The 2004 race isn't over -- despite what Kurtz and others presume. Now, the relentless negative coverage can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as Dems get depressed from all of the negative stories they read/see/hear and pack it in until 2008. This presents a real and growing danger as the prevailing "Dems are done" storyline gathers steam among journalists and pundits.
From the beginning the Democrats made their target Tom DeLay, not the colleagues they left behind. Some worked the sound bite better than others. "We will not be accomplice to a partisan, gerrymandered, Washington, D.C. plan," Steve Wolens (D-Dallas) told the assembled press corps.
And indeed, their stand captured the imagination of the Democratic base everywhere. "The overwhelming reaction from Democrats all over the country is not in response to the principle of the thing," believes Dean Rindy, an Austin-based political consultant who advises [Rep. Jim] Dunnam [D-Waco], "but joy that someone had the courage to stand up to Tom DeLay."
Toward the end of their stay, the war room looked like a battle zone. Scattered everywhere could be found gifts from grateful Democrats across the nation. A toy superhero action figure, one of 51 sent to each member, lay on a table. In a corner floated a cluster of yellow balloons. On the far wall someone had draped an American flag. A box filled with stacks of a book entitled Profiles in Courage for Our Time, a gift from North Texas Congressman Martin Frost, covered a chair. And everywhere, messages of thanks.
"Destalló la bomba (a bomb went off)," said Rep. Paul Moreno (D-El Paso), who had flown in from his hiding spot in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be with the group so they would have 51 present. "This is going to have an impact nationally."
I will always remember being [part of] 51 who had a common cause and who shared conviction," says Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin). "The experience was the richest I’ve ever had in terms of my political life."
Inside the war room, Anglo Democrats (who called themselves WD-40s for White Democrats Over 40 until the owner of the trademark sent a threatening letter urging them to stop), urban blacks, and South Texas Hispanics found common cause with each other for the first time. Some discussed the future. In coming elections, they pledged mutual aid. "We talked about ways to support each other and how to see ourselves as a team instead of different tribes," says [Rep. Aaron] Peña [D-Edinburg].
Dunnam says throughout the week he watched as those who had been ready to oppose the reelection of certain caucus members decided to put aside their differences. "It was a unique opportunity to heal wounds created during the session," says [Rep. Miguel] Wise [D-Weslaco].
The result is an infinitely stronger Democratic legislative caucus. It created trust and goodwill where precious little had existed. "Obviously you will never have complete consensus on most issues, but what we at least demonstrated with our members is that we can do it and people will respect the opinions of others," says Dunnam. "And that will help later on when we can’t agree."
In the 2004 election there will be no significant statewide Democratic candidates. The key races will be legislative, and that is where resources will be focused. It is likely the caucus will form a political action committee to support fellow members. Increasingly, they will play a larger role in an ineffective Democratic Party battered by repeated defeat. "There is a new group in town and those who have exercised leadership in that group will now exercise leadership in how we rebuild the Party," vows Garnet Coleman.