Buzbee on Wednesday said supporters are urging him to run again, and he believes he is the only candidate who can defeat U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who told church parishioners last week that she would run. He emphasized, though, that he has not made a decision yet.
“I’m most concerned about the safety and well-being of the people who live in Houston. We have decisions to make to ensure that Houston leads,” Buzbee told the Chronicle, a comment he also posted on social media. “I can spend $15 to $50 million to win, if I think there is a path to victory. I’m a moderate. I’m not affiliated with any party, but I do lean a bit left. Houston deserves a motivated independent. That’s me. Not sure I would do it, but people are pushing me to do so.”
He predicted he would “step into a runoff” if he decides to run. The only question, he said, is whom he would face. Runoffs are necessary when no candidate garners a majority in the first round of voting, often the case in crowded city elections; the top two candidates then go to a runoff.
“I haven’t decided yet if I want to do that,” Buzbee said. “Our firm is working on too many cases at the moment across the country.”
“Buzbee is not a true Republican in the sense that we associate Republicans today, but he’s definitely seen as more conservative than all the other major contenders,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. “(If) you’ve got a more bona fide conservative in the race, it takes some of the fuel away from Whitmire’s fire.”
Whitmire, a Democrat, is positioning himself as a moderate voice who would be tough on crime, according to Rottinghaus. If Buzbee gets in, some of the more conservative voters to whom Whitmire could appeal may look elsewhere.
There also is the matter of money. Whitmire’s $10 million war chest, amassed over decades in the Texas Legislature, has loomed over the mayoral race since late 2021. It is dramatically more than any other declared candidate has, but Buzbee’s personal wealth likely will allow him to outspend any candidate.
The $12 million he spent on his bout with Turner was second only to Bill White’s $9.7 million in 2003, which when adjusted for inflation would have equaled $13.5 million in 2019. On Wednesday, Buzbee raised the specter of spending four times that sum, up to $50 million.
“The only way to beat the front-runners currently running for mayor is with a lot of money, and Buzbee has a lot of money,” Rottinghaus said. “He has, to some extent, endless pockets to keep going back to the well.”
I swore in December of 2019 that I would not devote any more brain space to Tony Buzbee, but here we are. So let’s get to the point.
– Buzbee lost that runoff by a 56-44 margin, in case anyone has forgotten that. Twelve million bucks can only buy you so much.
– As I said when SJL announced her intent to run (has she said anything more about this yet, by the way?), the field is far too big and the situation is far too chaotic to make any reasonable predictions about how it might go. Buzbee, if he does run, could perhaps take some support from Whitmire. He could maybe bring in some Republican voters who had otherwise felt there was no one for them to vote for. Whether that is enough for him to finish in the top two or not, I have no idea.
– As far as those Republicans who may currently feel like they have no one to vote for in this race, I have been saying for some time now that I think a “real” Republican is likely to enter for precisely that reason. The potential effect of such a hypothetical candidate on the not-yet-a-thing candidacy of Tony Buzbee is left as an exercise for those with way more time on their hands than I have.
– The thing about the 2019 race is that Buzbee was able to run as the “not Sylvester Turner” candidate. Which was enough in Round One to put him ahead of Bill King, who was an even less appealing candidate than he had been in 2015, which believe you me is no mean feat. He seems to want to pitch himself as the “not Sheila Jackson Lee” candidate, which makes some sense in a vacuum, but there are a whole lot of other people running as their own selves, and they will draw some amount of support based on that. With that many choices, it’s not at all clear that he’d be the top preference of those who aren’t voting for SJL. The candidates who will be making a positive case for themselves rather than a negative case against one particular opponent will have their own advantages in a race like this.
– Certainly, repeat candidates can win on subsequent attempts. Mayor Turner famously ran for Mayor and lost twice before winning in 2015, and plenty of City Council members had to run more than once before they broke through. It’s a combination of learning from past mistakes, maturing as a candidate, raising more money, finding a winning issue, having a better environment, and more. I’m honestly not sure what of these would apply to Tony Buzbee in 2023. I admit, I don’t like the guy and am judging him in part on that, but do you see anything in this story that says to you that he’s learned from his 2019 experience? I know, it’s one short story, I’m sure he’ll have (oh so very much) more to say if he does run, but my point stands. Right now, his plan is to run the same playbook but spend more money. It could work – politics is weird – but this is a different election, with different candidates and different circumstances. There’s no reason to think it won’t lead to worse results this time, not better results.
Okay, that’s all I can stand. Please, Tony, I beg you, don’t make me have to do more of this.