Shelton ran a bad race. He waffled about the robo-calls. He had bad campaign materials. One Republican voter told me about getting a flyer from Shelton that talked about his being an Eagle Scout and all three of his sons being Eagle Scouts -- and then viciously attacked Barrett, a trial lawyer, undermining the character issue Shelton was trying to promote. Then there was his open endorsement of Tom Craddick. Why do it? Which voters were going to think to themselves, "I have to go vote for Shelton so that Tom Craddick can be speaker"? I wonder whether Craddick wanted Shelton to go public so that, expecting Shelton to win, he could make the race a referendum on himself. Be careful what you wish for.
Since Tom Craddick became speaker, the Republicans have lost a net nine seats. The Republican majority has shrunk from 26 to 8. Craddick has argued in appearances before Republican groups that if he loses the speakership, the Democrats win, but the evidence suggests that the opposite is true: Because of him, Republicans are losing their majority. You have to think that at some point Republican candidates in contested races against Democrats, or even in Republican primaries, are going to ask themselves whether Craddick is a benefit or a burden. And, for that matter, you would think that at some point Republican honchos, from Rick Perry down to the money guys and the consultants and the lobbyists, would start to worry that he could cost them their majority. If this isn't part of the Republican conversation, it had better be.
A better question from my perspective is at what point will the Democratic money people realize that, as a Burka commenter put it, a 60% Republican district doesn't mean much of anything any more? How many seats could we win if we really tried to expand the map? We've got the issues, we've got the energy, we've got proof that we can win places we're not supposed to win - what else do we need? It seems to me that the right lesson to draw from this race is that we have no excuse for not pouring as many resources as we can into any State Rep race that's remotely viable. In particular, the past electoral history of any given district should not be seen as an insurmountable barrier. Any place we have a good candidate running against a Craddick stooge, we should think of it as winnable. Anything less is leaving money on the table.
By the way, be sure to read through the comments for some awesome excusemaking by Republicans for why they lost this one. My favorite is the one who claimed that the runoff's proximity to Christmas was a barrier for them, as if it hadn't been Governor Perry's decision when to set the date.
Meanwhile, the Star-Telegram's Bud Kennedy also weighs in:
Barrett won because Texas Democrats sent help.
But he also won because his opponent became the Amazing Vanishing Republican, and because suburban Republican voters pulled their own vanishing act on election day.
Fort Worth pediatrician Mark Shelton had leveraged volunteer help and Texas doctors' money into a first-round victory over five other Republicans, making him the favorite in the runoff.
But then, the friendly Shelton began avoiding reporters' questions, refusing interviews and responding only by e-mail.
By the final week, he seemed trapped in a campaign that was not his own.
His Austin campaign consultants, Craddick allies, sent reams of hostile mailers about illegal immigration, as if that were the sole issue.
On election day, suburban Republicans stayed home, voting by the handfuls instead of by the hundreds in Benbrook and at huge boxes such as the one at North Crowley High School.
North Crowley parents were among the big winners. Their growing district would be among those hurt most by a private-school voucher plan that Shelton supported.
The biggest loser was Craddick.
Two Republican candidates had already opposed him, and he wound up losing yet another vote in his campaign to keep his 18-year rule as the party's House leader.
"It seemed to me that Shelton was never speaking for himself," Barrett said. "Everything had to go through e-mail or through his handlers. It was as if everything came from Craddick."
Not exactly. But if Shelton had been elected, he would have been pressured to vote Craddick's way in Austin, no matter what was best for Fort Worth or Benbrook.