RIVER OAKS – I am driving through this neighborhood of hedge fund czars, oil typhoons and drug lords, even though I don’t have a passport. But here in this Republican stronghold there are Beto O’Rourke lawn signs. Most unusual. Maybe the “blue wave” will really sweep the state. Maybe the Houston Texans will win the Super Bowl.
Maybe pigs will fly. Don’t bet on it. Don’t even bet on the Texas Democrats winning their own primaries. How things have changed. The Democrats ran the Texas Legislature, and thus the state government, longer than the Communists ran the Soviet Union or the PRI controlled Mexico. Texas was not only a Dem gimme, GOPers didn’t even bother to run.
So as the mid-term exams are coming up, let’s take a look at who will win and why. We start with a simple question: Who ran against Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate in 2012? Name the Dem candidate that was beaten by that Canadian, Rafael Edward Cruz. I had to look it up. It was former state Rep. Paul Lindsey Sadler, who lost to Cruz 56 to 40 percent of the vote. Until then, most folks out of the political loop had never even heard of Cruz.
He had held no elective office, no grass roots support, but he had an R by his name on the ballot and in this knee-jerk, monkey-see-monkey-do state, that’s all it took to win. Since taking office, Cruz has gained attention by single-handedly shutting down the government, bringing much criticism to Republicans, and has endeared himself to his fellow GOP senators. Sen. John McCain said that Cruz was among the “wacko birds” who got the most media attention. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” Apparently Texas’ influence in Congress isn’t what it used to be.
Texas politicians like Phil Gramm, John Connally and Rick Perry, started out their careers as Democrats. Then they changed to the GOP, explaining, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left me.” Millions of Texas voters thought the same, and Texas turned its back on the donkey. There are eligible voters this fall who weren’t born the last time a Dem won a state-wide office in Texas. As for the presidential elections, the last time Texas voted for a Democratic presidential candidate was Jimmy Carter. Between 1900 and 2016, Texans supported Democratic candidates only slightly more often than Republicans, 53.33 to 46.67 percent. The state, however, went Republican in every presidential election since then. We voted for Donald Trump, but in less numbers than for Mitt Romney. Romney won Texas in 2016 by 15.8 percentage points. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by a still-healthy 9 percent margin.
Will Rogers famously said: “I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.” That goes double for Texas. That party has been in shambles for a couple of decades, with no outstanding leader or leadership. Money is hard to come by for Texas Dems, while Republicans come here for funds in every out-of-state race. Texas is known as the Republicans’ ATM. Today the donkey is MIA and Democratic candidates have their pictures on the sides of milk cartons. We can only imagine what Sam Rayburn and Lyndon B. Johnson, not to mention Cactus Jack Garner and Lloyd Bentsen, would say about their party now. It probably wouldn’t be printable.
Speaking of money, as we just did, the song by Alabama goes: “If you gonna play in Texas, you’ve gotta have a fiddle in the band.” Well, if you’re gonna run in Texas, you gotta have lots of money to get your message across.
We have 20 (some say more) different media markets here, because it’s big. Today Texas is more than 28 million strong, larger in area than any of the 28 nations of the European Union and more populous than all but six.
Former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, who was state director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008, told The New York Times, “It’s like running a national campaign. There are no similarities between Amarillo and Brownsville and Beaumont and Texarkana and El Paso and Austin and Houston and Dallas. These are very separate demographic groups with very diverse interests.”
Because we are a winner-take-all in the Electoral College (which has a lousy football team), this gives the state’s 38 electoral votes to the GOP candidate. But Texas was one of 20 states in 2016 without a law binding the votes of presidential electors. Two so-called “faithless electors” chose other candidates, making Texas the only state in 2016 to give Trump fewer than his assigned electoral votes.
Part of the Dems’ problem is that they field such unattractive candidates. Polls showed that both Hillary and Donald were the most unpopular presidential candidates to run since such polls were taken. We can only guess how many Texans didn’t vote for Trump so much as they voted against Hillary. On the state level, remember Wendy Davis, she of the pink tennis shoes and filibuster, darling of Dems, particularly women Dems? She ran for governor against Greg Abbott and hopes were high – until the votes were counted. She was creamed by 20 percentage points. This time around polls give Beto O’Rourke a chance. Witness the lawn signs for him in usually solidly red neighborhoods. And in Houston’s Seventh Congressional District, which has been represented by Rep. John Culberson since Sam Houston was too young to vote, a Dem challenger, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, is making lots of waves.
The future for Dems in Texas looks pretty bleak. Besides the aforementioned duo, name one high-profile, winnable Dem pol from Texas. Maybe the Castro Twins or Willie Nelson will run for something, but overall, I don’t give the Democratic candidates much hope, even with the lawn signs. Wait a minute. Is that a flying pig?
Ashby votes at firstname.lastname@example.org