s only considering it largely because other Democrats have failed to step forward to run.

“Because no one else is stepping forward,” Davis said when asked by moderator Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune why she was not ruling it out.

I love Wendy Davis. I don’t know how many other Democrats love her at this point. It’s a hard thing, losing an election like she did. This story came out before Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez put her name out there, and I think it’s safe to say that if Valdez gets in, Davis will not. But she’s there, maybe, just in case.

One of the other brand-name candidates who is at least thinking about “stepping forward” is Andrew White, who as this Trib story about the same event notes was criticized by Davis fr being anti-choice. White has since updated his website to address some issues; he says “Roe v Wade is the law of the land, and I respect the law” in the Women’s Health section, which doesn’t tell us very much about what sort of bills he would sign or veto if he were to be elected. You can see what he has for yourself – I’m more concerned about his Border Security position, which doesn’t make any sense to me. Filing begins this weekend, so one way or another we’ll begin to get some clarity.

Can anyone beat Greg Abbott?

It’s early days and all that, but the evidence at hand now isn’t positive.

The reason for that is fairly simple. A poll circulating among the state’s Democratic leadership—which I was given on the agreement that I would not identify its source, but I have confirmed the information with additional Democratic operatives—shows Abbott is currently the most popular politician in Texas, with less than 30 percent of the state’s voters viewing him unfavorably. If the election had been held when the poll was conducted this summer among 1,000 registered Texans likely to vote in 2016, Abbott would have received 49 percent of the vote, and a Democrat to be named later would have scored 38 percent. That’s about the same percentage of the vote Democrat Wendy Davis received in her 2014 loss to Abbott. The poll also notes that Abbott’s name identification among voters was 91 percent. Castro’s was 44 percent. It was not a general survey of voters, because it oversampled Hispanics and voters in some targeted state House districts. About 37 percent of the respondents were Democrats, 19 percent independents, and 44 percent Republicans.

I only received a portion of the survey relating primarily to Abbott and the president, but it seems to show that the Donald Trump effect that Democrats have been hoping for is missing in Texas. Although the president’s personal favorable/unfavorable rating and job approval is about even, Abbott’s job approval was 61 percent, followed by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz at 55 percent. Not to mention that a whopping 76 percent of Texans had a positive view of the state’s economy—a key metric for incumbents.

Still, these numbers are in no small part because Abbott is Governor Bland. When asked whether he has ever done anything to make respondents proud, half said no, while less than 40 percent said yes. Has he ever done anything to make you angry? Sixty-seven percent said no.

The poll did produce some useful takeaways for Democrats though. For instance, 82 percent of poll respondents said the Legislature spends too much time on issues like the bathroom bill. President Trump’s health care proposals and plan to build a wall on the Texas border were opposed by half of those surveyed, and 65 percent said the state’s Medicaid program should be expanded to provide health care to more people. Fifty-eight percent opposed dividing families to deport undocumented immigrants, but support for the sanctuary cities law was split 40-40. The remaining 20 percent had no opinion.

[…]

But the biggest problem for Democrats with Abbott is that a sacrificial lamb candidate, or even a wealthy candidate who runs a poor campaign, can have a negative effect on candidates in down-ballot races.

So the other idea is to skip the governor’s race to concentrate on incumbents such as Patrick and Cruz. CPA Mike Collier, who ran an unsuccessful race for comptroller last year, has announced against Patrick, who is closely linked to the unpopular bathroom bill. There also are other potential down-ballot state races where the incumbent might be vulnerable, such as Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who has been making bad publicity a habit. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges, and I’m told several attorneys are looking at mounting a challenge against him. Paxton’s trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on the same day as the party primaries filing deadline, December 11.

That’s from RG Ratcliffe, and I trust his reporting. The UT/Trib polls have always shown Abbott to be more popular than his peers, and I think Ratcliffe nails the reason why – Abbott is as dull as cardboard, so he gets the credit for things that people like without carrying the weight of being the villain, like Patrick or Cruz. I note that Ratcliffe has nothing to add about those two, which may be because the poll in question didn’t include them or possibly because he was not given clearance to talk about that stuff. I fully expect that the numbers look better for Dems against those two, though “better” does not mean “good enough to realistically think about winning”. All one can do here is speculate.

Ratcliffe suggests the best case scenario for Dems at the state level is for a self-funder to get in and spend enough to be competitive, at least in that category, with Abbott. I’ll wait to see who such a person may be and what he or she has to say about the issues before I sign off on that. An interesting question is what Abbott will do if he doesn’t have to spend much if any of his campaign fortune to get re-elected. Will he drop $20-30 million on a general get-out-the-Republican vote strategy, in the name of holding on to competitive seats and making gains where they are makable while maybe also knocking off some “RINOs” in the primaries, or will he prefer to hoard his gold, for the ego boost of seeing big numbers next to his name and to scare off the competition in 2022?

