Democrats have their first candidate for Governor.
The first reaction by many Texans to Saturday evening’s announcement by Jeffrey Payne as the first officially declared Democratic candidate for Texas governor is likely to be: “Who?”
But Payne, a businessman who owns a gay bar in Dallas among other ventures, is focused on the “what.”
And what Payne sees before him is the potential for a Democratic outsider to finally begin turning the tide against Republicans in Texas politics. He’s the first Democrat to officially announce for a spring primary expected to include at least three candidates.
He sees a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment among Texans fed up with what they see as dysfunction in Austin. He sees a lot of anti-Donald Trump backlash. He also sees the potential to rally the sizable LGBT community in Texas to mobilize like never before in the wake of continued efforts to pass a bathroom bill. And he sees a lot of disenchanted, disenfranchised Texans who might be attracted to an outsider promising big change.
Even so, Payne’s chances of an upset against popular Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott are a long shot at best, in a state where Democrats have not won a statewide race in two decades – and where conservatives still rail against gay men like Payne.
But in a year when the Republican party if engaged in a civil war between the tea-party conservatives in control and moderates who think they have gone way too far right for most Texans, Payne and his supporters insist a November surprise is possible.
“I am tired of politics as usual in Texas,” said Payne, 49, making his first run for public office and facing Abbott’s whopping $41 million in a race where he pledged to invest $2.5 million of his own money, without much of any likely party support.
See here and here for some background. As you know, there’s been an endless stream of articles about how Texas Dems have been looking everywhere for a top-drawer candidate for Governor. Payne has an interesting backstory, and if he were running for a legislative office he’d be considered a pretty good catch. But as a first-time candidate running against a guy with unlimited money and good poll numbers, coming off a 20-point win in 2014, Payne is not anyone’s idea of that candidate. I can’t claim to be excited about him. But at least he has the guts to run, and that’s worth more than any amount of wishcasting.
My advice to Jeffrey Payne, for what it’s worth, is to emulate what Beto O’Rourke is doing. Get out there and talk to some voters, especially in places where Dems are not often seen. It won’t get any national press, but it ought to get some local coverage, and who knows, some of that Beto grassroots mojo might rub off. It can’t hurt, and it will at least offer a counter to the inevitable campaign treasury comparison stories that will follow. Also, too, take seriously Abbott’s intent to woo Hispanic voters. Spend some time in South Texas and the Valley, listen to what people are saying, and make all of the obvious points against Abbott. Lastly, if and when you do have some company in the race, take the primary seriously, too. Aim for high turnout, and to get people excited about November. That’s advice I’ve already given to O’Rourke, and would give to any gubernatorial hopefuls. We have a pretty good idea by now of what doesn’t work. May as well try something else.