With 36 days until the filing deadline for Texas' 2018 primaries, concerns about Democrats' statewide ticket are coming into public view.
Party officials have insisted they're talking to a number of potential contenders, but the clock is ticking: Filing for the 2018 primaries begins in less than a week — Saturday — and ends a month later. Democrats currently have a serious U.S. Senate hopeful in Beto O'Rourke, an El Paso congressman, but the rest of their statewide ticket is less clear — particularly who will challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
At a panel discussion Sunday morning in Austin, former U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro and Wendy Davis, the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, acknowledged their party's difficult situation heading into 2018.
"I agree with you," Castro said when the moderator, Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, brought up the party's lack of statewide contenders. "It has been a tough cycle to recruit candidates."
Asked whether she would run for governor again next year, Davis replied, "I rule it out 99 percent." Pressed on why she would not rule it out entirely, she responded, "Because no one's stepping forward."
As for Castro, the former San Antonio mayor, months ago he ruled out running statewide in 2018. His twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, has been encouraged to mount a gubernatorial campaign, but he has said he plans to run for re-election to the U.S. House in 2018 — a statement that has nonetheless given his supporters hope he could still change his mind and challenge Abbott.
Asked Sunday if Joaquin Castro will run for governor, Julián Castro said he will not but noted "you probably have to ask him."
"I can only rule him out 99 percent," Julián Castro said with a laugh.
The former Cabinet official is eying a 2020 presidential run and continued to keep that possibility open Sunday, replying, "I might," when asked if he would make a White House bid in three years. He said he would decide "by the end of 2018."
"I think that whoever becomes the nominee of the Democratic Party is going to have to stand for the future — they're going to have to be everything that Trump is not," Castro said when prodded for his "30-second elevator pitch" for a potential White House run.
Yet while Castro continues to look past 2018, his party is confronting a more immediate problem in Texas. Only little-known Democrats have lined up to challenge Abbott next year, a group that includes Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne and Tom Wakely, a former congressional candidate from San Antonio.
In recent weeks, a more prominent name has emerged as a potential candidate: Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White. Andrew White, a Houston investor who's never been elected to office before, is pitching himself as a conservative Democrat who believes Abbott and other state leaders have become too captive to the GOP primary electorate.
Yet White has already faced some questions among Texas Democrats about his views on abortion rights — including from Davis, who warned her Facebook friends last week that White is "anti-choice." On Sunday afternoon, White unveiled a new section of his website that details his positions on a series of issues, including abortion.
"I want this to be clear: Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and I respect the law," White said. "While my stance on abortion is not the traditional Democratic position, I’m not a blind extremist on this issue like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick."
Patrick himself is facing a Democratic challenge from Mike Collier, a Houston-area accountant who unsuccessfully ran for comptroller in 2014. And Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has a Democratic opponent in Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel. Yet in addition to the gubernatorial contest, there's not much clarity on who will emerge as the Democrats' top choice in races for attorney general, comptroller, land commissioner and railroad commissioner.
As those questions have swirled this fall, party officials have expressed confidence that they will find an "authentic, dynamic" candidate — at least for governor.
As Democrats sort out their statewide lineup, Abbott's campaign has been revving up in more ways than one. He has already set his sights on winning a bigger share of the Hispanic vote in 2018 — he got 44 percent in 2014 — a topic that came up early on in Sunday's discussion, held at a conference for Voto Latino, a group aiming to increase Latino involvement in politics.
Davis attributed Abbott's slice of the Hispanic vote in 2014 to a lack of familiarity with his positions on issues important to the community. "They didn't know that he was going to be the governor that'd sign SB 4," Davis said, referring to the state's "sanctuary cities" ban.
"I’m hoping there will be a better response to who he is in the next election cycle," she added, "if we’re able to field a candidate for governor."