I don’t know yet what I think the effect of Abbott being functionally unopposed will be on other races. Patrick and Paxton and Miller all present fairly large attack surfaces, and of course Beto O’Rourke is doing his own thing and continuing to get favorable national press for his campaign. And for what it’s worth, O’Rourke isn’t sweating his lack of company at the very top of the ticket.

U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke said this week he isn’t worried that Democrats haven’t found a viable candidate to run for governor of Texas.

“The only thing I can do is what I can do. I can control our campaign,” O’Rourke told The Dallas Morning News during a campaign stop at the University of Texas at Dallas. “I’m not concerned. There’s clearly something different in Texas right now … folks are coming out like I’ve never seen before. As word gets out, as people see that, there’s going to be a greater interest in getting into the race.”

[…]

[TDP Chair Gilberto] Hinojosa and other Democrats insist they will have a candidate to run against Abbott. The filing period for the 2018 elections closes in December.

O’Rourke hopes there will be a full, qualified slate.

“I’m optimistic, but I can’t control it,” he said. “I try not to think about it too much.”

I mean, what else is he going to say? It’s not a problem until it is, I suppose, and that will happen when and if the first slew of crash-into-reality polls start coming down. Until then, Beto’s got his own fish to fry.

Don’t wait on Joaquin

We may want him to, but Rep. Joaquin Castro probably isn’t running for Governor.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Exiting a summit on citizen diplomacy Tuesday at the Texas Capitol, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, was trailed by a handful of reporters.
“Something tells me you didn’t come to hear a speech about international affairs,” Castro said.

He was right.

The reporters were there to once again ask whether he would consider running for governor in 2018.

It has become a somewhat tired ritual. But with no hint of any formidable Democratic candidate ready to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott, reporters have little else to work with, and for Castro, as for his twin brother, Julián, the only day more nettlesome than the ones on which they are asked about their future political ambitions, will be the day when reporters stop asking about those ambitions.

[…]

Last week, Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa stirred the ashes of hope that Joaquín Castro might run in 2018 in search of faint embers.

“He’s never ruled it out,” Hinojosa said of Castro.

So, Castro was asked Tuesday, apropos Hinojosa’s comments, “Are you still considering it?”

“No. I have nothing further to add right now,” Castro replied. “My plan is to run for re-election, as I said when we had a press conference here about a month ago.”

That was Aug. 16, when Castro, also in the Capitol where he served 10 years as a state representative, said to much the same gaggle of reporters, “Well, I have a job right now, and my plan is to run for re-election.”

Castro was asked Tuesday if Hinojosa was guilty of peddling false information.

“The chairman is a great friend and has worked really hard building up the Democratic Party over the last few years, and I’m very appreciative of his work,” Castro said.

Have you ruled out a run for governor?

“My plan is to run for re-election,” replied Castro, now chuckling at the inability of reporters to let it go.

See here for the background. One can twist oneself into knots parsing each word and coming up with Reasons why this isn’t a flat denial, but one would be deluding oneself. He’s not running for Governor, for all the reasons why he didn’t run for Senate and more. Maybe there is someone out there with a decent profile who will (*cough* *cough* Pete Gallego *cough* *cough*), but barring anything unforeseen, I’ll take the chance of looking foolish and saying there’s no there there. He’s running for re-election, and that’s that. Sorry, y’all.

Some people would like Joaquin Castro to run for Governor

The headline to this story says that Rep. Castro “is considering” a run for Governor, but if you read the story you’ll see that my characterization is the more accurate.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

In need of someone to lead the top of the 2018 ticket, Democrats are trying to persuade U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro to run for Texas governor.

“He and others are considering it,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told The Dallas Morning News. “It’s a very big decision for him. It would require him to leave his safe seat in the U.S. House, where he’s a rising star.”

Castro, who will turn 43 on Saturday, has represented the 20th Congressional District since 2013. He served 10 years in the Texas House. He had not responded to requests for comment as of Thursday afternoon.

Texas Democrats have been in search of a 2018 candidate for governor in hopes of beating incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and boosting down-ballot candidates in the Texas Senate and House.

Hinojosa said Democrats hope to compete in 15 to 20 Texas House contests, as well as three congressional seats with Republican incumbents. “All these races would be helped by a strong candidate at the top of the ticket,” Hinojosa said. But analysts say Castro is unlikely to run for governor because there’s not a clear path to victory for Democrats, who have not won a statewide race in Texas since 1994.

[…]

Castro appeared destined to run for re-election to the House, but Texas Democrats approached him late this summer and asked him to be the party’s standard-bearer against Abbott. Several Democrats have passed on running for governor, including Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas.

Hinojosa said he doesn’t know which way Castro was leaning. “I won’t comment on conversations I’ve had with potential candidates,” he said.

