June 05, 2002
Losing Strategy Dept.

So Ron Kirk has sent a letter to the Senate urging confirmation hearings for President Bush's nominees, despite the fact that earlier this year he sent a fundraising letter which criticized GOP attempts to "pack the federal courts with conservative jurists who oppose Democrat rights and principles, including a woman's right to choose." Naturally, his GOP opponent, John Cornyn, has reacted with delight to this boneheaded move on Kirk's part:

A spokesman for Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, Kirk's Republican opponent, said the Democratic candidate was "wilting" under pressure from Cornyn, who has repeatedly criticized Senate Democrats for delaying confirmation proceedings.


Cornyn has repeatedly challenged Kirk and other Democrats on the judicial confirmation issue. He has specifically gone to bat for Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, whose nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been on hold for more than a year.

I call this a boneheaded move not because I don't think that Priscilla Owen is a bad judge who should be kept off the Federal bench (I do, but that's beside the point). I call it boneheaded because I can't see the point in running as the candidate who promises to work the most closely with Bush. There's no way that Ron Kirk can win that way, since Bush himself will do whatever he can to get his fellow Republican elected. This is a huge asset for John Cornyn. For Kirk to fight on those terms is suicidal.

Look, George W. Bush is hugely popular in this state. Ron Kirk isn't going to win by running strongly against Bush. But to try and paint himself as the man in Bush's corner is counterproductive to the Demcratic strategy, which is based on black and Hispanic voter turnout. With enough turnout from those groups, Kirk will need something like 35% of the Anglo vote. A no-name no-money perennial candidate got 35% of the vote running against Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2000. There's enough baseline Democratic support for this.

What Ron Kirk can and should do is to identify himself with popular policies, including some popular Bush policies, but stress the ways in which he can do better. For example, Kirk can offer the obligatory support of the War on Terror while questioning our cozy relationship with Arafat and the Saudis. Even in an oil state like Texas, I think support for the war will override the economics. Kirk can praise Bush's education reforms, such as standardized testing, while questioning the need to move oversight up a level to the federal government. And of course there's much fertile ground with Enron and accounting reform, making the FBI and CIA more efficient and accountable, rational environmental concerns - remember Houston? what can you do about air quality here? - and lots of other things.

So I don't understand why Ron Kirk is wasting his time on this. It's not an issue he can win with.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 05, 2002 to Election 2002