As Texas Democrats await word from state Sen. Wendy Davis on whether she's running for governor, some say Democrats eyeing statewide races are too chicken to jump in without the expected money and national attention that a Davis candidacy could bring.
But Democratic consultant Harold Cook said those would-be candidates probably should wait to see who their party’s candidate for governor will be.
"Because the top of the ticket matters, and it matters a lot,” he said.
Cook said running isn’t easy and that it takes lots of money to do it right. So if you’re considering a race for comptroller, you want to know if Davis is going to be the standard bearer for the party. Especially, said Cook, when your party doesn't have a Plan B.
"I don’t think there’s anybody on the horizon that excites people who have not typically voted for Democrats or voted at all besides Wendy," he said. "And if you don’t have that, then what different result could you possibly expect?"
You can’t blame Democrats for being a little cautious about running for a statewide office. It’s been two decades since the party’s last win. Jim Henson, a Tribune pollster and the head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said Democrats in statewide races start way behind.
“Statewide candidates go into this with something like a 10- to 12-point baseline disadvantage, depending on where on the ballot you’re talking about," Henson said. "And nobody has wanted to be a sacrificial lamb. Nor have they been able, frankly, to raise the resources to make a credible run at it."
So what exactly does Davis bring as a candidate that would make other Democrats considering a run for lieutenant governor or land commissioner want to jump in the race? She’s expected to have the financial support needed to run a strong campaign. But Henson says she’s also bringing some excitement to a dormant party.
“I think you have to go back to probably Ann Richards to find somebody at the top of the ticket that’s been able to deliver not just a victory, but something more intangible," he said. "Something that excites the base and mobilizes people to do more than just possibly stumble out of bed during election period, cast a vote and then walk away and forget about it again."
It’s Lize Burr’s job to help cultivate that new excitement and energy. Burr is president of the Capitol Area Democratic Women. She says turnout at group events has dramatically increased since late June, after Davis’ filibuster of a controversial abortion bill.
Burr’s goal with all those new volunteers is to turn out a very specific voter in Texas. She said that in 2012, about 4.4 million women who were registered to vote stayed home.
“She presents us with an equation where women play a much more important role," Burr said. "And that changing the nature of the electorate goes not so much from only increasing Hispanic turnout, which has been the playbook that most of us who are working in Democratic politics are going by, to increasing the women’s turnout.”
Does that turnout make Davis or any other statewide Democrats winners in 2014? Maybe not, but Burr says it could make a big difference in state House and county races. And when you’re a party trying to make a comeback, every win counts.
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