Would a contested primary for Senate be bad for Dems in 2018?

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A primary showdown between two well-liked and well-funded Democrats would add an extra layer of time and money for [Rep. Beto] O’Rourke and potentially [Rep. Joaquin] Castro – and could make it easier for Cruz to brand the winner as an out-of-touch liberal if O’Rourke and Castro need to spend time winning over the state’s liberal base.

“A competitive primary will split the party, leave hard feelings and limit the ability to raise the money needed to compete in the general” election, said University of Houston professor Brandon Rottinghaus, author of a recent book on Texas politics. “Two competitive Democrats in the primary who have run in the past has fractured the party and created new fault lines that Dem voters weren’t able to cross.”

Rottinghaus brought up the 2002 election, in which former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk won a four-way Democratic primary to challenge Sen. John Cornyn for an open seat at the time. While Republicans were united behind Cornyn’s ultimately successful bid, Democrats were divided by geographical and ideological interests that made it harder to win the general election.

In recent years, big-name Democrats have largely stayed out of one another’s way in statewide races. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth faced nominal opposition in her 2014 gubernatorial bid against Greg Abbott, which she lost. Democrats did not contest primaries in races for lieutenant governor or attorney general.

1. I dispute the notion that a contested primary is necessarily a “good” or “bad” thing for a party’s chances in November. I certainly disagree with the assertion about the 2002 Senate primary. For one thing, it was mostly overshadowed by the Tony Sanchez/Dan Morales gubernatorial primary. For another, Ron Kirk was one of the better-performing Democrats, getting a higher percentage of the vote than any Dem after John Sharp and Margaret Mirabal. I’m gonna need to see some numbers before I buy that argument. Plenty of candidates have won general elections after winning nasty, brutal primary fights – see Ann Richards in 1990 and Ted Cruz in 2012, to pick two off the top of my head. I’ll bet a dollar right now that if Ted Cruz is re-elected next year, a primary between Beto O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro will be very low on the list of reasons why he won.

2. We don’t know yet if Castro will run or not – he says he’ll tell us later this month. As was the case last week in Dallas, Castro has made multiple appearances at events with Beto O’Rourke, which for now at least has kept everything nice and civil. I’ve said that I don’t think Castro will give up his safe Congressional seat and increasingly high profile within the party for what everyone would agree is a longshot run against Cruz. (Though perhaps somewhat less of a longshot if the political conditions from that Kansas special election persist through next November.) If he does, however, and especially if he does in the context of having to win a March election first, then I’d suggest it’s because he thinks his odds of winning are better than the current empirical evidence would imply. Maybe he’d be wrong about that, but I believe if Castro jumps in, it’s because he really believes he can win, above and beyond the usual amount that candidates believe.

3. Whatever Castro does, I do hope Beto O’Rourke faces at least one primary challenger, even if that’s a fringe or perennial candidate. I want him to take it seriously and begin engaging voters as soon as possible. As I said before, I was wrong to be dismissive about the 2014 primaries and what they meant for that November. Whoever else runs, I prefer to see this primary as an opportunity and not a threat.

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9 Responses to Would a contested primary for Senate be bad for Dems in 2018?

  1. Flypusher says:

    I agree that a contested primary is not necessarily bad, and who ever runs has a choice about keeping it civil and focusing on issues. I remember 1990 very well; it was a farce on both sides, but those were the good old days when there were actual political consequences for face-palming displays of ignorance and speaking before thinking.

  2. Tom says:

    I think we can agree, though, that having a contested Senate primary is less of a good thing than getting a serious challenger to Greg Abbott.

  3. Flypusher says:

    If I had to choose between replacing Abbott or Patrick, Patrick is the higher priority. Also flipping the TX Senate seat would be huge (to use an overused word). If TX flips, that bodes well for the Dems retaking Congress (and this Indy is rooting for that, because the GOP is off the effing rails here). But you don’t pull off any upsets unless you put in the hard work. That’s why I’m disappointed that the Dems didn’t try even harder in that Kansas special election .

