July 22, 2008
State of Play

Here's a Texas Monthly article by Paul Burka that takes a look at how the Presidential race might affect various key downballot races in Texas. It's pretty comprehensive, and very Burka-esque, with all the good and bang-your-head-against-a-wall-ness that implies. One point that I want to highlight, which illuminates some of my frustration with this kind of analysis:

The East Texas WD-40's

"WD-40" is Capitol-speak for white Democrats of middle age who generally represent Republican-leaning districts. In a normal year, Mark Homer, Jim McReynolds, and Chuck Hopson would be favored, but Obama may be a load to carry in East Texas.

Is there anyone reading this who can't visualize this exact same paragraph being written with "Hillary" being substituted for "Obama"? I mean, for a good six months or more, we were subjected to one Republican operative after another gleefully rubbing his hands at the prospect of Hillary Clinton at the top of the Democratic ticket, where her supposedly divisive presence would save them all by giving the legions of grumpy, apathetic Republican voters a reason to drag themselves to the polls. But wait! They were head-faking us all along! It's really Obama they wanted to run against! He'll inspire them in a way that John McCain only dreams he could!

Yeah, I think you see my problem. It's one part lazy thinking, with an equal measure of Republican talking points. And to this day, after all this time, no one has ever satisfactorily explained to me why guys like Homer, Hopson, and McReynolds have anything more to fear now than they did in 2004 when an at-his-zenith George W. Bush was leading the way for the state GOP. For crying out loud, Burka acknowledges this up front:

Finally, the R's have run out of Bushes. The 2008 election will not be a replay of 2000, or even 2004. The Democrats have a candidate who energizes the party's electorate, while the GOP nominee would not have been the first choice of most Texas Republicans.

And yet we get the same tired conventional wisdom about the WD-40s. Why is that?

Well, there is one more thing, which Burka doesn't mention but which must be at the root of his thinking here, and that of course is race. Maybe the fact that Obama is black will help generate Republican turnout in East Texas. Only problem with that is, there's no evidence that Obama will do any worse in such areas than some other Democrat would have done.

So does Barack Obama have a problem with white voters? The answer is a resounding "yes." And so has every other Democratic presidential candidate in the past forty years. The last Democratic candidate for president to win a majority of the white vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Al Gore lost the white vote by 12 points in 2000. John Kerry lost the white vote by 17 points in 2004.

Based on five national polls that have been conducted this month--Gallup, Newsweek, Quinnipiac, CBS/New York Times, and ABC/Washington Post--Barack Obama is currently trailing John McCain by an average of nine points among white voters. So Obama is doing much better than John Kerry and a little better than Al Gore. In fact, the only Democratic presidential candidates in the past four decades who have done better among white voters were Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Not coincidentally, they were also the only successful Democratic presidential candidates in the past four decades. Based on his current showing in the polls, Barack Obama may well be the next one. With whites expected to comprise less than 80 percent of the 2008 electorate, and with a 20-1 margin among black voters and a 2-1 margin among Hispanic voters, Obama's current nine point deficit among white voters would translate into a decisive victory in November.

So the democratic nominee may change, but the question remains the same: Why would any of these guys be in more danger in 2008 than they were in 2004? Note that I'm not saying any of them can't lose, just that as far as I can see, they've faced worse conditions than this. So why the hand-wringing? Anybody? I'm still willing to change my mind about this, if someone can show me tangible evidence to contradict my hypothesis. I'm still waiting to see such evidence. [email protected] has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 22, 2008 to Election 2008

When you're running as a "conservative" D in a conservative district (such as these East Texas districts), it doesn't hurt to have George W. at the top of the ticket. In fact, you're likely to get some crossover Republican voters, just as George W. got crossover Democratic voters. It doesn't help to have a liberal like Obama or Hillary on the ticket (and no popular GOP candidate), especially if - as has been stated - they will try and pour money into these Texas House races for redistricting. Most Democratic presidential candidates haven't really run in Texas or paid much attention to it, but if Obama does, then you can start tying these WD40's to him and his policies, which isn't good for them.

Posted by: Brutus on July 22, 2008 9:34 AM

I don't see how the WD40s could be in trouble this time around, no matter what race Obama may be. Most East Texas voters are first generation Republican voters and they have (or remember) parents/grandparents who still associate Republicans with Hoover and the Depression. If the economy continues on its present course downward and if the predicted bank closings do occur, then only a fool will believe that the Democrats are responsible for $4 a gallon gasoline. The Republicans can try trying the WD40s to Obama, but the rope around the Republicans' necks is spelled Bush and it's getting tighter and tighter as the economy craters.

Posted by: Temple Houston on July 22, 2008 12:08 PM

Let the voting begin! Prediction-the national election will appear to be a landslide at least one week out from election day, this will dampen republican hopes and the republican turnout will be less than usual. All will be good for the Dems. But then the hard part will begin-moving the country in a positive way forward so that the democratically led government is not just a 2 or 4 year wonder.

Posted by: cb on July 22, 2008 5:52 PM

I think Burka's implicit point is that East Texas white voters are much more prone than white voters nationwide to show up at the polls to vote against a black candidate. Whether that is the case, I do not know, and whether that is cause for worry among WD-40s is debatable for the reasons you cite.

Posted by: jt on July 23, 2008 1:05 PM

East Texas is going to be interesting this year. I have no idea what will happen and I am the Democratic Candidate for District 9, and also a white Democrat over 40. Being pro public education and against the Trans-Texas Corridor will help. We currently have a Republican incumbent but any Republican
incumbent is in a precarious position in the current climate. K.D.F.

Posted by: Kenneth D. Franks on July 30, 2008 9:09 AM
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