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Race, politics, and stupidity

When I saw the above-the-fold headline in the Sunday op-ed section entitled How John Sharp Killed the Texas Democratic Party, I expected a discussion of things like how all three top ticket candidates ran as Rpublican Lites, how Sharp kept the national Democratic Party at arm’s length, even how Sharp put all of the party’s eggs in the Tony Sanchez basket without giving him a sufficient checking out, but I got none of that. What I got from author David Rushing, listed as a “Houstonian and first-year law student at SMU”, was a bizarre diatribe about racial politics. After reading it I have to wonder which campaign this guy was actually watching.

First, let’s deal with a few fuzzy facts:

The problem for Sharp and Texas Democrats is that the Democratic Party has wedded itself to racial preferences, a practice that Sharp highlighted by his brazen endorsement of racial preferences for the top three seats. This iron-clad commitment to racial quotas was reinforced when Sharp and Sanchez both backed Kirk against Victor Morales in the Democratic Party run-off for nomination to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Phil Gramm in order to ensure a black on the top of the ticket. (Victor) Morales, the Democrats’ 1996 nominee against Gramm, won a higher percentage of the general election vote in 1996 than Kirk did in 2002 against the less-formidable John Cornyn.

Unfortunately, the Election Returns page on the Secretary of State website is acting wonky, so I can’t get the exact numbers right now. Victor Morales got 44% of the vote, about what Kirk got. Morales was likely helped by the Presidential election that year – he got roughly the same number of votes as Bill Clinton did. Kirk had a popular President from Texas actively campaigning against him.

What’s so wrong with the idea that Ron Kirk was the better, more qualified candidate? He had a bipartisan record of success as mayor of Dallas. Victor Morales had one quirky run for office that generated a lot of favorable publicity for its novelty. He was never elected to anything, having failed in a similar campaign for the 5th Congressional District in 1998. Kirk was a good candidate with a shot at winning. Morales was a one-trick pony whose time had passed.

The choice of Tony Sanchez in particular killed Sharp and the Democrats. There was another Hispanic available, and running hard, for the Democratic nomination. And if Dan Morales (no relation to Victor), a highly qualified, experienced Hispanic with a history of opposition to racial preferences had been the Democratic nominee, the entire fall campaign could have gone differently. The party would have taken down the “No Anglos” sign by publicly repudiating its most divisive policy position. Instead, the Democrats amplified their allegiance to racial preferences.

This is just plain inaccurate. Dan Morales filed for the governor’s race at the last minute. Speculation had been that he’d try for Senate up until then. This is not “running hard” for the nomination. Morales barely spent any money during the primary, probably in part because all the support had already lined up behind Sanchez, whose commitment to the candidacy had been known for months, and he got crushed.

I was happy to see Dan Morales run for the nomination. I voted for him in the primary. I do think he’d have been a better candidate, but if there’s any blame to lay for his not being on the ticket, it’s all on him.

Rushing spends the rest of the article railing against racial politics and quoting GOP politicians accusing the Democrats of playing the race card. I honestly don’t know where to begin to respond to him. Race was an aspect of this campaign. How could it not be? But to say that the Senate and Governor’s elections were all or mostly about race is to deny reality. The ads I saw on TV were occasionally about issues – mostly about insurance in the governor’s race – and a lot about attacks. Rick Perry gained a lot of traction with his ads linking Tony Sanchez’s bank to drug money. Sanchez accused Perry of being a special interests tool. Cornyn played the Bush card for all it was worth. Kirk ran warm and fuzzy ads proclaiming himself a moderate who works well with others. What frequencies does Rushing’s TV pick up?

I’m just at a loss to understand where Rushing is coming from. I agree that the ticket did a poor job of appealing to white voters. I don’t agree that it’s because the candidates were openly hostile to white voters.

UPDATE: Greg Wythe unloads on David Rushing as well.

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  1. I thought the “dream ticket” was a tactically good idea. It just didn’t end up panning out. Any Republican who said “This is sooo going to get them killed” before the results came in didn’t do so within earshot of me. Everything else is just 20/20 Hindsight.

    The only question I have is who they put where. I might have given Ron Kirk a serious looking over if he hadn’t been running for the senate where ideology is all that matters. When Dan Morales started making noise about running in the senate, I thought Kirk for Governor and Morales for Senate was a much better idea (since Morales’s moderate credentials are bonafide).

    But this is all crass speculation. It wasn’t even close and I don’t honestly know what would have worked.

  2. Kirk for Governor and Dan Morales for Senate would have been interesting. Maybe in an alternate universe somewhere. Or maybe Kirk for Governor in 2006. Hmm…if KBH wants it as rumored, that could be interesting.

    I think the Dream Team was a good idea that failed on poor tactics, poor timing (the Bush advantage would have been tough for anyone to overcome), and a less-than-we-hoped-for candidate in Tony Sanchez.

    Note my recent update for more info on this.

  3. If Hutchison runs in 2006, I honestly don’t think the Democrats have a chance at the governorship. Next to Bush, she is unquestionably the most popular politician in the state.

    I do expect her to run, though. There’s been talk of it for a while and I have it on good information that Perry has had his sights on the senate since he was ag commissioner.

  4. So Perry and KBH would try to swap offices, eh? I agree she’d be a strong favorite, though of course many things can happen between now and 2006. It’d likely be harder for Perry, especially if there’s a lot of fiscal pain in the next two budgets, but he’d have to be considered the favorite at this point as well.

    Man, I can’t believe I’m speculating about 2006. I need help…

  5. I would have to agree that Hutchison will have a lot easier time of it than Perry. The reason why I don’t think time will take it’s toll on KBH is that since she’s not an executive officer, she’s not responsible for anything. So unless she takes any super-controversial votes, there is very little that she can do wrong.

    The pitfalls for Perry are many. The potential heavy-weight opponents, though, are few. You know, Democrats might really wish they’d given some leadership position to Martin Frost (or did they?). Since there are no statewide Dem officers, they might need him in 2006.

    Yes, we’re talking about 2006. Yes, it’s 2002. Yes, we have a problem… [sigh]

  6. I’m not sure if the Dems have settled on leadership positions beyond Minority Leader. Frost was the Caucus Chair, but their web page hasn’t been updated yet, so I don’t know for sure how things stand. Frost’s own web page still lists him in that role.

    So, maybe he’ll wind up as Whip (which he should theoretically get now that Pelosi has been bumped up) and maybe he’ll stay as Caucus Chair. Either way, he should get a reasonable amount of facetime. Whether that increases his name recognition or his statewide reputation is another matter.