Roll Call considers the question.
As Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro mulls a challenge to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Democrats and Republicans both say it would be a tall order in a deep-red state with little Democratic power.
“I think what Joaquin would have to do right is to begin with a premise that Texas Democrats have no idea how to run a statewide race,” said Colin Strother, who has worked on campaigns for Castro and his twin brother Julian, a former Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor.
“The trick is that Democrats can win if we get turnout. You are not going to do that with TV and radio,” Strother said. “The way you do it is through a state of the art, modern, professional field program.”
Banking on a lagging Cruz would not be a sound strategy, experts say. While the first-term GOP senator has developed a reputation of being disliked by some fellow Republicans — Arizona Sen. John McCain famously called Cruz and his allies “wacko birds” — he still has plenty of political support in Texas.
“Cruz is nothing if not calculating and he has a voracious appetite for politics,” Strother said, pointing to his 2012 upset win over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican Senate primary when Dewhurst had the support of Rick Perry, the state’s governor at the time.
Okay, it’s not a very deep consideration, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pick it up. The article focuses on Joaquin Castro even though Beto O’Rourke seems like the more committed candidate at this point, but that isn’t important for our purposes. I say there are three factors to watch for that could affect either candidate’s chances.
1. Solving the Democratic turnout problem – We’ve discussed this one ad infinitum. Off year turnout has been flat for Dems since 2002, even with a significant bump in Presidential year voters in 2008. There are signs that Democrats are more engaged now than ever before, and if that continues it’s all to the good. But even if that continues to be the case, it’s just a floor and not a ceiling. Getting those engaged and need-to-be-engaged voters to the polls is the key. Whatever a “state of the art, modern, professional field program” looks like – maybe it’s the TOP model taken statewide, maybe it’s something else – we need that.
2. Getting some help on the Republican turnout side – As with item #1, the possibility exists that Republicans will not be terribly enthused about going to the polls next year, as was the case in 2006. Trump’s already mediocre approval numbers depend entirely on rabid Republican support. It wouldn’t take much to drop him into truly perilous territory. One of the many ongoing scandals could finally take a toll, or perhaps a spectacular failure with Obamacare repeal might do it. Trump has been operating without a net for a long time, and the Republicans have largely followed along. If it all comes crashing down, it’s going to be catastrophic for them.
3. The Dowd factor – I don’t think much of Matthew Dowd’s announced interest in running for Senate as an independent, but it could happen. If it does, the main effect will be to lower the number of votes needed to win. For example, in a straight three candidate race, if Dowd takes 20%, the number to win becomes 40% plus one. That’s a number Democrats can reasonably reach without anything else happening, and Dowd would presumably take more votes away from Cruz than he would from Castro or O’Rourke. Things get complicated quickly, and I don’t want to be overly simplistic or optimistic, but the bottom line remains that having Dowd in the race would mean a closer vote target to aim at.
A lot of this is highly theoretical – no one has officially announced a candidacy yet, and we’re still a year away from the 2018 primaries, let alone the general. But until then, these are things to think about.