Democrats still seeking a formidable challenger for Texas’ top job
AUSTIN - As Democrats nationally are cheering recent wins in Virginia and New Jersey and are planning for an all-out assault on Republicans in Washington, Texas Democrats still have no announced flagship candidate to challenge GOP Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2018 election.
The party that hasn’t won a statewide office in two decades does have a list of earnest wannabees for down ballot positions, struggling to get attention without much name ID, which is a key to getting elected.
But as the 30-day filing period for candidates opens on Saturday. Democratic party leaders are predicting surprises, lots of them, in the coming weeks and months that they predict will turn Texas more blue when the final ballots are counted in next year’s general election.
“Even against all odds, with rigged maps, we’re still making progress in Texas,” Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said Thursday. “What you’re seeing across the country right now, this Democratic rise after Trump’s vile politics have infected the Republican Party, you’ll be seeing that happen in Texas. There are going to be some surprises.”
Will the party field candidates for all statewide elective positions? Yes, he says.
State Republican Party officials acknowledge that while their party faces some challenges in certain districts, Texas will remain perhaps the Red State bastion of conservative GOP politics that it has been for years.
“Texas is solid Republican and it will remain solid Republican after the last ballots are counted, and you can take that to the bank, sir,” said Williamson County businessman and longtime GOP activist Charles Jarmon, echoing the sentiments of party officials.
Even so, John Bucy III, the Democratic Party chair in Williamson County, which has long been a Republican stronghold, noted after a recent meet-and-greet in Round Rock with Mike Collier, a Democrat running against GOP incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, that politics in Austin’s largest suburb are changing.
Democrats recently have won local races, including a spot on the county commissioner’s court.
“We are becoming more blue ,” Bucy said.
Democrats in Harris and Fort Bend counties make the same point, as do party activists in San Antonio, Dallas and the Rio Grande Valley.
“There have been a dramatic rise in Democratic candidates ready to file in a lot of these races,” Garcia said. “There are going to be a number of competitive races.”
Even so, as recently as this week, the party’s choice to challenge for Abbott was publicly still up for grabs. Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Garcia confirmed she was considering running, as were others whose names have been bandied about for weeks.
Two other announced Democrats - businessmen Jeffrey Payne of Dallas and Tom Wakely of San Antonio - said they were still in. Andrew White, the son of the late former Gov. Mark White, said he was still seriously considering a run against Abbott, even though he said party leaders had shied away from him because he was pro-life and too conservative.
Davis unlikely to run
Political scientists suggest that the lack of a party flag-bearer to run for governor, as the filing period opens, suggests they have been unable to find someone to run - an assertion that party leaders deny.
Former Fort Worth state Sen. Wendy Davis, who ran an unsuccessful race against Abbott in 2014 and has been rumored to perhaps be up to challenging him again, said she no plans to do so. Instead, she said she is helping the state Democratic party look for a candidate the party’s base can support.
“There’s only the very remotest of chances that I would do that,” she said when asked if she would run. “I’m waiting for someone credible to step forward so I can throw my support behind them.”
Asked what it would take for her to change her mind, and challenge Abbott, she responded: “A brainwash, maybe.”
Democratic Party activists in Houston, Austin and San Antonio insist that Donald Trump will be Democrats’ best friend in the November 2018 election. His controversial decisions that have created disarray in the ranks of Republicans, not only in Washington but in Texas, will fuel defections in congressional, state and legislative races, they predict.
Political observers are not so sure.
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, said the recent Democratic wins in Eastern states suggest to him that the “patterns of partisanship are hardening” in midterm elections, rather than a shift in voter sentiment.
“The statistics suggest that blue states are getting bluer and red states are getting redder,” he said, meaning that parties are looking to focus on their bases of support. “This could mean that Texas will get even redder.”