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Long Shots Carry On Despite Stacked Deck

Two-thirds of the candidates for Texas House don’t face major opposition in November. Only about a dozen races are truly competitive, in the sense that either party might win.

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Being a Democrat in a Texas election is like being the fastest sprinter outside of Jamaica or the best beach volleyball team outside of the United States. Unless something odd happens, your medal will be silver or bronze.

Eventually, a Democrat will win a statewide election in Texas. It could happen this year, though that seems highly unlikely given the recent history of elections here, the relative organizational strength of the candidates statewide and the fact that the incumbent Democrat at the top of this year’s ticket — President Obama — lost soundly in Texas four years ago. At the height of his popularity.

But this is not a lament about a pitiable party that can’t put a win together and shouldn’t even try. Eventually, the Democrats will win a bigger following, or the Republicans will fritter away their advantages, or both. The argument over pendulum swings is a matter of when and not if. That’s why Texas Republicans made sure they had people on the ballot in as many statewide races as possible throughout the 1980s.

Until the Republicans broke out, stories like this were about them.  So Paul Sadler can believe he’s the one to win the U.S. Senate race. It’s not impossible that Dale Henry will succeed in his latest attempt to become a Texas railroad commissioner, or that Keith Hampton could be the next presiding judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. It’s a question of when the Democrats might break through.

Their job is to change hearts and minds, and they know it.

The candidates who make you scratch your head are those whose chances were determined not by voters’ philosophical swings but by the preferences of the party in power. Two-thirds of the candidates for Texas House don’t face major opposition in November. Thank redistricting, which protects politicians in those districts from the other party’s voters.  Only about a dozen races are truly competitive, in the sense that either party might win. That leaves at least three dozen shoe-ins — with opponents you’d have to classify as long shots.

Like John Courage, D-San Antonio, who is running for state Senate. The Republicans in that district just nominated Donna Campbell over the incumbent, Jeff Wentworth, and Courage argues that she’s too far to the right to appeal to the district’s general election voters. “The people in this area have not had many opportunities to vote for a Democrat,” he said. “You’re looking at a Republican this time who represents just a small part of the Republican Party.” He’s passionate in his argument, but the numbers are against him: Rick Perry got 62.3 percent in the 2010 governor’s race in that district, and Obama mustered only 37.4 percent of the vote there in his 2008 race against John McCain.

Or consider the case of Dan Chavez, the Republican challenging state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso; in that district Obama got 65.5 percent in 2008, and Perry got 37 percent in 2010.

It’s always possible for the minority party to win. That’s what upsets are made of. But that’s not the way to bet.

Most people don’t vote. Most of those who do vote don’t vote in primaries. As a result, most of those who vote only in November — about three-quarters of the electorate — won’t be in on the choice of who represents them in the Legislature and in Congress.

Even underdogs generally agree that some outcomes are predetermined by the mapmakers. Tell them only a few of the contested races are in districts where either party can win, and they’ll nod their heads.

Until you name names. Then, each presents a case for why he or she could be an exception if only given the chance.

When it comes to specific races, the combatants have a million retorts, like how it would be possible if only the political investors and oddsmakers and media would treat the two sides equally.

But is it honest to treat something as a fair fight when the fix is in? Have a little respect for the people who draw these maps. Most of the time, they perform as designed — to minimize a political party’s risk of losses.

It takes a mistake, a rebellion or a superstar candidate to change the results in districts like that. Most of the time, as in those 98 House races, nobody even tries.

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