January 24, 2005
Taking back Congress, one step at a time

Last week, Chris Bowers of MyDD looked at a number of Congressional races that ought to be priority targets for the Democrats in 2006. He has a goal of targeting 80 races, with every seat being challenged.

As a proponent of a 254-county strategy in Texas, I'd like nothing more than to see strong Democrats running in all 32 races here. It's hard to say right now what the Congressional race landscape will look like next year. There will be two high profile races for sure - whoever goes against Chet Edwards for the last of the redistricting-targeted seats, and a DeLay/Morrison rematch in CD22. Beyond that, other than a likely rematch between Henry Cuellar and Ciro Rodriguez in the Democratic primary for CD28, it's hard to say what races of interest, if any, will develop.

As I noted in the comments, races I'd like to see on the map next year include CD23 which, depending on what KBH does, may involve an open seat, CD21, and CD14. I still have fond hopes that someone with a recognizable name and an ability to raise cash will take a shot at CD07, but I expect to be sadly disappointed there.

Something that I keep coming back to as I look at different districts is that Democrats need to be more aggressive in challenging for State House seats, almost as a prerequisite for mounting more serious challenges in Congressional races. As an example, Andrew D recently intruduced us to a potential rising star on the Democratic side:

Another pleasant experience was meeting the man who I have bestowed the sobriquet "Gov" on- Lt. Cmdr. Juan M. Garica (USN-Ret.) of Corpus Christi. Sounds great, right? A Military guy. But his resume only begins there. LCDR Garcia is also a graduate of UCLA, Harvard Law and the Kennedy School of Government. In terms of charisma he is second only to John Edwards in people I have met. He had ladies (and some of the guys) turning their heads and the rest of the guys (and all the ladies) ready to open their wallets. His family is great too- his beautiful wife Danielle came with him, though they left their 4 kids (straight out of a commercial cute) in Corpus. He is also bilingual. Garcia was approached by the Republican Party to run for office, but made it clear that he was not on their side and is now planning to take on Republican State Rep. Gene Seaman in 2006. Keep your eye on this guy- he is going places. The Latino John Kennedy I called him.

In 2002, Gene Seamon won reelection by beating Democrat Josephine Miller 53.35%-46.65%. In 2004, he ran unopposed. His district in 2002 split 58-42 Republican, dead on the state average, meaning he underperformed by more than four percentage points. So why in the world did he not draw a challenger in 2004? He should have been a top target, but instead he got a free ride. I'm just boggled.

And what does that have to do with Congressional races? Well, HD32 contains Calhoun and Aransas counties, both of which are represented by the unchallenged-in-2004 Ron Paul. I don't know about you, but I think it'd be an easier task to knock off Paul with a Democratic state rep in those districts, especially if Paul's 2006 challenger comes from the opposite end of that nearly-bifurcated district (i.e., someone like Galveston's Craig Eiland). But no challenger to Seaman in 2004 means no chance to have that help there for Paul's putative challenger in 2006. So sorry.

Another example: Williamson County, home base of CD31's John Carter, appears to be on a modest Democratic trend - George Bush did three points worse there this past year than he did in 2000 despite running two points better overall in Texas. CD31 is as few cycles away from being competitive, but wouldn't it be nice to have already unseated one or both of Williamson's Republican State Reps for when that does happen? Hey, Jon Porter, what do you think about that?

Basically, having a stronger and broader slate of State House candidates (and, one hopes) a larger share of the State House membership means having a deeper bench from which to recruit candidates for the next level. Democrats didn't do a good job of building its bench in 2004 despite its (so far) one-seat gain. If there's one concrete thing the Democratic Party can do better in 2006, that's it.

There are ancillary benefits to running aggressively in the State House races - Greg and I are (very slowly) working on a thesis that having candidates in these races, even sacrificial lambs running in abandon-all-hope districts, help to boost other candidates on your ticket. That's something Democrats should really want to have wherever they can find it if they want to have any hope of winning statewide (or, more modestly, Harris County-wide) elections. (The same is true at other levels - one reason I keep harping on CD07 is the belief that a strong Democratic challenger to John Culberson would help to swamp Martha Wong and maybe Joe Nixon's boats.) And even though State Rep races are more expensive than they used to be, they're still dirt cheap compared to Congressional races; in addition, as Hubert Vo demonstrated, good strategy and lots of shoe leather can make up for a big funding gap. It's just good value for the investment, and the eventual payoff can be big indeed.

One last thing: We'll be redistricting again in 2011, and assuming that Jeff Wentworth's perennial proposal to have that chore done by a nonpartisan commission remains a beautiful theory, it would be awfully nice to have a Democratic House by then. Wishing for a favorable ruling from the courts only gets you so far, you know?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 24, 2005 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

Gene Seaman's district includes the very conservative Port Aransas side of CC. He represents a very strong constituency of islanders that are his true base. They're older and conservative and Anglo. A lot of retirees in that area of the world.

Posted by: Kimberly on January 24, 2005 3:46 PM

"Greg and I are (very slowly) working on a thesis that having candidates in these races, even sacrificial lambs running in abandon-all-hope districts, help to boost other candidates on your ticket..."
jan 24

Kuff, that is not a thesis. It is a fact.

A blank space on the ballot is a hopping-off point for a lot of voters, especially when they are among the many thousands who come into the booth to vote in one or two high-profile races and know very little about the down-ballot races.
There are many reasons, including the perception of party failure and the perception that hey, there isn't any opposition, the gop guys must be doing a good job, etcetc...

Now of course, if you put an idiot up as your lamb, he can hurt you. Get somebody with some credibility!

Posted by: ttyler5 on June 20, 2005 6:42 PM