Matt Angle, director of the Democratic research group the Lone Star Project, said Castro’s deliberations might lead him to run for re-election, not governor. But he said Democrats will still field a strong challenger. “We will have a candidate for governor that Democrats can feel good about,” he said. “Whether they will have a path to victory, I don’t know.”

I’d love to know who those “others” are that are also considering it. (I’ll put in a plug again for Pete Gallego.) Chairman Hinojosa seems to have a good grasp of the reasons why Rep. Castro may demur – they’re basically the same as the reasons why he’d demur on a run against Ted Cruz, with the added incentive of Abbott having a bajillion dollars to his name and not being the most despised politician not named Trump in the state. Against that, one could argue that the political climate is growing more favorable to the Dems as Trump keeps flailing about and selling out his base, and if Castro had any plans to run for Senate against John Cornyn in 2020, a noble but non-crushing loss to Abbott would be a decent dry run for it. On top of all this are the apparent calculations about Julian Castro’s future, and whether a Joaquin candidacy for Governor and the accompanying non-trivial risk of crashing and burning would hinder Julian’s chances of running against Trump in 2020. As they say, it’s complicated. My guess is that Castro sits it out and we get to see who’s next on the wish list. I imagine we’ll have a clear indicator soon.

UPDATE: In the Statesman, Hinojosa says that Castro “never ruled out” running for Governor. To be fair, neither have I.

So who might run for Cornyn’s Senate seat?

The short answer is “pretty much anyone”, but there are several names that are on top of everyone’s list of imagined candidates.

Big John Cornyn

At least three members of the U.S. House are mulling a run for a possible U.S. Senate vacancy, should President Donald Trump appoint U.S. Sen. John Cornyn as the new FBI director.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican, is one of those hopefuls for the would-be vacancy, along with Democratic U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.

“McCaul has put himself in a good position to be toward the top of the list of people who might succeed Sen. Cornyn,” a source close to McCaul told The Texas Tribune. “He’s built statewide name recognition and a political effort that could be quickly turned on for a statewide campaign for Senate.”

There was a similar readout on the Democratic side.

“If there’s a special election called, Joaquin would strongly consider that,” a source close to Castro told the Tribune of a would-be Senate vacancy.

“He’s already running for Senate, and … if an election came up for a Texas [U.S.] Senate [seat] before that, he would undoubtedly look at it,” a source close to O’Rourke told the Tribune. “There’s no question he would take a look at it.”

O’Rourke is currently running against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, as the junior senator aims for a second term in 2018. The O’Rourke source did not elaborate on what these deliberations might mean for the 2018 race.

See here for the background, and remember that this is all Wild Speculation. As I said before, this would be a free shot for any incumbent, so of course it makes sense for Joaquin Castro to look at it. The same is true for Beto O’Rourke, who can argue he’s already running a Senate campaign now, so he’d have a leg up. I would have a preference for Castro in this case, in part to ensure that we still have someone to run against Ted Cruz next year, but the main consideration would be having just one of them in and not both. This is because a race like this will almost certainly go to a runoff, and the odds of having a Dem in the runoff are better with one consensus candidate among a gaggle of Republicans than more than one Dem splitting the vote. Again, we are getting way ahead of ourselves, and it’s not like anyone can stop someone from running if they want to, but if it were up to me we’d have Joaquin Castro in the race with Beto O’Rourke staying focused on 2018.

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.

Castro will not run for Senate in 2018

Well, that’s settled.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, has decided not to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

He announced the decision in an email to supporters Monday, saying he wants to remain focused on his work in the House. The decision leaves U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, as Cruz’s main competition.

“I’ve kept my pledge to fight for hard-working Texans, and I’ll keep doing that,” Castro said in the email. “However, with the threats posed by Russia and North Korea, coupled with the reckless behavior of this Administration and their failure to invest in economic opportunity for the American people, at this time I believe I can best continue that work by focusing on my duties in the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees.”

Castro, seen as a rising star among Texas Democrats, had been mulling a Senate run for several months. In recent weeks, he promised to announce his decision by the end of April. As recently as last week, he was non-committal to House colleagues.

As you know, I am not surprised by this. I’ve said all along, Castro would be giving up a lot for what is at best a longshot bid for the Senate, and now he’d have to win a primary against someone who got there first just to be able to make that longshot bid. It just didn’t add up, and that’s before you throw the possibility of being part of a Congressional majority in 2019. Life is full of unquantifiable risks and decisions that have to be made on insufficient evidence. Whatever Castro chose would have been understandable and defensible, and whatever he chose will open him up to criticism. I respect the decision he made as I would have respected the decision he didn’t make, and I wish him the best. Maybe we’ll see him on the ballot for Senate in 2020. In the meantime, get on the Beto train. He’s going to need everyone’s help next year. RG Ratcliffe and the Chron have more.

What will Joaquin do?

Getting to be close to decision time.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

After U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro wrapped up speaking here Wednesday, completing the latest stop on his statewide tour ahead of a potential Senate run, one man in the crowd turned to another and voiced some ambivalence.

