Texas politics Will Demos make
This is way out on a limb, but the Democratic presidential ticket may actually compete for Texas' electoral votes in 2008. Yes, that's right: a Blue ticket trying to capture what has been a presidential Red state for a quarter of a century.
If the Democrats do wage a battle for Texas, it will be the first time in quite a while. A principal reason for the avoidance was there has been a Texas Republican named George Bush on the ballot in every presidential election since 1980, except 1996. The national Democratic ticket saw little reason to spend finite resources in a state almost certain to award its winner-take-all electoral votes to the Republicans.
One election when the Democrats did more than go through the motions in Texas was 1988, when the late Texas U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee and also on the ballot for re-election.
But any hope that Bentsen's vice-presidential nomination might offset the elder Bush's Texas advantage as the GOP presidential nominee couldn't escape successful painting of the Democratic presidential nominee, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, as a softon crime New England liberal. Bentsen won re-election to the Senate that year with 59 percent, but the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket got just 43 percent.
A couple other reasons besides the Bush absence that may give the Democrats hope are signs of Democratic rebirth in some areas. In Dallas County. Democrats contested 47 countywide elections, most for district judgeships, and won them all. Democrats also won back control of the county government in Hays County, south of Austin. The Democrats are spending more time, money and effort building from the ground up than they have in years.
That "coattails up" factor, where the bottom of the ticket provides lift to Democrats higher on the ballot, may be accelerated in Dallas in 2008, and possibly also in Harris County, where Houston is nearing a tipping point away from Republicans in countywide elections. Democrat William E. "Bill" Moody, the only Democrat who contested a Texas Supreme Court seat, got an even 45 percent of the vote, which wasn't too shabby after spending little money against GOP incumbent Don Willett.
Yet another reason that national Democrats could choose to contest Texas was Republican Gov. Rick Perry's re-election with just 39 percent. That means 61 percent of those who voted wanted someone else.
That 39 percent, incidentally, may squelch talk of Perry as a vice-presidential nominee in 2008. If there is a Texan on the GOP ticket that year, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison might be more attractive. She was handily re-elected this year with 62.5 percent -- outpolling Perry, incidentally, by 944,039 votes.
If the Democratic ticket is headed by someone like former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, that southern appeal may carry some weight. The last three Democrats elected president - Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon Johnson - were all from the south.
Part of the Texas equation also will hinge on who's on the Republican ticket. New York Times columnist David Brooks, a self-described independent who has leaned Republican, commented recently that the Republican Party needs to become more moderate, innovative, and less driven by ideology than by solving problems if it is to win him back. Brooks indicated the Republicans who have controlled Congress, like former U. S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, won't attract him.
It would also serve the Democrats well if they field a strong and well-financed candidate against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is up for re-election in 2008. Cornyn was regarded as a moderate-conservative as Texas attorney general, but has shifted rightward since landing in Washington.
Those who think Texas is definitely Red for at least a few more election cycles undoubtedly consider this chatter crazy. But with a popular Bush gone from the Texas ballot, the Lone Star State just might find itself back in the presidential fray.
Reach McNeely at dmcneely@austin. rr.com or (512) 323-0248.