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Matthew Dowd

Dowd declines to run for Senate

Not a surprise.

Not Ted Cruz

Matthew Dowd, a political commentator and former strategist for George W. Bush, announced Wednesday that he will not challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

Dowd had been considering an independent run against Cruz, who is up for a second term. Dowd said this year that he had been encouraged by prominent members of both parties to take on Cruz.

“I’ve decided the best use of my voice is not putting myself in that position and running for that office in that way,” Dowd said in an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. “I think the best use of my most authentic voice and where my life is and what I want to do is in a different manner rather than running for office.”

Dowd was still critical of Cruz, saying he has been focused on higher office since being elected Texas’ junior senator in 2012. “Republicans in Iowa feel more represented by Ted Cruz than people in Texas,” Dowd said.

See here for the background. With all due respect to Matthew Dowd, I never took this seriously because it takes a lot of petition signatures to get on the ballot as an independent in Texas. Specifically, you need one percent of the total vote received by all candidates for governor in the most recent gubernatorial general election, which for the 2014 election would mean over 471,000 signatures, in a fairly short period of time from people who didn’t vote in either primary or primary runoff. That takes a lot of resources – money and/or volunteers – and most people can’t do that. Maybe Dowd could have, but that was his barrier to entry. It would have been interesting to have him on the ballot, and it would have made it easier to beat Cruz had he been there, but it would have been a surprise to see him there.

(Note: this was all before the possibility of John Cornyn’s Senate seeat being vacated came up. Special elections are not the same as primaries, as they are non-partisan. I don’t think you need anything more than a filing fee to jump in, which is why the field in 1993 for the seat Kay Bailey Hutchison eventually won was so crowded. As such, Dowd could get into that race if he wanted to without any difficulty. I have no idea if that holds any interest for him, if such a race were to happen, I just wanted to note this for the record.)

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.

Seems like it’s just a matter of time before Beto O’Rourke announces his Senate campaign

Soon.

Re. Beto O’Rourke

Eyeing a takedown of Ted Cruz, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke may be on the verge of declaring his candidacy for a 2018 Senate race, the next best gauge whether Texas Democrats are enjoying the resurgence they claim.

O’Rourke, D-El Paso, made national news last week along with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, when they drove together to Washington in a rental car after an East Coast storm canceled many flights.

Their “bipartisan congressional town hall,” intended to show how members of different political parties can get along, drew thousands of followers via live streaming as the two talked about substantive matters, joked with one another and even joined in song along the way.

The congressmen announced Wednesday that the San Antonio to D.C. trip will become an annual event – to be called the Congressional Cannonball Run – and that other bipartisan teams from Congress will be invited to join.

Along with O’Rourke, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is considering the 2018 Senate race and next month intends to make known his decision.

The whole O’Rourke-Hurd bipartisan road trip thing made me roll my eyes, but it accomplished the important purpose of generating a lot of positive attention for O’Rourke, which is no small thing for an otherwise not well known politician from El Paso who wants to mount a statewide campaign. Name recognition is a big deal, and getting that much publicity for free speaks well to his ability to campaign.

The Statesman has a longer profile of O’Rourke, which again speaks to his ability to get noticed. I’m going to focus here on the inevitable “can he win?” stuff.

Texas Democrats last won statewide office 1994. Cruz was elected to the Senate by a margin of 16 percentage points after a come-from-behind victory over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a GOP primary runoff. Cruz quickly became the most popular Republican in Texas, but his strong but failed presidential bid and his up-and-down relationship with candidate and now-President Donald Trump have brought his approval ratings down to earth.

Meanwhile, this is about the time in the political cycle when Democrats succumb to hope over experience.

In June 2013, Democratic hearts soared when then-state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth filibustered abortion legislation, drawing national attention and social media acclaim that led her to a run for governor in which she raised an enormous amount of money on the way to a 20-point drubbing.

[…]

Trump’s epic unpredictability adds an element of uncertainty for 2018 in Texas as everywhere else and, for Democrats, an urgency to harness all the anti-Trump energy at the grass roots.

“Talk to anybody who works in politics in Democratic and progressive circles in Texas,” said Jeff Rotkoff, a veteran Democratic political strategist who is now director of campaigns for the Texas AFL-CIO. “You would get near unanimous agreement with the statement that interest in political participation by average folks who have not participated in politics in the past is through the roof, and it’s impossible not to connect that to Trump.”

The state Democratic Party says it finds itself deluged with unusual interest by potential candidates at every level, and Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said that even the possibility of an O’Rourke-Castro contest does not distress him.

“Truthfully, after so many years having a difficult time getting strong candidates to run for the U.S. Senate, it’s a great problem to have,” Hinojosa said.

“I think it’s a healthy thing that both of them feel that they would seriously consider seeking the nomination for the U.S. Senate because they think that Ted Cruz is beatable and because they believe that the atmosphere that is being created in Texas and all across America by the Trump phenomenon is going to make a better atmosphere for Democrats in 2018,” Hinojosa said. “Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.”

O’Rourke said he has been buoyed by recent visits to Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Austin, Killeen, Waco, College Station, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo, Houston, Dallas and any number of smaller town in between, often meeting with veterans’ service organizations. O’Rourke serves on the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees.

Midland, Odessa, Big Spring and Abilene were on the schedule for this weekend.

