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Texas Democrats Don’t Have A Serious Candidate For Texas Governor

Texas Democrats apparently don’t have a serious candidate for Governor next year:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democrats haven’t won a Texas governor’s race in nearly three decades, but a booming Hispanic population and the party’s dominance of the state’s largest cities have made them willing to invest in the contest to keep hopes of an eventual resurgence alive.

After high-profile candidates lost decisively in the last two elections, though, the party now finds itself in unprecedented territory for the 2018 ballot: with no major candidate to run.

Democratic leaders haven’t yet lined up a substantial name to represent the party and its message despite months of trying. Any continued faith in a Democratic turnaround in Texas is now colliding with pessimism that it will happen anytime soon.

“If they didn’t have somebody running for governor it’d be a symbol that they’ve given up,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

And the lack of a serious 2018 candidate, following the dismal showing of the Democrats in the 2010 and 2014 governor’s races, could make it harder to capitalize later if the political climate improves, as the party expects.

“You run the risk of looking irrelevant,” Rottinghaus said.

Ann Richards, elected in 1990, was the last Texas Democratic governor. Since then, the state has shifted far to the right along with most of the South. The party’s chief strongholds now are congressional and legislative seats representing much of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin. No Democrat has won a statewide office since 1994, the longest losing streak in the nation.

Still, eager to keep its brand and statewide organization alive, the party has never failed to field a candidate for governor since Reconstruction. Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said it hasn’t given up on 2018.

“We’re going to have an authentic, dynamic candidate running for Texas governor, and that announcement will come at an appropriate time in the fall,” Garcia said.

Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator who lost by 20-plus points to Republican Greg Abbott in 2014 even after drawing nationwide financial support for her much-publicized, 12-hour filibuster opposing tough anti-abortion measures, said any candidates this year probably wouldn’t have much of a public profile.

“It’s going to take some time, obviously, to build up excitement around someone who, at that point in time, might be fairly unknown,” Davis said.

Right now, the only declared candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2018 is Jeffrey Payne, a Dallas businessman who apparently has never run for elective office before. Meanwhile, other high-profile potential candidates, such as former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and former Mayor of Houston and 2010 Democratic nominee for Governor Bill White have all declined to enter the race. The last Democratic Governor of Texas, of course, was Ann Richards, who lost her re-election bid to George W. Bush in 1994. In fact, there are no former Democratic Governors of Texas who are still alive, with the last such survivor being former Governor Mark White, who died just a few days ago. For her party, 2014 Democratic nominee Wendy Davis, her decisive loss to Greg Abbott in 2014 makes it seem unlikely that Texas Democrats would back her again, and there’s no indication that she’s interested in the position.

Presumably, the party will find a nominee before next year, but the fact that nearly every high-profile Democrat in the state has already taken themselves out of the running, the odds that nominee will have any chance at all against Abbott seem slim indeed.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Hal_10000 says:

    TBF: They didn’t have a serious candidate in 2014 either.

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  2. Kylopod says:

    Trump won the state by only 8 points, a substantial drop from previous Republican nominees in the 21st century, and a smaller margin than he got in Iowa, a state Obama carried twice. Trump also did a lot worse in Utah than a typical Republican, but that can be attributed to the McMullin candidacy and the general dislike of Trump by Mormons. With Texas, it isn’t just a Trump phenomenon. There’s real potential here for Democrats, if they’re willing to take advantage of it.

    The problem is that predictions of the state turning purple in the near future have been oversold. It’s not happening overnight, and in the meantime the Dems aren’t interested in pouring money into candidates who will still probably lose.

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  3. James Pearce says:

    “No Democrat has won a statewide office since 1994, the longest losing streak in the nation.”

    There are more Democrats in Texas than there are people in a lot of states. I get that they’re outnumbered.

    But they should not be this weak.

