Texas is the great prize that the Republicans must hold at all costs. Since 1998 the Democrats have been routed in statewide elections. Nate Silver had a good post about Texas last week. Back in July I wrote about why Texas matters. DKE had a post recently about Texas trending Red instead of Blue. That is what got me thinking about this post.
I want to focus on a little history and the implications of some events that really hurt the statewide party. 1994 saw Ann Richards lose to George W. Bush, but the Dems still managed a few statewide offices. 1998 was when a growing Republican party seized full control of the state government. At that point lots of Democratic money started flowing out of the state or towards 'favorable' Republicans.
But there was a bench in the early Nineties...thin though it may have been. But that bench self destructed. The old families lost influence; the Hobbys and Bentsens. And statewide office holders seeking higher office failed. Below is what happened.
In 1992, a Texas Democrat appointed to the State Railroad commision spoke to the Democratic National Convention. Her name was Lena Guerrero. Appointed by Gov. Ann Richards to the TRRC, she was a rising star and a hope for the Democratic bench. It came out that she falsified her resume about graduating from UT. It killed her political career.
In the 1990 election that brought Richards to the Governor's mansion, Dan Morales was elected Attorney General. He had been a member of the Legislature. He was more a conservative Democrat, Morales had been an effective AG. He lost the 2002 primary to Tony Sanchez and endorsed Rick Perry over Sanchez for the Governor's mansion. In 2003, he made a deal and is serving time in federal prison for falsifing documents related to the tobacco settlement.
Also in 1998, John Sharp, the Texas Comptroller, ran against Rick Perry for Lt. Gov and lost narrowly. In that year George Bush garnered over 2.5 million votes to win reelection. But Perry received 1.85 million to Sharp's 1.79 million. Paul Hobby performed best among Democrats gathering 1.8 million votes. However, that would not be enough to win any statewide office.
In 2002, Ken Bentsen, Jr.,nephew of former Treasury Secretary and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, gave up his House seat to run for the Senate. He lost the primary to Ron Kirk and that seat his now held by John Cornyn. In 2002, Sharp would run against David Dewhurst and earn over 2 million votes, but still lose by over 250,000 votes.
Lets not even get into the Tom DeLay issues with the State Legislature. (He played money games in Austin that he played in Washington. Same premise though, only donate to Republicans not to Democrats.)
Now the Democratic Party of Texas is rebuilding from the ground up. It feels like the State party received the NCAA version of the 'death penalty' and now is climbing out of the hole created by those sanctions. The Texas Democratic Party had no one to carry the banner statewide. Lloyd Bentsen was the last figure in the Democratic Party not to be beaten in a statewide election, but health issues after his retirement did not allow him to fight for the Party. There was no one to rally the base and keep the Republicans from dominating the suburban voters. That wide open playing field has hurt the Democrats deeply. There has rarely been a competing message.
Winning creates more winning and the Republicans here take winning here for granted. However, 3.5 million Democratic votes were cast in 2008. Julian Castro had a starring role in this year's DNC. Maybe there can be momentum in making Texas swing. He might be able to pull resources into the state to be able to fight for a cycle. But a series of bad news (and choices) and the rise of W. deeply hurt the Dems in Texas. So we all wait for something to change the dynamic and drive the demographic transformation of Texas into a political change. But as I said, it is like starting all over. However, I know one day Texas will come out of the tunnel and back a Democrat for President.