I’ll address this in more detail in a separate post. For now, focus on the assertions that interest in political participation by folks who had not previously been terribly engaged is way up. The May elections may give us a bit of data to measure that, though we won’t really know until next year. I think we can all agree that getting people more engaged and involved is the first step towards getting more people to vote next year, and any chance Beto O’Rourke or Joaquin Castro – or Mike Collier or anyone else who runs statewide or in one of those target districts – has of being elected starts with that.

O’Rourke and Dowd say they want to challenge Cruz in 2018

Rep. Beto O’Rourke upgraded his chances of running for the Senate in 2018 to “very likely”.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Thursday he is all but certain to make a run for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s seat in 2018.

“I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of people around the state of Texas over the last six weeks, and I will tell you, I’m very encouraged,” he told The Texas Tribune on Thursday in an interview. “And I am continuing to listen to and talk to folks, and I’m just becoming more and more encouraged.”

“It’s very likely that I will run for Senate in 2018,” the El Paso Democrat added.

In a previous interview with the Tribune, O’Rourke kept the door open to a run in 2018 or 2020. O’Rourke just began his third term in the U.S. House and has promised to term-limit himself in that chamber.

The comments came just hours after former George W. Bush operative Matthew Dowd told the Tribune that he, too, was considering a bid against Cruz as an independent.

O’Rourke reacted to the Dowd news positively.

“Anyone who’s willing to take something like this on deserves our respect, and so I think that would be great,” he said. “I think the more voices, perspectives, experience that can be fielded, the better for Texas.”

See here for the background. I have to assume that O’Rourke’s greater interest in a 2018 run also indicates a lesser likelihood of Rep. Joaquin Castro challenging Cruz, but this story does not mention Castro. I think O’Rourke could be an interesting opponent for Cruz, if he has the resources to make himself heard, and it’s always possible that this midterm could be a lot less friendly to Republicans than the last two have been, but he would be a longshot no matter how you slice it. Given the fundraising he’d have to do to make a Senate run viable, I’m guessing we’d need to have a final decision to run by June at the latest, but we’ll see.

And as noted in that story, Rep. O’Rourke wasn’t the only person talking about a Cruz challenge.

Matthew Dowd, an Austin-based television news commentator and former George W. Bush strategist, is mulling an independent challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I don’t know what I will do,” he told The Texas Tribune. “But I am giving it some thought, and I appreciate the interest of folks.”

Dowd said this has been a draft effort, as prominent members of both parties have approached him to run against Cruz.

[…]

The political strategist’s career tells the story of the past three decades of Texas politics. Dowd started in Democratic politics, including as a staffer to then-U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.

But Dowd eventually gravitated to then-Gov. Bush in the late 1990s, working on both of his presidential campaigns and for the Republican National Committee.

In 2007, Dowd publicly criticized Bush over the Iraq war.

More recently, Dowd used his social media and ABC News platforms to question the viability of the two-party system.

Now, he is considering a run of his own — against a man he once worked with on the 2000 Bush campaign.

“I don’t think Ted served the state well at all,” Dowd said. “He hasn’t been interested in being a U.S. senator from Texas. He’s been interested in national office since the day he got in.”

[…]

An independent run would be a heavy lift, but it would probably scramble the race far more than anyone could have anticipated a year ago. Dowd argued that an independent candidate could have a better shot than a challenge from either party.

“I think Ted is vulnerable, but I don’t think Ted’s vulnerable in the Republican primary, and I don’t think Ted is vulnerable to a Democrat in the general,” he said. “I think a Democrat can’t win in the state.”

Fundraising in an expensive state without the party apparatus would likely be a major obstacle as well.

“I actually believe money is less important now today than it’s ever been,” he said. “It’s going to take money and a lot of grassroots money, and it’s going to take people frustrated at Washington and frustrated about Ted.”

This is extremely hypothetical, so let’s not go too deep here. The first challenge is getting on the ballot as an independent, which requires collecting a sizable number of petition signatures from non-primary voters in a fairly short period of time. It can be done, as Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman demonstrated in 2006, but it takes a lot of resources. That can be money or volunteer energy, but at least one is needed. And say what you want about how important money is in today’s campaign world, the challenge remains getting your name and message out to people. If voters have no idea who you are on the ballot, they’re probably not going to vote for you. I guarantee you, if a poll were taken right now, maybe two percent of Texas voters will have any familiarity with the name “Matthew Dowd”. That’s what the money would be for, to get the voters to know who he is.

If – and it’s a big if, but we love to speculate about this sort of thing – Dowd can get the petition signatures to get on the ballot, then the actual election becomes pretty interesting. Dowd may have started life as a Democrat, but he’s much more closely identified with the Republicans, and he’s now a fairly prominent Trump critic. We could assume that his base is primarily the Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, which if you add up the Clinton crossovers and the increase in Gary Johnson’s vote total over 2012 works out to maybe a half million people. That’s not nothing, but it’s a long way from a win, and the voters who remain are the more committed partisans. On the assumption that Dowd would draw more heavily from Republicans, that would help boost Beto O’Rourke’s chances, but Ted Cruz starts out with a pretty big cushion. He can afford to lose a lot of votes before he faces any real peril. Even in the down year of 2006, Republicans were winning statewide races by 500K to a million votes. Having someone like Dowd in the race improves O’Rourke’s chances of winning, but a lot would have to happen for those chances to improve to something significant.

We’re getting way ahead of ourselves. If O’Rourke says he’s running, I believe him. If Dowd says he’s thinking about running, well, I believe he’s thinking about it. Wake me up when he does something more concrete than that.