It’s probably too late to ask the question, because it appears to have already been answered. With Bill White and John Sharp in the race to serve out the remainder of Kay Bailey Hutchison’s term, no obvious candidate remains to challenge the winner of the primary between Hutchison and Rick Perry.
The best the Democrats have to offer is congressman Chet Edwards. He is a conservative Democrat with a strong record on military and veterans’ issues. He has a good presence on TV and may have a little residual name recognition from having his name floated as a possible choice for vice-president. Still, it is hard for a member of Congress to get traction for a race like governor. Another possibility, albeit an unlikely one, is former Dallas mayor Laura Miller. She is a lobbyist for clean coal now, and she has been out of office for awhile; even when she was in office, she dismissed the idea of running statewide. Miller was a populist mayor, if not always a popular one; her tenure was marked by frequent friction between the mayor and the city council, as well as the black community. She would represent the party well, but she would have some of the same problems as Chet Edwards: a narrow political base and low name identification. It’s hard to imagine either of them defeating Hutchison or Perry.
The biggest problem for the Democrats is that they don’t have the fundraising base or the party infrastructure to compete with the Republicans from the top of the ticket to the bottom. A race for governor costs around $30 million. I can’t see how the party can afford a governor’s race and still compete for legislative seats, which can’t be contested on the cheap these days. This issue of whether to rebuild from the bottom up or the top down divided the party at the state convention this year. That issue is far from settled, but it is beyond argument that what success the Democrats have enjoyed has come from the lower part of the ballot: courthouse and legislative races in the big urban counties.
All of the above sounds like I am arguing for punting, but I’m not. I do not think that the voters will regard the D’s as a credible party if they run hardy perennial Gene Kelly for governor. Without a public face to the party, the Democrats are just treading water. They have to start competing for, and winning, statewide races—especially since redistricting is on the agenda for 2011. If the Legislature fails to pass House or Senate redistricting plans, the task falls to the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is made up of five statewide officials: the lieutenant governor, the speaker, the attorney general, the comptroller, and the land commissioner. Are the Democrats going to punt those too? If they do, they are just accomplices to their own evisceration.