Texas Puts the "T" in ATM

Texas is a lock for Republicans at the statewide level, from the president on down.

It’s hard to find anyone to even talk about the viability of Democrats at the top of the ballot here. They haven’t won a statewide election since 1994. Most of our children — even the ones with jobs and houses of their own — are too young to remember the last time a Democrat won a presidential race here. (It was Jimmy Carter, in 1976, who beat Gerald Ford by just over 3 percentage points.) The people born that year are in their mid-30s.

So color the state red and stop talking about the electoral map. Talk instead about the financial primary.

Texas is hugely important in that one, and the list of visitors for this season — both the recent ones and those just ahead — includes most of the Republican presidential candidates and the president himself. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, made a stop in San Antonio, and he wasn’t there for the puffy tacos. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Democrat who’s running for Senate in another state more than a thousand miles away, has Texas on the list of places where he’ll drag the sack. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is on the list, presumably to take some of the load off the rich donors in Ohio.

Texas is not alone in this — what do you think Rick Perry was doing in San Francisco earlier this year? The color spectrum there runs from Democratic Blue to Political Green. He might not get any votes in the primary there, but the financial map isn’t the same as the electoral map. The money is in the big states, like you’d expect: California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois.

In the 2008 election cycle, presidential candidates raised $1.33 billion nationwide, according to the Federal Election Commission. Of that, $75.4 million came from Texas, and it was only the second presidential election cycle in 30 years without someone from Texas named Bush on the national ticket.

The numbers are smaller so far this year — it’s early — but this crop of presidential aspirants has raised $66.9 million nationally, $3.9 million of it in Texas.

That’s only a slice of the pie. Those are the amounts given to candidates directly and don’t include contributions to political action committees, Super PACs and other political organizations. The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance, reports that Texans gave $195.4 million to federal candidates and PACs combined during the 2008 election cycle. In the current round, they’ve given $38.1 million.

By the center’s accounting, federal candidates have raised about 10 percent of their money in Texas during the current election season. The state also has a large number of really wealthy people, the ones who can write large checks to Super PACs and other political outfits that don’t have limits on what contributors can give.

The voters aren’t tuned in to most races. Some have a passing or early interest in the presidential race, but it remains a sideshow for normal people, who will pay attention as the ads start and the primaries come closer and it’s time to make a decision.

The pundits are talking about electoral maps and who needs to win in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada.

That’s on the candidates’ radar as well. But their focus is really on money. Without money, there can be no campaign — certainly not a major one, with its need for expensive travel and advertising and polling and voter contact. Especially advertising.

A national campaign — or a big expensive campaign in this state or that — can’t make it without money from Texas. Ten percent is a big number, and if candidates can raise it by eating a couple of bacon-wrapped shrimp at a mansion in Houston or Dallas every month or so, that’s time well spent.

They can worry about voters later.

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