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  4. Facebones says:

    Some of those high profile Democrats – like Julian Castro – are often mentioned as potential VP candidates or even considering a presidential run. A bruising governor’s race they would probably end up losing wouldn’t help with that.

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  5. @James Pearce:

    There may be a lot of people who are *registered* as Democrats, but that doesn’t mean they vote for Democrats.

    There are still several southern states, where Democratic registration numbers are higher than Republican registrations. They are, nonetheless, deeply red states. Kentucky is one example of this phenomenon.

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  6. John430 says:

    AP’s first mistake is thinking the Hispanic vote is a monolithic bloc in thrall to the Democrats. Their second mistake is thinking that Democrats have anything resembling a deep array of candidates.

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  7. Kylopod says:

    @Doug Mataconis: James’ point stands even if we’re talking about Democratic voters, not just registered Democrats. 3.8 million Texans voted for Hillary Clinton. That’s greater than the total populations of 22 US states.

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  8. Kylopod says:

    @John430:

    AP’s first mistake is thinking the Hispanic vote is a monolithic bloc in thrall to the Democrats.

    They aren’t monolithic, but they are Democratic-leaning, and they are growing. They made up 24% of Texas voters in 2016, and they voted for Clinton over Trump 61/34. (CNN exit polls)

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  9. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    They are, nonetheless, deeply red states.

    Indeed, but that’s letting Dems off the hook just a little, don’t you think?

    From LBJ’s day to Ann Richards’ day, the Dems went from being a force in Texas politics –not just statewide, but nationally— to being nearly irrelevant, a position they’ve been stuck in now for the last 23 years.

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  10. Kylopod says:

    @James Pearce: Remember, though, that Ann Richards came to power by narrowly beating a guy who made a rape joke. Nowadays I have the feeling that if a Republican candidate in Texas did that today, he’d guarantee his victory.

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  11. Mikey says:

    @Kylopod: Well, it helped to elect a President…may the gods spare us all.

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  12. James Pearce says:

    @Kylopod:

    Nowadays I have the feeling that if a Republican candidate in Texas did that today, he’d guarantee his victory.

    Yeah, that doesn’t seem to be the career killer it used to be, does it?

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  13. Kylopod says:

    @Mikey:

    Well, it helped to elect a President…may the gods spare us all.

    I actually disagree that it “helped” elect him. (By “it,” I presume you refer to the Access Hollywood tape, where of course he did a good deal more than joke about sexual assault.) He was elected in spite of the tape, not because of it. Indeed, I think there’s a decent possibility (though I can’t prove it) that if not for the release of the tape, he’d have won the popular vote.

    As I wrote a few months ago:

    After the release of the Access Hollywood tape, you may have forgotten, his poll numbers took a nosedive. He did ultimately recover after the turnover of the news cycle and the new focus on Hillary following the Comey letter. But his ratings absolutely did not rise from the Access Hollywood fiasco; quite the contrary.

    The real story of the 2016 election isn’t that Trump’s antics came at no cost at all, but that the damage was greatly minimized by the effects of partisanship, just enough for him to (barely) survive against a very weak opponent.

    I was being snarky in my last comment when I suggested a rape joke might help a Texas candidate today, but this may in fact be the case. Remember, this is Texas we’re talking about, not the nation as a whole, and there is definitely a major portion of the Republican electorate today for whom being a disgusting pig isn’t just something they’ll excuse, but is actually a net plus in their eyes.

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  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Well, in order to be a Democrat in Texas, one has to be a little unserious to begin with.

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  15. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “From LBJ’s day to Ann Richards’ day, the Dems went from being a force in Texas politics –not just statewide, but nationally— to being nearly irrelevant, a position they’ve been stuck in now for the last 23 years.”

    And from Richard Nixon’s day to Ronald Reagan’s, the Republicans went from being a force in California politics — not just statewide, but nationally — to being nearly irrelevant, a position they’ve been stuck in now for closing in on ten years.

    What’s your point?

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