“I don’t know if he should do it,” the man said, alluding to what would be an uphill battle against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “He’s got a good thing going.”

It’s the question hanging over the San Antonio Democrat as he nears an announcement on his plans for 2018: Is it worth giving up his seat in Congress, where he has had a steadily growing profile, for a long-shot challenge of Cruz, particularly when another Democrat, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, is already running?

“At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s in his gut,” said Julián Castro, Joaquin Castro’s twin brother and the former U.S. housing secretary. “Is this something where he can best serve the people of Texas and his constituents, and that’s not an easy decision because he’s done a lot of great work in Congress and he has significant committee assignments that allow him to serve his constituents and the American people well.”

[…]

O’Rourke, for his part, has plowed ahead full-steam with his campaign as Castro continues mulling a run. Since announcing his bid on March 31, O’Rourke has held campaign events in 12 cities across the state. He is scheduled to hit another seven cities through Monday. Castro has made public appearances in at least five Texas cities during the same period, including four outside of his congressional district.

Asked about Castro’s potential candidacy at events, O’Rourke has largely expressed deference, saying that the two have long shared their interest in the race with one another and that if Castro runs, they will compete in a way that “makes Texas proud.” O’Rourke said Friday he has no problem if Castro wants to take longer than his original timeline to make up his mind, saying he wants the San Antonio congressman “to do what’s right for him, for his family and what he thinks is best for the country.”

At the same time, however, O’Rourke has shown awareness that a strong start to his campaign could have an impact on the trajectory of the primary.

“If you don’t want anybody else to run and you want to make sure we’re concentrating all our resources, all of our focus, all of our dollars, on seizing a historic, once-in-a-30-year opportunity,” O’Rourke said this month during a campaign stop in San Marcos, “then get behind me.”

The encouragement is “less about anyone else than our effort,” O’Rourke said Friday.

Whoever runs on the Democratic side, national Republicans continue to express confidence that the seat will easily hold for the party in 2018. Democrats have mostly put Texas on the back burner, as the party remains concerned about 10 Senate incumbents who represent states Donald Trump carried last year.

Senate races are frequently so highly organized that they can often resemble the sophistication of a presidential campaign. It is difficult to quietly plan a Senate campaign — and the chatter around Castro in both House Democratic and Senate circles is remarkably quiet in Washington.

My guess continues to be that Castro will not run. If the Dems retake the House, he ought to be in a position to be far more influential there. It’s not clear that he would be anything other than a longshot to win, or that he would be any less of a longshot than O’Rourke. On the other hand, it may be a long time before conditions may be as favorable for a win as they appear to be today, and when they are that favorable again there will be others jockeying for position to take advantage of it. I don’t know what the “right” answer is for Rep. Castro, but whatever it is we ought to know it soon.

Texas Lyceum poll on Trump and 2018

From the inbox, the promised Day Two results:

Statewide poll numbers released today by the Texas Lyceum, the state’s premier, non-partisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group, show U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Houston (Lyceum Class of 2004) isn’t guaranteed another term as Texas’ Senator according to early trial ballots pitting the incumbent against his two likely Democratic challengers: U.S. Congressmen Beto O’Rourke of El Paso and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

Senator Cruz is tied with Congressman O’Rourke, who entered the contest last month, at 30 percent each. However, 37 percent of registered Texas voters say they haven’t thought about the race yet. Congressman Castro fairs slightly better against the incumbent Senator, with 35 percent of Texas adults saying they support him over Ted Cruz at 31 percent.

“Ballot tests conducted this far in advance of an actual election are, at best, useful in gauging the potential weaknesses of incumbents seeking re-election,” said Daron Shaw. “But the substantial percentage of undecided respondents—coupled with the conservative, pro-Republican proclivities of the Texas electorate in recent years—suggest a cautious interpretation.”

Patrick vs. Collier

Meantime, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger, Houston area accountant Mike Collier, comes within the margin of error if that 2018 race were held today. 27 percent chose the little-known Collier compared to 25 percent who chose Lieutenant Governor Patrick. But again “not thought about it” outpaces both candidates at 46 percent in that race – which is also 18 months away.

Right Track/ Wrong Track

Compared to last year, fewer Texans believe the country is on the wrong track at 52 percent compared to to 63 percent in 2016. However, party and race drive much of the results, with 84 percent of Democrats saying the country is on the wrong track, and 73 percent of Republicans expressing that things are moving in the right direction.

President Trump’s job approval numbers line up by party

More Texans disapprove than approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as President (54 percent to 42 percent), but the results vary significantly by party. 85 percent of Republicans give the President positive marks compared to 86 percent of Democrats who disapprove of his job performance. Same goes for young Texans – 73 percent of 18-29 year olds are not enthused with the President’s job performance along with 61 percent of Hispanics. Meantime, he is viewed positively by 60 percent of Whites.

