December 01, 2008
How steep is that hill?

I think this assessment of Bill White's chances in a statewide race in 2010 is a tad bit too pessimistic.

Whatever plans he declares, a perhaps more burning question still looms large over his intentions: Can he actually win statewide office?

Among the chattering classes in Austin and Houston, and even some White lieutenants at City Hall, no one is quite sure. But they do agree on at least one thing: Whether he runs to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison next year if she resigns to run for governor, or whether he seeks the state's top job himself in 2010, White may have an uphill battle ahead.

The chances for a Democratic governor in the next election "are more bleak than any Democrat honestly wants to admit," said Mark Sanders, a Republican consultant who ran Democrat Tony Sanchez's 2004 campaign against Gov. Rick Perry. "It's not going to happen in 2010. There are just too many factors working against that."

Chief among the challenges, according to Sanders and more than a dozen strategists from both parties, is a significant GOP advantage laid bare by the Nov. 4 election results, even in a contest that saw historic statewide turnout for Democrats. Political handicappers all over the state are still parsing reams of data, but many are putting the divide at between 8 and 10 percentage points, a daunting deficit in the near term. Some have even wondered whether 2014 would be a more optimal year.

"In a positive Democratic climate with a good candidate like White, you might bring that down to the mid-single digits," said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. "Whether you could bring it down to zero in 2010 -- or in other words, win -- is a tall order."

I'm not going to argue that White would be a favorite in a statewide race, and I'm certainly not going to dispute that the Republican Party maintains a significant edge. But I think this deserves a little pushback. The fact remains that Obama did not contest Texas. While some national ads for Obama ran here for a little while a few weeks before the election, there was no targeted blitz. The Obama organization that was built up during the primary was not redeployed - indeed, the main use of their Texas email list seemed to be to find people who were willing to call or visit voters in other states. I believe this lack of engagement allowed persistent untruths about him to continue to flourish, and that this had a negative effect on his performance and that of other statewide Democrats. I believe that had Obama put some real effort into contesting Texas, even late-in-the-game effort like he had in Georgia, the final margin would have been closer. How much closer, we'll never know.

Another thing, as I suggested before, is that especially after ten years of Rick Perry, I believe that a message of "It's time for a change" would have some real resonance. A nasty primary between Perry and Hutchison would be helpful, but not strictly necessary. I'll grant that this is at least somewhat dependent on the national mood and the early performance in office of President-elect Obama; if he's had little success in getting things turned around, that message won't sound as compelling and the devil you know won't look as bad. If we've learned one thing from the current administration, it's that if you screw up enough, you'll (eventually) pay a price at the polls for it. That dynamic can work in Bill White's favor, too - if after the next legislative session people are still unhappy about things like property taxes, college tuition, and toll roads, they'll have a convenient way to vent that frustration.

I think this is a matter of perception as much as anything, and I don't see the glass as being half empty. It's still ridiculously early, of course, and the mayor still has a job to do in Houston. I just don't see any reason why we should be looking past 2010 yet.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 01, 2008 to Election 2010

Never heard of the guy who wrote the piece. Why would the Chron run a crummy little article like this? Seems like a serious examination of White's future would be assigned to one of its long-time political writers.

Posted by: freddyrun on December 1, 2008 10:55 PM

I think it will take not only voter frustration, but clear plans (and lots of $$ to advertise it) from Bill White or the Democratic candidate as to how these problems are going to be solved, and how this is going to benefit *me* as your "Joe Conservative" voter. It sounds simple, but too often there is either no plan, or the voters don't know about it.

I think Obama did a great job of co-opting the Republicans on income taxes by offering a plan that would cut taxes for more people. Perhaps Bill White could do something like that on property taxes - lowering them for 90% of the population by raising the exemption levels, but raising the property tax rates otherwise. But if the voters in Waco and Amarillo don't clearly understand that Bill White is actually better for their pocketbook than the Republican, 2010 still seems like it's going to be one heck of an uphill climb for Dems!

Posted by: Mike on December 2, 2008 12:34 AM
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