Is there hope for Democrats in Texas? Certainly Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama are raising money here. It’s not as much, so far, as Rudy Giuliani, but they’re making a showing that’s far from embarrassing. What are the chances that one of them could put this state in play next year so we could have some of those ugly ads?
The answer is, not good, according to Dan Weiser, a long-time expert in the politics of the Democratic party. He traces the trouble back to 1992, when Bill Clinton put money into Florida instead of Texas. (He lost Florida, by two percentage points, but might have won if it hadn’t been for the 20 percent garnered by Ross Perot.) Then came George W. Bush, who made it quixotic for a Democrat to campaign in Texas. That may change once he leaves the White House.
Certainly urban areas in Texas already have made their move in the direction of the Democrats. That’s been going on in Dallas County since 1998, said Dan Weiser. And if the trend continues, this county will go Democratic next year with 55 percent of the vote. If that happens, he foresees, Democrats will go looking for other races to win, such as state House seats, perhaps in Grand Prairie or Mesquite. He points to Allen Vaught, an environmental lawyer and former Army special- operations captain who fought in Fallujah in some of the bloodiest battles of the war in Iraq, then came home and toppled a Republican legislator in the Lakewood area of the county. There were similar upsets in Houston, Austin and Arlington, where Paula Pierson prevailed over a GOP incumbent.
Could this mean that stone by stone, a new yellow brick road — or I should say blue brick road — is being constructed in the cities of Texas that could lead, someday, to statewide victories once again? Not that Democrats would enjoy the dominance in this state they had for decades, losing the presidential race only in 1928, 1952, 1956 and 1972, before Ronald Reagan came along in 1980 and established the Republican ascendancy, seemingly forever. But forever could be over at some point, and the state could be up for grabs.
The key, of course, is Hispanic voters. It is their strength in South Texas that has prompted Dan Weiser to predict a strong run for Houston legislator and veteran of the war in Afghanistan Rick Noriega in the Democratic race to take on Republican Senator John Cornyn next year. Noriega may not win in the fall. Incumbents are hard to beat. But if he gets past the primary, he may well make the way for other Democrats in other years. “One day,” said Weiser, “we’ll wake up and the Hispanic giant will have voted.” That will be the day the Democrats rise from the cities to take on suburban, Republican Texas, where hostility to immigration may have poisoned the party’s chances for a generation.
Meanwhile, Giuliani, Clinton, Obama et al will be harvesting money in Texas, but don’t count on them to spend it here.