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“Dream Team 2: Senate Boogaloo”

Cara Morris has been beating the drums lately for the Democrats’ enhanced electoral prospects in the Senate. She quotes from this Roll Call article in which DSCC Chair Jon Corzine talks about promoting some of their candidates as a package deal.

Senate Democrats will send out an e-mail fundraising appeal today to more than 90,000 donors aimed at capitalizing on the growing diversity of their 2004 recruiting class.

“The dream team is here,” Donna Brazile, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Voting Rights Institute, writes in the missive. “The emergence of Barack Obama, Ken Salazar and Congressman Brad Carson … makes ours the most diverse class of U.S. Senate candidates in history.”

Obama, a black state Senator, cruised to the Democratic nomination in Illinois last Tuesday, while Salazar, the Hispanic state attorney general, has emerged as the establishment’s choice in the race to replace Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.). Carson is a member of the Cherokee Nation and is essentially unopposed for the Democratic nomination in Oklahoma.

Obama would be only the third black Senator since Reconstruction; no Hispanic has served in the Senate in the last 27 years. Carson is one of the eight American Indians to serve in Congress.

“The historic opportunity to increase diversity in the U.S. Senate, and thus the diversity of views, background and cultures … is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss,” writes Brazile, who is also a contributing writer to Roll Call.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee officials hinted that the fundraising appeal is the first in a series of events aimed at creating a “national story” around their candidates.

“We are going to have a class that I would like to sell as a group because of the strength of their credentials,” said DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.). “We can take this crew on the road to help us on the financial side.”

Nationalizing the fundraising and promoting these three terrific candidates is a fine idea, but seeing the words “Dream Team” in this context makes me wince a bit. You may recall the reason why:

[S]ome Democrats warned of the impact of grouping candidates like Obama, Salazar and Carson, pointing out that much the same pitch was made on behalf of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (D) in the 2002 Texas Senate race — to no avail.

Kirk, who is black, was part of the so-called Texas dream team comprised of himself and Hispanic businessman Tony Sanchez, the Democratic candidate for governor.

The former Dallas mayor became a staple on the Democratic fundraising circuit, raising and spending more than $9 million. Sanchez spent freely from his own pocket, eventually donating $67 million to the campaign.

On Election Day 2002, however, neither candidate came close to winning or turning out the record black and Hispanic vote that was predicted.

Kirk lost to then-state Attorney General John Cornyn (R) 55 percent to 43 percent; Sanchez was defeated by Gov. Rick Perry (R) 58 percent to 40 percent.

In a recent interview, Kirk said Texas turned into “much more of a national race than a local race,” adding that the best advice he could give Obama is to find “a message that resonates much broader than the African-American community.”

“He’s got to make the issue about Illinois,” Kirk said.

Couple points: First, the third member of the “Dream Team” in 2002 was John Sharp, the Anglo in that rainbow coalition. He lost a close race to David Dewhurst for Lt. Governor. Second, given the GOP trend of the state, the high popularity of President Bush, and the whole runup to Iraq that characterized the 2002 elections, and it’s hard to say that Ron Kirk could have done all that much better. Finally, and this is important, Tony Sanchez was a lousy candidate who not only didn’t pull his weight on the top of the ticket, he was more of a liability than an asset.

That said, whatever factors may have affected the 2002 race, the “Dream Team” concept was basically a flop. Way too much attention was paid early on to Ron Kirk as “the black candidate” who was one-third of this black/white/brown ticket, and not nearly enough attention was paid to the fact that Kirk was an excellent and well-qualified candidate with a strong track record in public service. He was more of a symbol than a person, and it served him poorly. The end result what that Kirk got only about 30% of the Anglo vote statewide, which was not nearly enough.

Therefore, it’s my sincere hope that if the DSCC takes Obama, Salazar, and Carson on the road, it’s to tout their credentials as shining examples of smart, hard-working, and dedicated people who will make the Senate a better place. That they also come from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds is nothing more than what one should expect from a party that truly reflects and represents all of America. Kirk has it exactly right: These races should be about what’s best for everyone in their states. That’s how they’ll win.

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  1. Cara says:

    Agreed that the comparisons to the 2002 Dream Team aren’t what we want but I think that Ron Kirk and the Texas Dream Team’s unfortunate loss last cycle doesn’t tarnish the idea or the brand… it’s like John Calapari took the phrase “Refuse to Lose” with him when he left UMass Basketball in the 90s and … well … the team wasn’t doing so well when he left with it!

    That was my quick answer but you are right when you note that we will promote Salazar, Obama and Carson as qualified, strong, leaders who are also frontrunners in their respective races.

  2. Patrick says:

    You hit the nail on the head with Sanchez, he was an anchor at the top of the ticket. But Tony Sanchez had one quality that has proven very appealing to party leaders over the past 10 years – he was a political novice with significant independent wealth. The parties love it when they can count on a gubenatorial or Senate candidate to foot a good portion of the cost of a campaign with their own money. It free up a lot of money in the lower profile races.

    Other examples include John Corzine formerly of Goldman-Sachs, Mark Dayton formerly of Dayton-Hudson Group (Target), Herb Kohl of Kohls Department, oil and banking heir Michael Huffington, and Arnold Schwarzenegger action film star. You could throw Maria Cantwell formerly of RealNetworks into this group, too, but she had previously been in the Washington statehouse and in Congress.

    Huffington spent $27.5 million of his own in the process of losing to Diane Feinstein in 1994. Corzine spent $34 million of his own money. Cantwell spent $10 million of her own money, over 90% of the cost of her campaign.

    Sometimes that desire to get candidates willing to spend their own personal fortunes results in a Democratic nominee for Governor who was a G.W. Bush Pioneer-level ($100,000+) contributor.

  3. niq says:

    More importantly, the most important demographics for Democrats to hold are White Seniors, White Men, and Hispanics. There’s very little need to showcase Obama or Carson for these demographics. Salazar, on the other hand, will almost certainly make a big splash.

    In any event, Obama is going to have to work hard to attract downstate Illinois voters, so he’s going to want to appear as “the Illinois candidate” much more than “the black candidate”.