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Ron Kirk

How good a stepping stone is Mayor of Dallas?

Stephen Young notes that being Mayor of Dallas has not been particularly helpful to others’ ambitions.

Rep. Eric Johnson

If he’s anything, Dallas mayor-elect Eric Johnson is an ambitious guy. He’s got degrees from Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, and took his seat in the Texas House of Representatives before turning 40. In the legislature, he’s sought out high-profile fights, sparring over things like criminal justice reform, gentrification and corruption in municipal politics. The resume that Johnson’s put together is almost too perfect for someone who aspires to hold higher state or federal office.

That’s what makes his current position so interesting. Saturday night, Johnson won the keys to one of the most useless big-deal jobs in the United States. Dallas’ mayor is, essentially, just an at-large member of the City Council. He or she gets to run the council’s meetings and can place an item on the council agenda if he or she wishes to do so, but the city manager draws up the city’s budget and has all the real power. Johnson has long been at the top of the list whenever people talk about potential replacements for longtime Dallas U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, but one has to wonder if that’s changed, given the mayor’s office’s challenges and history.

To find a former Dallas mayor who sought and won higher office after leaving city hall, one has to look at the way back to Earle Cabell, who resigned as mayor in February 1964 to run for Congress against incumbent Republican Bruce Alger. Since Cabell’s successful campaign, former mayors Wes Wise, Ron Kirk and Tom Leppert have all run unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. House or Senate. Laura Miller, Kirk’s successor, couldn’t even win a Dallas City Council race 12 years after leaving office, getting trounced by incumbent Jennifer Staubach Gates in May.

I noted when Mayor-elect Johnson won the runoff that he was a politician with ambitions. Does this mean those ambitions are doomed? I don’t think so. I can’t speak to Wes Wise’s experience, but Ron Kirk ran for Senate as a Democrat in 2002, while Tom Leppert joined a primary that already had David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz. I wouldn’t extrapolate much from that.

I’d say three things will matter. One, does a good opportunity come along at a good time? I’d suggested Johnson might want to run statewide, but Young notes he has had his eye on Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson’s CD30 seat. Maybe the timing will work for one of those options, and maybe it won’t. Two, does he build up his fundraising network enough to be a force in a more expensive race? And three, does he does a good enough job to make him look like an appealing candidate for whatever comes next? It’s not rocket science. This is one of those times where past history isn’t a great guide, but the basic fundamentals still apply.

Lupe and Beto

Beto O’Rourke has a year-old, well-funded campaign for US Senate. Lupe Valdez doesn’t have anything like those advantages in her campaign for Governor. Will her lower profile effort have a negative effect on his higher profile one?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The race for governor is often the biggest spectacle in Texas politics, and the governor’s mansion the biggest prize.

But the contest between incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez is forecast to be not much of a contest at all. Abbott, who in 2014 beat former state Sen. Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points, looms like Goliath on the political landscape, with Valdez lacking the weaponry to take him down. She needs more than five smooth stones.

Democrats have focused much of their attention on the remarkable campaign of Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman who’s challenging incumbent Ted Cruz for Senate.

The Cruz-O’Rourke showdown is the marquee race of the season, and could change the fortunes of Democrats and Republicans alike.

With Abbott poised to spend more than $40 million to turn out the Republican vote and in the process help Cruz, the question becomes: does Valdez’s presence on the ticket hurt or help O’Rourke?

Lupe Valdez

“Compared to nothing, she helps,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

[…]

Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell, who Democrats recruited to run for governor, said Valdez’s presence on the ticket will have little impact on O’Rourke’s efforts.

“I don’t think Lupe makes a difference to this race,” Sorrell said. “People view Beto’s race as a separate entity from Lupe’s race.”

Veteran Republican consultant Bill Miller said Valdez could be a problem for O’Rourke and other Democrats because her campaign is so irrelevant.

“The Democrats believe she helps, but in my opinion she hurts,” Miller said. “She’s not going to be a strong candidate and her race is not a hot race. She’s going to be discounted early on and that won’t help O’Rourke.”

My inclination is to agree with Michael Sorrell. We haven’t had a situation like this in recent memory. In the recent years where we have had concurrent races for Senate and Governor:

– Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial campaign was much higher profile than David Alameel’s Senate campaign in 2014. Not that any of it made much difference.