  4. Tom says:

    Well, you don’t want to have a Grady Yarbrough type on the ballot for Gov if 2018 turns out to be a really good year for Dems. Regardless of the power of Lt. Gov or a Senator, the Gov race is always going to be the biggest item on an off-year ballot.

  5. Bill Daniels says:


    I’m satisfied with Abbott. Not happy, but satisfied, although I will no doubt vote for the (L) challenger. You are correct, though Dan Patrick is the one that really needs to go, and if Dems put up a viable challenger, I’ll skip the (L) vote and vote (D), just to get rid of him.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    With regards to Beto, if this is the kind of thing he supports, he’s not going to win any statewide race.


    He’s holding up an undocumented immigrant that steals money orders from people over the people who actually had their money orders stolen by her. The majority of Texans don’t support criminals, regardless of what they think of our immigration laws.

    Even if you support open borders, is this really the case you want to hang your hat on? Ask yourself, would most of my own friends support this woman as Beto has done?

  7. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Bill you have a flair for drama especially when it come to hating people of color, whether in public housing or “Illegal”.

    This is what Beto had to say about the incident;

    “A woman (referring to Gonzalez), an undocumented Mexican national had gone to the Center Against Family Violence out of fear for her life after being abused, she alleged, by her boyfriend. Center Against Family Violence escorted her to the courthouse to receive a protection order. The judge granted that order. But in that courtroom where the judge granted that order were, according to the county attorney, the county judge and the judge who presided over that trial, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement who escorted the domestic abuse survivor out of the courthouse and into detention and, perhaps, to deportation into Mexico. We will not continue to be the safest city in America, we will not continue to contribute to the safety of the United States and the State of Texas if people don’t feel comfortable reporting domestic abuse, reporting crime, serving as witnesses, working with law enforcement. I urge this administration to send an unequivocal message that it is imperative that we respect all people of all communities regarding their immigration status.”

    If you want to read the story how the judge in the case was the one that called Beto then here is the article


  8. Bill Daniels says:


    Yes, the judge called Beto, but Beto, using (IMHO) very poor judgement, felt the need to make THIS woman the poster child for open borders. Oooh, that mean ol’ Border Patrol, ganging up on this poor transgender woman.

    This is from your own link:

    “ABC-7 has learned Gonzalez, an alleged victim of domestic violence, had an extensive criminal history and had been deported from the U.S. seven times. Gonzalez’s criminal history includes convictions for Illegal Re-Entry, Larceny/From Mail, False Imprisonment (three times), Assault, Probation Violation, and Domestic Violence.”

    Is this really the person you want for your narrative, the poor, persecuted undocumented immigrant? Beto thought highly enough of her to bring her case to the US Congress! She’s just here to do the larceny, mail fraud, false imprisonment (three times), assault, probation violation and domestic violence that US citizens won’t do. Be reasonable. She is EXACTLY the bad hombre (well, bad chica) that people voted Trump to get rid of.

    What I’m telling you is, if you put up Beto against Ted Cruz, who is a weasel and probably as unlikable as Hillary, and this is what Beto brings to the table, being the defender of undocumented criminals like Gonzalez, he isn’t going to win.

    More Texans will self identify with Gonzalez’s victims than will identify with Gonzalez.

    “We will not continue to be the safest city in America, we will not continue to contribute to the safety of the United States and the State of Texas…..”

    The best way to keep El Paso safe is to deport Gonzalez, and this time, keep her out, unlike the 7 times she illegally crossed the border to commit new crimes in the US.

    In fact, if I was Ted Cruz, I’d make this a campaign ad, showing Beto’s speech (surely it was on C-Span) about Gonzalez and quoting the article you posted. This could be Beto’s Willie Horton moment.

  9. Neither Here Nor There says:

    That is not what happening or happened, but like your mentor (Donald Trump) you create your own fake reality to push a racist/bigoted agenda, hope you find a way to remove so much hate as it damages the person that carries it within.

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