Targeting the Texas Senate

Posted in Around The State, Good Stuff at 4:56 pm by wcnews

Colin Strother has a very interesting read, Texas Senate In Play…No, Seriously. The no nonsense attitude and strategy, some of which reminds me of the old “run everywhere” days, is easy to like.

There is one absolute certainty in life and in politics: things change. The Texas Senate was not always 19-12 for the dark side…er…Republican side. In the 59th Legislature, Democrats held the Senate chamber 31-0. As recently as the 74th Democrats were 17-14. Like I said, things change.

There is great potential–bordering on inevitability–to pick up Senate seats. We don’t need a miracle, we need money and muscle to change the makeup of the Senate and, ultimately, turn it solidly Blue…not in 10 cycles, but possibly 2-3.

Now, if you follow Texas politics at all, you just decided that I am suffering from severe head trauma. I have gotten the same reaction from everyone…I’ve been accused of worse.

Granted, if you do it right, there is nothing easy about any campaign. There is certainly nothing easy about taking on an incumbent in a gerrymandered district. But, who in the hell said politics was meant to be easy? Personally, I’ve heard enough whining about what cannot be done and what races cannot be won to last me a lifetime. This sitting around waiting for demographics to get right or some other gimmick or miracle is precisely how Democrats could be relegated to the minority for another 20 years.

The conventional wisdom is that Democrats need a miracle to pick up any single seat, much less turn the chamber Blue. The numbers show, this reaction is based more on assumptions rather than any empirical evidence.

It is hard not to think he suffered some kind of head trauma. But most of what he’s saying, about running in these districts, is what Battleground Texas has in mind- money, voter registration, voter contact and GOTV.

These 3 districts have good bones, a good bench, and access to existing infrastructure. For a party that desperately needs to grow its market share, these look like a good place to start. (I can assure you that when the Republicans swiped SD 3 in 1994 and SD 5 in a 1997 special, their numbers didn’t look this good.) With a dash of candidate recruitment, a splash of smart staffers, and a chunk of cash, Texas Democrats can be knocking on the door of a 16-15 minority status…not in 10 cycles, but in 2-3.

The closer the margin in the Texas Senate, the more clout we have as a caucus. The more clout we have as a caucus, the greater our ability to kill bad policies, raise money, and force more seats into play. The more seats we force into play, the more seats we win. It ain’t rocket science.

Hell, if we don’t have the sand to take shots at districts with good bones, a good bench, and existing infrastructure, we need to pack it in. Period.

Winning challenge campaigns (and I have won my fair share) is about picking out a good district and fighting like all hell–not waiting for a perfect scenario or sure thing. If the Senate Caucus members put 10% of the more than $14.5 million they individually held in cash reserves on the January 2013 semiannual report towards organizing and turning out Ds in 9, 16 & 17 it might well be the largest Democratic commitment on the ground for state senate races in Texas history…and it would almost certainly yield positive results in the Senate, as well as up and down the ballot.

Yes, things change. As with most things in life, things don’t change because of a miracle. Things change because folks get their mind right, roll up their sleeves, and make change happen.

Kuff’s adds quite a bit to this conversation regarding types of candidates and issues to run on, Taking back the Texas Senate.

So what lessons can we take from this? Well, first and foremost, the best candidate is no help if he or she is unavailable or unwilling to make the race. We all agree that the future of the Texas Democratic Party is largely in the House, but we can’t expect tomorrow’s stars to risk that status on races where they’d be big underdogs. That means we need to be thinking outside the box for potential Senate candidates, and as a corollary to that it means getting involved in city, county, and school board races, where new talent can be incubated and other offices can at least some of the time be explored because there’s no filing conflict.

Two, it means seek out candidates that can best exploit the weaknesses of the incumbents. In the case of SD09, Sen. Kelly Hancock is a slash-and-burn teabagger, and I’m sure his House record will show plenty of anti-education votes, and surely more than a few anti-women votes. A female candidate with an education background, perhaps a school board member, would be high on my list. Sen. Joan Huffman is coming off a session where she carried a lot of water for the prosecution lobby, and got was responsible for an emotional outburst by the brother of Tim Cole, the man who died in prison after being convicted of a crime for which he was later exonerated. Here, a person of color with a background in criminal justice reform and/or innocence advocacy would be ideal. Do such people exist? Very likely. Is anyone talking to them about their future in politics? Very likely not.

And three, keep focus on the stuff we’re already working on, or at least that we say we’re working on. Register those unregistered folks, and engage them in a manner that will get them to the polls. Remind our Presidential year voters that we need them in other years, too. Figure out why Texas Democrats aren’t doing as well with female voters – specifically, Anglo female voters – as Democrats elsewhere. I’m thinking Wendy Davis and her campaign team might have some insights of value there. As Colin says, this isn’t rocket science. I’ve given Battleground Texas plenty of goals already, but taking back at least one Senate seat this decade needs to be on that list. The targets may not be easy, but they are there. We just have to make sure we take our best shots at them.

It’s a great conversation to have. And it’s not “pie in the sky” to be looking at something like this. If Battleground Texas is going to make a dent, this would be a great place to start. And it could pay dividends all over the ballot, in state house and Congressional races in particular.

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