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Ron Kirk

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.

What next for Ron Kirk?

He’ll be moving on after President Obama’s second inauguration.

Ron Kirk

We’re hearing that U.S. Trade Representative and former two-term Dallas mayor Ron Kirk has let the White House know that he intends to leave Washington and head back to Dallas.

The U.S. Trade Representative, a cabinet-rank position, is the point person for coordinating and implementing U.S. trade policy and for conducting international trade negotiations with individual countries and multilateral institutions.


Kirk has been mentioned as a choice to fill the now-vacant post of Secretary of Commerce — and it was not clear whether he might be willing to stay if offered that job.

The trade rep position is highly coveted in part because it has a focused mission and a small — around 200 or so — and highly professional staff.

If Kirk doesn’t get that Commerce position but he still has a taste for DC, may I suggest a rematch with Cornyn in 2014? The Dems will need someone to fill that slot, and Kirk should be in a good position to be able to raise the funds he’d need to compete. Heck, maybe he can convince Obama’s political team to bring some of that fabled GOTV operation down here, to see how it might work under less than ideal circumstances. I can dream, can’t I? Link via Greg.

Some Garcia 2002 numbers

When I did an analysis of County Commissioner Precinct 2 for this year’s election, I said that I couldn’t include a comparison from 2002 because I didn’t have precinct-level data for that year. I got an email the other day from Robert Jara, in which he kindly included a spreadsheet of some of that 2002 data. You can see that here. It only has information about the Senate and Governor races, from which we can see that CC2 was two to three points more Democratic than Harris County as a whole, at least for those contests. My guess is that would be fairly consistent down the line, which would make CC2 in 2002 much like it was in 2006, maybe even a pinch more Democratic, likely the result of better turnout in base Democratic areas in 2002 thanks to the Tony Sanchez campaign. Garcia ran several points ahead of the Democratic norm – three points better than Ron Kirk, four points better than Sanchez, likely more than some other members of the ticket. Anyway, now you know. My thanks to Robert Jara for sending me the data.

What Ron Kirk says

Ron Kirk, the former Mayor of Dallas who is now the US Trade Representative, was asked a joking question about Rick Perry and his earlier statements about secession after Perry’s win on Tuesday. His response is well worth reading.

“I just wish those of you in the press would then ask, even if it’s tongue-in-cheek, so what does this (secession) mean then?

“For a state that unfortunately ranks in the bottom in investment in education and health care for our kids, leads the nation in the number of people that are unemployed, and you want to pull out of the country? And tell me, where you going to find the money to pay for Medicare with one of the highest growing senior populations in the country,” Kirk replied, growing more angry.

“In a state that’s probably $2 billion underfunded in maintaining its own highways, and now you want to pull out of the United States and take away the billions of dollars you get from the federal government? How are you going to fix your infrastructure?” Then, Kirk added, there’s the historical context of secession.

“But the thing that frustrates me most in this sense with you all is, you know, all of this “You want to go back.’ To what? I grew up in the Jim Crow South. All this states rights, secession stuff, I know what it means for people of my parents’ generation and me. And we fought too hard to get me to this point for me to be amused even a little bit by any of this states rights secession stuff,” said Kirk, who’s African-American.

“That’s not an America that I want to go back to. I think America is a vastly richer country because of our diversity, because of our inclusion, because of our commitment to educating every child and giving everyone the opportunity to advance based on their abilities than the world some of these people want to go back to.”

Remember what the general reaction was back in 2004 when some celebrities said they were going to move to Canada in the event George Bush was re-elected? Boy, those were the days. Kudos to Ron Kirk for saying what needed to be said. May more people follow his example.