The press release for Day Two, from which I am quoting above, is here, and the Day Two Executive Summary is here. My post on the Day One poll is here, and the Lyceum poll page for 2017 is here. As you might imagine, I have a few thoughts about this.

1. For comparison purposes, the UT/Trib poll from February had Trump’s approval ratings at 46/44, which is to say slightly more approval but considerably less disapproval than the Lyceum result, with both polls showing a strong split between Dems and Republicans. What explains the divergence of the results, given the similar partisan dynamic? Two likely reasons: First, the Trib poll is of registered voters, while the Lyceum surveys adults, of whom 11% are not registered. It’s probable that the broader the sample, the less Republican-leaning it is. We don’t know what the partisan mix is of the Lyceum poll so this is just a guess, but it is consistent with the numbers. Two, the Trib result showed that independents were basically evenly split on Trump, at least in February. The Lyceum poll doesn’t say how indies felt about Trump, but if it is the case that they were sufficiently against him, that would have tilted the numbers into negative territory. Again I’m just guessing, but either or both of these things being true could explain the difference.

2. I’m not sure what the “cautious interpretation” of the very early horse race numbers Daron Shaw has in mind is, but my cautious interpretation is that these numbers kind of stink for Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick. Not because of what the Democrats got, though I’ll speak to those figures in a minute, but because there was so little support expressed for Cruz and Patrick. A key feature of many super early polls is that a lot of people haven’t given the matter any thought, and of those who have many don’t yet have an opinion or don’t feel strongly enough about it to express an opinion. With challengers, there’s often a name recognition factor as well, so the generally low number that a newbie will get reflects little more than some raw partisan preference. But here we are talking about two incumbents who are the highest-profile politicians in the state. For Cruz to top out at 31 percent and Patrick at 25 percent, with both trailing lesser-known opponents, suggests that there’s not a whole lot of love for these guys. It’s hardly a time for panic, but I’d be at least a little bit concerned about such limp numbers if I were them.

3. By the same token, even a 35% support level for Joaquin Castro at this point in time, and even before he’s a candidate (if indeed he becomes one), is not too shabby. Remember, most people haven’t given this any thought or don’t have a strong opinion if they have one, yet Castro is already almost at the level of support that actual 2014 statewide Democrats received that year. That suggests at least the possibility of a higher than usual level of engagement and interest. For another point of comparison, the November 2013 UT/Trib poll for the Governor’s race had Greg Abbott leading Wendy Davis 40-35; this was not long after the summer of the Davis filibuster and the the HB2 special sessions, when enthusiasm for Davis was about as high as it ever was to get, as well as being seven months farther along in the calendar. It’s one result and I don’t want to over-interpret, but given all the other evidence we have about Democratic levels of engagement this year, it feels like we’re starting out in a different place. Beto O’Rourke’s thirty percent against Cruz is closer to what I’d consider the normal default level for Dems in a very early poll, but in this case the difference between himself and Catro may just be a reflection of a higher level of name recognition for Castro.

4. Again, it is important to remember this is a poll of adults, eleven percent of whom in this sample are not registered to vote. I don’t know how the numbers break down by registered/not registered, but the point here is that it is likely a significant number of the people in this poll will not participate in the 2018 election, and as such their opinions just don’t matter. That said, a huge piece of the puzzle for Democrats, especially next year, will be to get lower propensity voters to the polls, as we saw happen in the recent Congressional special elections in Kansas and Georgia. This one poll doesn’t tell us much, but future polls may paint a picture of how or if that is happening for Democrats, and for Republicans too – if they are less engaged, then they will have trouble.

5. Which brings me back to the Presidential approval numbers, as they are likely to be the best proxy we will have for voter enthusiasm going forward. As noted before, Democrats and Republicans have roughly similar levels of disapproval and approval of Donald Trump, which means that any change in the overall level of approval for Trump will come from either independents turning against him and/or Republicans abandoning him. This poll suggests the possibility of #1 happening, but as yet we have not seen evidence of #2. If we ever do, that’s going to be a big deal, and potentially a big problem for the Republicans. RG Ratcliffe, TPM, and the Trib have more.

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.

Castro will decide this month

We should know soon if there are two Democratic challengers to Sen. Ted Cruz.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

After Joaquin Castro exhorted a room full of Dallas-area activists Sunday to mobilize against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, a man asked the San Antonio congressman the most pressing question: “You gonna run?”

A grinning Castro said he would make a decision on a Senate campaign by the end of April.

“Beating Ted Cruz in Texas is a tough hill to climb,” he said. “We’re going to need all the energy we can get.”

Meanwhile in Fort Worth, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, already a candidate to challenge Cruz, was making his pitch to Cowtown voters.

“The fact that you have a member of Congress that’s already announced and filed, and another member of Congress who is weeks away from making his decision, that is a sign of health and vitality,” O’Rourke said before his campaign stop. “This is becoming a two-party state.”

