December 18, 2008
Your name here for Governor in 2010

Evan Smith asks the question that has been on my mind as well.

Anybody else think the entrance of the former Comptroller and the current Houston mayor -- the only two big Democratic brands in a state where "big Democratic brand" is defined super-generously -- into the theoretical race for KBH's Senate seat dooms the Ds to an historically crappy year in 2010? Who's going to run for the top-of-the-ticket statewide offices if not one of these guys? Haven't the Dems just conceded the next governor's race -- and the lite guv's race, and the AG's race, and the Comptroller's race? They may be pining for the relative power and possibility of the 2006 ticket. Ugh.

Well, as I've been telling myself, we're still a full year away from the 2010 filing deadline, so anything can happen. In theory, anyway. Beyond the obvious possibility that John Sharp or Bill White changes his mind and his target, a few other scenarios come to mind. One is that someone like a Paul Hobby recognizes the possibility that KBH's road to the Governor's mansion isn't yet guaranteed and takes the bet that the GOP nominee will once again be Rick Perry. Hey, you never know. Another is that the people who are currently considered to be the Democratic statewide candidates of the future - such as El Gobernador, just to pull a name out of the air - decide that they may as well make the jump to the big leagues now, in the hope that they'll at least expand their fundraising base and name recognition for when their day does come, if it isn't right now. Finally, a self-funding first-time candidate could emerge. I know this will make you think of Tony Sanchez, but I'll float another name for you: Bill White, who was that candidate in Houston in 2003. If nothing else, it'll be much easier for such a candidate to craft a message now than it was in 2002 - "We've had these guys in charge for 16 years, and it's time for a change".

So there's still hope. But Evan's concern is a real one, and the chances that the Dems will get a bunch of no-name, no-resources candidates are far from zero. The question is how bad that will be for the rest of the ticket. The good news there is that Democratic State Reps have done an outstanding job of making the case for themselves, as the Hill Research Consultants poll has shown, aided in part by Tom Craddick and his reign of terror in the House. Dems made gains in 2004 with George Bush at the top of the ticket, and in 2006 when there was no coordinated statewide effort. Most of the seats gained in those years have gone on to become fairly solidly blue, and as such I don't think they would be in much danger even in a year of no heft at the top. Certainly some of the 2008 pickups, most notably Kristi Thibaut, Diana Maldonado, and Robert Miklos, whose districts are trending Democratic but probably not enough to withstand a down-turnout year, would be in great danger. Beyond that, though, there really aren't that many targets for the Republicans to aim at, so the risk of loss is relatively small.

I'd be concerned in this scenario about a backslide in Harris County. I think the needle has moved enough that Democratic judicial candidates are in general no worse than 50-50 to win, but it's probably close enough that a couple thousand votes here or there could be the difference between a near-sweep for and a near-sweep against. I've heard there will be another coordinated campaign in Harris County, though in a year like this it's hard to say what the fundraising and volunteer energies might look like. Perhaps action at the top of the local ticket will drive some of this, or it may be as big a nothingburger as the state slate. The biggest casualty from a bad 2010 is likely to be the Appeals Court candidates, who need to do well in Harris County even as their fortunes improve elsewhere in order to have a shot. That would be a real lost opportunity, especially given how one judge timed her resignation to allow her appointed replacement the chance to run in 2010.

One last thought: Even if the top of the ticket is uninspiring, it's still possible for the Democrats to aim for the bottom of the ticket. The top performers in each of the last few cycles have been judicial candidates, with Sam Houston and Susan Strawn coming within 6 points of victory last month. A strong slate of judicial candidates, especially for the Court of Criminal Appeals, could sneak through some wins, without needing that much money and without being that dependent on the rest of the ticket. Worth keeping in mind, if all else fails. Burka has more.

On a side note, as long as Bill White is running for something, it's good to see him spend time in the Valley. I think he'll get a good reception wherever he goes.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 18, 2008 to Election 2010
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