– The four-way Governor’s race in 2006 defies comparison to anything else.

– Both Tony Sanchez and Ron Kirk had well-funded campaigns in 2002, with Kirk doing a few points better in the end.

Honestly, the real factor here is Greg Abbott and his gazillions of dollars, which would be a major concern no matter who was his opponent. Valdez has improved as a candidate after a rough start, and in the end I think she’ll raise a million or two bucks, which is a water balloon against Abbott’s fire hose but will at least allow for some kind of campaign activity. The main way Abbott can use his money to affect other races is by spending a ton on GOTV stuff, which again he’d do if he were running instead against Andrew White or Julian Castro or whoever your fantasy alternative candidate might be. He still has to contend with whatever chaos Donald Trump unleashes, whatever discontent the electorate may feel about Hurricane Harvey and gun violence, and other things that money may not be able to ameliorate. All things considered, I think Valdez’s campaign will have little effect on Beto’s. It’s unlikely to be of any help, but it probably won’t hurt, either.

(Yes, I wrote this before the property tax story came out. I still don’t think one campaign will have much effect on the other.)

Beto’s big haul

Wow.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised over $6.7 million for his U.S. Senate bid in the first quarter of 2018, according to his campaign, a staggering number that poses a new category of threat to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

The haul is easily O’Rourke’s biggest fundraising quarter yet, more than double his next-closest total for a three-month period. It also is more than any Democratic Senate candidate nationwide took in last quarter, O’Rourke’s campaign said.

Cruz has not released his first-quarter fundraising numbers yet, but O’Rourke’s $6.7 million total is on a different level than his previous hauls, which ranged from $1.7 million to $2.4 million. Those alone were good enough to outraise Cruz for three of the last four reporting periods.

Furthermore, the $6.7 million total came from more than 141,000 contributions — another record-busting number for O’Rourke.

[…]

O’Rourke’s campaign released the fundraising statistics Tuesday morning ahead of the April 15 deadline to report it to the Federal Election Commission. Cruz has not offered any numbers for the full quarter, though he disclosed raising $803,000 through the first 45 days of the year — a fraction of O’Rourke’s $2.3 million for the same timeframe.

Just as a point of perspective, Rick Noriega raised $4.1 million over the entire two-year course of his 2008 Senate campaign. Beto beat that by over 50% in just this past quarter. That’s mind-boggling. I went back a little farther than that and found that Ron Kirk raised $9.5 million in the 2002 cycle. Not a bad total, but Beto was already at $8.7 million as of February. So yeah, that’s a lot of lettuce.

At this point, the main question I have is how does he plan to spend it? The main reason why Texas is considered such an expensive state to campaign in is that there are something like 27 media markets, so it costs a bunch of money to run sufficient TV advertising to cover the state. I’m sure O’Rourke will do some of that – his name ID is still modest, and one never wants to let one’s opponent get in the first word about who one is – but that kind of old-media strategy just doesn’t jibe with everything we know about Beto. I’m hoping a lot of that is being banked for field/GOTV activity.

FEC reports are due April 15, and should be generally viewable later this month. In the meantime, some campaigns like Beto’s are releasing their numbers to the press, and so we get stories like this.

Houston Democratic congressional hopeful Lizzie Pannill Fletcher has raised about $1.2 million for the 2018 midterm election ahead of the May 22 runoff with Democratic rival Laura Moser, Fletcher’s campaign reported Tuesday.

Moser’s fundraising totals were not immediately available Tuesday, although an aide said the campaign has surpassed the $1 million mark. As of February 14, the end of the last reporting period, she had raised almost $765,000.

[…]

Fletcher’s campaign said that about $350,000 of her total has come in since the March 6 primary, in which she was the top vote-getter in a field of seven candidates. Moser came in second, but forced a runoff by holding Fletcher below 50 percent.

Culberson has yet to report his latest fundraising totals. As of the last reporting period he had raised more than $1.1 million.

I’d say the presence of seven candidates in the race, four of whom were well-funded and drew significant support, ensured that no one would top fifty percent, but never mind that. Fletcher was at about $860K as of February 14; Moser as noted was at $765K. Like I said, we’ll know soon enough what everyone has, and I’ll do a report so you can see it.

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.