[…]

The potential of two Democrats vying to meet Cruz in an uphill battle has the party faithful excited. Cruz is the most popular Republican in Texas, and beating him will be tough for anyone, let alone a Democrat in a GOP-controlled state.

“Competition is good,” said DeSoto City Council member Candice Quarles, who attended Sunday’s march. “A competitive Senate race will get Democrats excited again. If you want it, you’ve got to earn it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Quarles said the fresh faces of Castro and O’Rourke would inspire younger voters who have grown tired of the same faces that often discourage new involvement in the political process.
State Rep. Victoria Neave, who in 2016 upset incumbent Republican Kenneth Sheets in Dallas-based House District 107, said voters were excited about both candidates.

“People are excited about the change we can have here in Texas,” Neave said. “Both of the candidates are exciting and they are getting people engaged. Anytime we have dialogue and discourse about issues in our community, it’s a good thing.”

I’ve discussed the primary question before, mostly in the context of it being Beto O’Rourke versus some nobody or nobodies that he could (hopefully) crush as a warmup exercise. A primary against Castro would be a whole ‘nother thing. No question, it would energize a lot of people, it would bring a ton of attention to the Democratic ticket, and it would be great exposure and experience for the winner, and quite possibly for the loser if he’d consider a 2020 challenge to John Cornyn as a Plan B. And right now at least, everyone is being cordial and focusing on the big prize. Castro and O’Rourke have been appearing at events together and openly talk about their respect for each other. But let’s not kid ourselves, primaries are competitions in which someone wins and someone loses, and the more competitive it is the harder and more personally everyone takes it. This isn’t an argument against Castro getting in – by all means, if that’s his intention, he should go for it – just a reminder that the laws of primary elections have not been repealed. Whatever people are saying now, if Castro/O’Rourke does happen, they will all be glad when it’s over.

Here comes Beto

He says he’s going to run a different kind of campaign. We’ll see what that means.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

No Texas Democrat has won a U.S. Senate seat in nearly thirty years or any statewide office since 1994. It is hard to find a political operative in Washington or back in Texas who would bet money – or professional credibility – on O’Rourke winning this race.

But the El Paso Democrat is earnestly bullish that he will go to the Senate through a strategy of bringing retail politics to a state of 27 million people.

He has no pollster and no consultants at this point, and said he has no interest in hiring operatives of that ilk.

“Since 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen won re-election to the Senate, Democrats have spent close to a billion dollars on consultants and pollsters and experts and campaign wizards and have performed terribly,” he said.

[…]

How in the world does he plan to beat Ted Cruz?

“Tactically, strategically, I don’t know,” O’Rourke said. “It’ll come from Texas, and I have faith and trust the people of this state will make the best decision in the interest of their families and their kids…I just trust that. My challenge, I guess, is to meet enough of them so that they can make an informed decision.”

His aim, he said, is to campaign beyond urban strongholds in a case-by-case basis.

In a 38-minute long interview the day before his official announcement, it was apparent that O’Rourke was not going to make his campaign all about Cruz – a temptation given the senator’s polarizing image among even some in his own party. O’Rourke never once mentioned Cruz by name or directly criticized his potential rival. Instead, he focused on topics like immigration, the border, and advocacy for his hometown.

The approach brought to mind the discipline Cruz has shown in his campaigns for U.S. Senate and president.

And then there is money. Traditionally, the best way to build name recognition has been through television advertising, and a statewide buy runs at least $1 million a week.

Cruz begins the race with $4.2 million in campaign money. And the early signs amid O’Rourke’s run is that tea party groups and establishment organizations will line up with tens of millions of dollars to back Cruz at the slightest sign of trouble.

Nationally, Democrats have no appetite at this point to spend serious money in Texas, and O’Rourke is not accepting money from political action committees. He, like all federal candidates, has no control over whether a super PAC opts to get involved.

But anyone opposing Cruz is a likely magnet for angry liberal dollars. And O’Rourke could have the makings of a Bernie Sanders-type fundraising operation. He is one of the most adept politicians when it comes to social media and was an early adapter of building a following with Facebook Live, a means of broadcasting events through that website.

The results of those efforts are often viral frenzies. Most recently, his bipartisan road trip with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, earned both men a storm of positive publicity. So much so, that a handful of Republican operatives in Washington began to sit up and watch O’Rourke more closely.

[…]

The 2016 election gave Democrats cautious hope for Texas. Trump’s margins were narrower than other recent GOP standard-bearers and Democrats made enormous headway into urban centers.

O’Rourke, however, spent much of his time in the lead up to Friday’s announcement in mid-sized towns, including: Wichita Falls, College Station, Killeen, Lubbock, Midland, Waco, Corpus Christi and Odessa.

O’Rourke said he had expected a few dozen attendees at each of these events. Oftentimes, over a hundred people showed up, having heard of the event through word-of-mouth or Facebook.

