76 R's, 74 D's: What happens now in the speaker's race?
Wed November 5, 2008 9:00 am

Is this slender margin enough for Craddick to stay in power? The answer is a thundering "maybe." His fate depends upon three factors:

(1) How will the Republicans' net loss of three seats be viewed by the GOP members and the Republican establishment?

Craddick's supporters will spin the election results as a victory: Republicans lost just one seat in Harris County in the middle of a Democratic sweep. But it could just as easily be viewed as a major defeat. The Republican majority hangs by the thread of Linda Harper-Brown's 25-vote victory, headed for a recount, in a race against an unknown opponent who received no help from his own party.

The Metroplex was a rout. Not only did the D's gain three seats; they also successfully defended two incumbents that Craddick targeted (Vaught and England). And the only race Craddick won was a gimme. Barrett had no chance against Shelton. For that matter, Hunter's victory over Garcia was a gimme too. If the Democrats had just kept their mouths shut instead of insisting that Garcia was winning, the race would be seen for what it was: a near-certain loss in an overwhelmingly Republican district in a year in which Hispanics didn't turn out because they didn't like the Democratic presidential candidate. Barrett and Garcia were just renting their districts; they never owned them. The third Republican pickup--the Robbie Cook seat--was a gimme too. Kleinschmidt almost beat Cook in 2006 and had been running for two years as the heir-apparent. All three pickups were low-hanging fruit. Craddick didn't win a single competitive race. Margo couldn't beat Moody; Hollingsworth couldn't beat Homer; Walker couldn't beat Hopson; Scott couldn't beat Herrero in a big year for Republicans in the Corpus Christi area; Castro couldn't beat Heflin; Keffer couldn't beat Vaught; Keel couldn't beat Bolton; Daniel couldn't beat Maldonado; Meyers couldn't beat Vo. What did Craddick accomplish? He sank three two-foot putts, and he paid very high green fees to get on the course.

(2) What will the Craddick D's do? As I have said before, Sylvester Turner holds all the cards. He can make Craddick speaker or he can bring the Craddick D's to his pick of the Democrats. The sooner the Democrats recognize this the better. Turner wants to be chairman of appropriations. He thought Craddick should have given it to him last time. Gentlemen, start your engines.

(3) What will the ABCs do? Their number is around 12 to 14. If they were to join the Democrats (including the Craddick D's) as a group today, that would swell the insurgency into the mid-80s. Wouldn't that move set off a panic among Republicans to get on board? Sure -- except for one little detail. Getting on board with whom? That has always been the problem. Until the insurgents answer the question of who will be the coalition speaker, Craddick remains in control.

The Democratic leadership has to face reality. The Republicans have the majority. The next speaker has to be a Republican. If they want Craddick out, the D's are going to have to allow the ABCs and the Craddick D's and the wobblies to settle on the speaker. And it had better happen fast, before Craddick can get his counterattack together. For all we know, Craddick and Turner may be cutting a deal even as I write this. Once the move is made, and the insurgents lay out their votes, the threat of retaliation against the ABCs is an empty one. By 2010, Craddick will have been forgotten, and the Republican establishment will be concerned with a top to bottom of the ballot challenge from Democrats for statewide offices, with the likelihood of bloody Republican primaries, and with another round of legislative challenges from Democrats. The last thing the R's can afford to do is go after their own incumbents. Time is short.

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