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A Tale of Two Parties

Big tents and boos on one hand, and talk about how to start a fire on the other: Notes from the Republican Party's convention in Fort Worth and from the Democratic Party's convention in Houston.

Texas Republican Convention delegates congregate outside the Fort Worth Convention Center on June 7, 2012.

The Republicans have a big tent, full of voters, and it turns out that some of them disagree with some of the others. That, more or less, is the trouble with being a majority party in a state where other parties can't mount a serious challenge in statewide races, and in most races for legislative and state judicial jobs.

The Democrats are rebuilding. They were near parity after the 2008 elections, but that was obliterated in the 2010 elections. Worse, the Republican majorities put in place that year were just in time to draw redistricting maps that are designed to give the GOP a legislative majority for the next decade.

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Republicans wrote a platform that includes a call for a national guest worker program — a move they hope will quell claims they are hostile to Hispanics. Interestingly, the Libertarian Party of Texas eased its immigration platform, taking out language that referred to some immigrants as "invaders." The Republican version would allow immigrants into the country when they can ease labor shortages.

The Republicans also showed some signs that they're sensitive to how they looked to voters outside their Fort Worth convention. On day one, Gov. Rick Perry drew boos when he reasserted his support of David Dewhurst for U.S. Senate. The favorite for a lot of people in the hall is Ted Cruz. (Their boos sounded like "Dews" and "Cruz", depending on the spinner; they didn't sound like assent.) The next day, when Dewhurst his own self took the stage, the boo-birds were shushed by their fellow delegates. Whatever the intent, it sounded better on television and YouTube. Cruz's appearance on Saturday was the most boisterous of the three.

The GOP got a visit from former presidential candidate Rick Santorum who, after a day that included some campaigning on behalf of Senate candidate Cruz, made no mention of that race to the delegates at dinner. Instead, they got an upbeat speech sprinkled with campaign stories.

San Antonio's Joe Straus, who's been in trouble with some Republicans since he knocked off fellow Republican Tom Craddick to become speaker in 2009, got a mostly polite reception on stage. Off stage, his opponents wore "Oust Straus" stickers and mooned over Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, who has filed papers announcing he'll challenge Straus for the speakership in January. Straus expects to keep the job and said the internal bickering among the Republicans could be helpful to the opposition.

Oh, and about that Perry speech on the first day: He told the delegates he won't be riding off into the sunset just yet.

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Gilberto Hinojosa, as expected, won the chairmanship of the Texas Democratic Party, a day after a surprisingly and strongly partisan speech from outgoing chairman Boyd Richie.

Hinojosa has been telling Democrats in the weeks leading up to the convention that he wants to stop trying to win independents and to instead do what he believes made the Republicans successful: Preaching to the choir. He said a month ago that the Democrats have spent too much of their time trying to win over independents by taking more conservative positions. Instead, he says, they ought to enliven their own base.

In the short term, some of the Democratic candidates are discouraged. It's hard to raise money and without money, it's hard to campaign. Keith Hampton, a Democrat running against Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, says he has no problem winning voters when he can talk to them about Keller, particularly the story of her turning away a late death penalty appeal after the court's 5 p.m. closing time (Keller has another version, but the incident drew her a spanking from the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct). But without money, Hampton says, he's in danger of polishing up a sales pitch no one will hear.

Democrats are looking for political and financial stars who can guide them out of the wilderness in Texas. They spotlighted twin brothers Julian and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and state Sens. Wendy Davis and Kirk Watson, among others. But there were plenty of people in Houston saying the party won't be rescued by stars — that it needs money and organization, too. That chicken-and-egg argument continued throughout the convention. 

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2012 elections Republican Party Of Texas Texas Democratic Party