The larger aim is to look beyond the cities and take his case to rural voters. The idea is not to win those regions, but to lose less-badly.

Here’s the Beto for Texas website, if you haven’t seen it yet. O’Rourke has some things going for him. He has already generated a fair amount of excitement on the progressive side, partly for who he is and what he’s done in Congress and partly because he’s running against Ted Cruz, and I do think that will help him raise money. In particular, it will help him raise money in a way that frees him up from the time-sucking drudgery of dialing for dollars, which in turn will mean more time for the mind of retail politics he wants to do. He’s fluent in online communication. Most of all, he’s genuine and comfortable in his own skin, which presents a good contrast to a giant phony like Cruz.

In short, I think if people get to know Beto O’Rourke, they will generally like him. The question as always is will he be able to make himself known to enough people? I don’t think he needs to run a standard high-priced media campaign, which he may or may not have the funds for anyway. He’ll get the votes of the Democrats who show up. But if that’s all he gets, he’ll receive 1.7 million votes or so and lose by 15 or 20 points. As I said before, he’s going to need a lot of votes from people who don’t normally show up in these elections. I’d say he’ll need a minimum of 2.5 million votes if it’s a down year for Republican turnout, and upwards of 3 million otherwise. It’s getting those 800,000 to 1.3 million other votes that will be the real challenge. (All of these numbers will be somewhat lower if indeed Matthew Dowd gets into the race, but until he takes a concrete step towards doing so I consider that to be primarily a theoretical concept.)

To that extent, the retail strategy and the visiting places outside the usual Democratic sweet spots makes sense. I have no doubt that there are plenty of people in those places that will show up and vote if they feel they have a reason to do so. Not enough of them to win, of course, but it’s a start. Spend some time in the suburbs – Fort Bend, Williamson, Collin, Brazoria, you know the drill – and the formerly rural places that are becoming increasingly suburban – Hays, Bastrop, Guadalupe, Comal – and I think you’ll be on to something.

As for whether O’Rourke waltzes to the nomination or has to win a contested primary, I’ll say this: Even if the primary is just O’Rourke and one or more no-names, possibly including the likes of Grady Yarbrough, I say O’Rourke should campaign hard and do everything he can to win convincingly and with as big a turnout as possible. In 2014, I basically shrugged off the lackluster Democratic primary and argued that the low turnout and 22% of the vote that Ray Madrigal got against Wendy Davis meant nothing. I still don’t think it was that big a deal, but it wasn’t nothing. Right now, O’Rourke is a positive, scrappy-underdog-with-a-history-of-beating-expectations story. A lackluster showing in the first opportunity that people will have to vote for him will not look good and will not keep that story going. And if he winds up with a more high-profile primary opponent, like Joaquin Castro, then the primary will give us all a chance to see how he does on the big stage. Until he has a March opponent, he has the limelight to himself. I hope he uses it for all he can and begins to build something that will grow and accelerate towards next November. RG Ratcliffe has more.

O’Rourke to announce for Senate today

Here he comes.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke will launch a campaign to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 on Friday, according to a colleague with direct knowledge of the El Paso Democrat’s thinking

O’Rourke’s campaign team sent an email to supporters Wednesday morning revealing that “a big announcement” was coming Friday.

“Together, we can do something really big, and really powerful for the state of Texas — and for this country,” the campaign wrote. “Congressman Beto O’Rourke has a big announcement to make on Friday.”

O’Rourke has spent the past several weeks traveling the state and has said in recent weeks that he is likely to launch a bid for U.S. Senate. Multiple Democratic leadership sources on Capitol Hill have been operating under the assumption that an O’Rourke Senate campaign is inevitable.

I’ve been following this for awhile too, so this comes as no surprise. This Express News story, republished in the Chron, goes into some details.

“I think Ted Cruz has been taking on water since the day he announced for president,” said [Matt] Angle who, like many Democrats, accuses Cruz of tending more to his national conservative following than to Texas. “He’s barely a senator.”

Cruz’s bid for the White House, however, helped him build a formidable grass-roots and fundraising base that would be hard for O’Rourke or any other Texas Democrat to replicate.

Cruz ended 2016 with a $4.2 million war chest, more than 10 times the $398,700 that O’Rourke’s congressional campaign had in the bank.

Compounding O’Rourke’s fundraising challenge is his unfamiliarity to Texas voters outside his El Paso district.

O’Rourke has sought to overcome that deficit through a series of rallies and meetings around the state. His biggest assist, however, may come from Cruz himself.

As a self-styled conservative movement leader, Cruz has established himself as a favorite target for the left.

“I can see O’Rourke using that to raise money online” from small-dollar donors, said Geoffrey Skelley, an analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Another bright spot for O’Rourke, Skelley said, was Hillary Clinton’s nine-point loss to Trump in Texas, the smallest statewide margin since the 1996 presidential election.

