Tilting at Texas Windmills
The cliché “hope springs eternal” has to apply to Paul Sadler, the Democratic nominee to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who isn’t seeking re-election this year.
Sadler, who chaired the Texas House Public Education Committee for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is trying to do something no Texas Democrat has done since 1988 — win election to the U.S. Senate.
Texas Dems hold the unwelcome distinction of having gone longer without winning a statewide election than their counterparts in all the other states.
The last Democratic victories in statewide elections here were in 1994, all by incumbent office-holders seeking re-election. In 1998, Republicans swept every statewide office, and Democrats have been in a statewide victory drought ever since.
Politifact Texas’ W. Gardner Selby of the Austin American-Statesman found that every other state has elected a Democrat since then — even the reddest of Republican states.
One thing Sadler is hoping for is that the Republican voters, in choosing Tea Party-backed former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in their primary runoff, have presented a GOP nominee so far to the right that independent voters will go looking for a more centrist choice. Sadler, in leading the House education committee and also as chair of a special committee dealing with an education tax bill in 1997, worked closely with then-Gov. George W. Bush.
A second Sadler hope is that the presidential election will bring out a lot of Democratic-leaning voters who don’t show up in non-presidential election years.
In the last three presidential elections in Texas — in 2008, 2004, and 2000 — turnout was more than 60 percent higher than the preceding gubernatorial elections. If that trend continues next month, almost 3 million more people will vote in 2012 than voted in 2010.
While it may be wishful thinking for Sadler to try to win election to the Senate, some Democrat has been on the ballot for every U.S. Senate election. And even though Sadler is fighting a stiff headwind, Texas is gradually trending back in a Democratic direction. If he loses, the name identification and organization he is developing this year could position him to run for an office in 2014, like attorney general or even governor.
He wouldn’t be the first Texas politician to win statewide office after losing in a first attempt. Those who’ve done it include Gov. Dolph Briscoe, U.S. Sen. Ralph W. Yarborough, Atty. Gen. John L. Hill, U.S. Sen. John Tower, and U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson.
Sadler has challenged Cruz to six debates but has complained because Cruz accepted only two. Their second debate is to be held in Dallas at 7 p.m. on Oct. 19, at the studios of public station KERA-TV/Channel 13.
Cruz, obviously not wanting to give Sadler any more exposure than necessary, has said he’s got a busy schedule. Sadler charges that Cruz is too busy hobnobbing with Washington lobby groups.
Veteran Texas political reporter Dave McNeely can be contacted at email@example.com.