Surprise Could Remove Senate Democrats' Safety Margin

Sometimes, it's the non-announcement that gets the political headline. Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns won’t run for the Senate seat left open by Wendy Davis’ decision to run for governor, greatly increasing already high odds that the seat will go from the Democrats to the Republicans.

That would put the Republicans just one seat away from a controlling two-thirds majority in the Texas Senate, a bit of math that increases their chances of getting their way on most issues even as it incrementally increases the clout of each of the Senate’s 11 Democrats.

That power comes from the ability to be the swing vote on issues that would otherwise be blocked. If any one senator is the difference between one outcome or another, that senator’s power — at least in that moment — rises dramatically.

On the other hand, the majority in such a case would only need one more vote. It all makes for some interesting wheeling and dealing. And it means the Democrats in the Senate can't afford to lose a single vote on partisan issues. In the current configuration, with 12 Democrats, they can afford to let someone with personal or political reasons side with the GOP. 

Unless someone pulls off an upset in Tarrant County, that's over.

Burns was the Democrats’ best hope of holding a seat that shouldn’t, by the numbers, be theirs to begin with. Davis has won twice in the district, both times in years when the presidency was on the ballot and when Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee. In years with a governor’s race leading the ticket and no national election, it moves from a Republican-leaning swing district to a Republican district.

Davis would have had a challenging re-election had she stayed, and the question now is whether anyone else on the Democratic side can make a race of it this year. Burns, who is both well-known and politically plugged in, was their first choice, and now he’s out.

Various senators and candidates have talked about dumping the two-thirds rule in 2015, and if that happens, this is small beer. But if the rule is still in place, a flipped seat in SD-10 could be a big deal. And depending on the issue — this isn’t always a partisan thing — any senator could get a chance to taste real power.