Still, Skelley predicted, “it’s going to be a tough haul for Democrats to actually win Texas. … You would need the president to be very unpopular to make it conceivably, really, truly competitive.”

With Democrats defending 25 senate seats next year – 10 of them in states Trump won – it will be hard for any Texas Democrat to attract big-dollar national contributors, whose resources may be needed elsewhere.

Some speculate O’Rourke could be playing the long game.

“What if he loses but puts in a good showing, gives Ted Cruz a run for his money?” Skelley said.

“Let’s say the demographics of the state keep shifting. Who’s to say a few years down the road, O’Rourke couldn’t run again and win?”

As it happens, Democrats around the country are doing exceedingly well with grassroots fundraising this year, so it’s entirely plausible that O’Rourke could catch some of that. He may not have a high profile now, but the combination of going after Ted Cruz and having a record in Congress that ought to be appealing to those who respond to Democratic grassroots fundraising appeals should help him. Today marks the end of the first quarter fundraising period, so O’Rourke won’t have to post a finance report as a Senate candidate until July, giving him three months to make a good first impression on that score. We’ll need to keep an eye on that.

The other big question, which both articles raise, is What Will Joaquin Do? Rep. Joaquin Castro, who of course has also expressed an interest in running for Senate, has said that O’Rourke’s decision will have no effect on his own. I don’t quite buy that, because O’Rourke will most likely have some momentum once he announces that Castro won’t have, and no one wants to run a race they don’t think they will win. Of course, O’Rourke may stumble out of the gate, which could push Castro towards a run. I still believe that Castro has more to lose by giving up his seat, and that one or the other may jump into this race but not both. I could be wrong, but right now my money is on Castro staying put. RG Ratcliffe and PDiddie have more.

UPDATE: And here’s Beto for Texas.

What might it take to beat Ted Cruz?

Roll Call considers the question.

Not Ted Cruz

As Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro mulls a challenge to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Democrats and Republicans both say it would be a tall order in a deep-red state with little Democratic power.

“I think what Joaquin would have to do right is to begin with a premise that Texas Democrats have no idea how to run a statewide race,” said Colin Strother, who has worked on campaigns for Castro and his twin brother Julian, a former Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor.

“The trick is that Democrats can win if we get turnout. You are not going to do that with TV and radio,” Strother said. “The way you do it is through a state of the art, modern, professional field program.”

[…]

Banking on a lagging Cruz would not be a sound strategy, experts say. While the first-term GOP senator has developed a reputation of being disliked by some fellow Republicans — Arizona Sen. John McCain famously called Cruz and his allies “wacko birds” — he still has plenty of political support in Texas.

“Cruz is nothing if not calculating and he has a voracious appetite for politics,” Strother said, pointing to his 2012 upset win over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican Senate primary when Dewhurst had the support of Rick Perry, the state’s governor at the time.

Okay, it’s not a very deep consideration, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pick it up. The article focuses on Joaquin Castro even though Beto O’Rourke seems like the more committed candidate at this point, but that isn’t important for our purposes. I say there are three factors to watch for that could affect either candidate’s chances.

1. Solving the Democratic turnout problem – We’ve discussed this one ad infinitum. Off year turnout has been flat for Dems since 2002, even with a significant bump in Presidential year voters in 2008. There are signs that Democrats are more engaged now than ever before, and if that continues it’s all to the good. But even if that continues to be the case, it’s just a floor and not a ceiling. Getting those engaged and need-to-be-engaged voters to the polls is the key. Whatever a “state of the art, modern, professional field program” looks like – maybe it’s the TOP model taken statewide, maybe it’s something else – we need that.

2. Getting some help on the Republican turnout side – As with item #1, the possibility exists that Republicans will not be terribly enthused about going to the polls next year, as was the case in 2006. Trump’s already mediocre approval numbers depend entirely on rabid Republican support. It wouldn’t take much to drop him into truly perilous territory. One of the many ongoing scandals could finally take a toll, or perhaps a spectacular failure with Obamacare repeal might do it. Trump has been operating without a net for a long time, and the Republicans have largely followed along. If it all comes crashing down, it’s going to be catastrophic for them.

3. The Dowd factor – I don’t think much of Matthew Dowd’s announced interest in running for Senate as an independent, but it could happen. If it does, the main effect will be to lower the number of votes needed to win. For example, in a straight three candidate race, if Dowd takes 20%, the number to win becomes 40% plus one. That’s a number Democrats can reasonably reach without anything else happening, and Dowd would presumably take more votes away from Cruz than he would from Castro or O’Rourke. Things get complicated quickly, and I don’t want to be overly simplistic or optimistic, but the bottom line remains that having Dowd in the race would mean a closer vote target to aim at.

A lot of this is highly theoretical – no one has officially announced a candidacy yet, and we’re still a year away from the 2018 primaries, let alone the general. But until then, these are things to think about.