Texas Democrats eye 'Elvis' factor in 2014




Posted on August 11, 2013 at 10:06 PM

Updated Sunday, Aug 11 at 10:20 PM

AUSTIN — The August cover of Texas Monthly sums up the hopes of many Texas Democrats energized by the political rise of two brothers from San Antonio and a state senator famous for her filibuster of anti-abortion legislation.

With her current term expiring next year, State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) told reporters Friday she will announce within the next two weeks whether she plans to run for the state's top job.

Speaking to the National Press Club on Monday, Davis said the choice will be between running for reelection or taking aim at the governor's office.

The Texas Monthly article by Robert Draper also highlights twin brothers Joaquín and Julián Castro. A former member of the Texas House of Representatives, Joaquín was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012. His twin brother Julián, in his second term as mayor of San Antonio, seized the spotlight with a keynote speech at last year's Democratic National Convention.

"For a long time, we've had candidates that didn't have any 'Elvis' in them. Bill White didn't even have any 'Elvis Costello,'" said Democratic consultant Jason Stanford. "We've got three statewide prospects who have a lot of 'Elvis' in them. They've got charisma. They've got star power. We haven't had that for a long time."

Many Democrats have found renewed energy and purpose in the aftermath of Davis' filibuster and weeks of protests at the Texas Capitol that were historic both in scope and intensity. Stanford said the long-suffering party is finally finding its mojo, and has its first opportunity in years to begin its comeback.

"We've got ourselves thinking that we have to be in a winnable race before we can win it," Stanford said. "Well, those candidates can create a winnable race. It's a chicken-and-egg thing. We need them both happening at the same time."

Part of that conversation revolves around the efforts of Democrats to convert explosive growth among the state's minority population — in particular Hispanic voters who have statistically favored Democratic candidates — into political gains at the statewide level.

While many on both sides agree the demographic shift could make the solid red state competitive, how long that could take has been much debated.

"I think even if Wendy Davis runs, it's still an 8, 10, 12-point race," said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak. "Keep in mind Romney won Texas by double digits. He was a pretty weak candidate in retrospect. Perry beat Bill White by a significant margin. Cruz won by a significant margin. So recent history — you don't have to go back too far — recent history shows double-digit wins for Republicans statewide in Texas."

Mackowiak argues the next Democratic governor of Texas will be a "moderate, pro-business, big city candidate," closer to the mold of former Houston mayor and gubernatorial candidate Bill White than President Barack Obama. Even with such a candidate, he said the state's minority party faces a multitude of problems before waging a successful statewide campaign.

"I'm not sure that any of those three individuals match that description, at least not right now," said Mackowiak. "They have tremendous fundraising challenges, tremendous infrastructure challenges, and the state is not ready to elect a Democrat statewide yet."

"This is not the end of the world;  it is the end of a campaign." That's how Ann Richards, the last Democrat to occupy the state's highest office, consoled supporters after losing her bid for reelection to George W. Bush in 1994.

In the two decades since, Democrats have struggled to find their way back to positions of power in a state home to longest-serving governor in America, Republican Rick Perry.

Whether Davis, the Castro brothers, shifting demographics, or a combination thereof will be the key to a renaissance for Texas Democrats, many will be paying close attention to the Lone Star State.