The 2008 election is both an opportunity and a risk for Democrats. They have raised expectations among their supporters for the party to continue the comeback that started in 2006 and spiked in the 2008 primary. If they fail to meet those expectations, the rank and file will lose heart, potential candidates will shy away from running in 2010, donors will keep their wallets in their pockets, and the party will be right back in the political wilderness.
The best hope for building on the momentum the party has established is for Barack Obama to devote time and resources to Texas. He has little chance of winning the state’s 34 electoral votes, but he can build excitement for a turnout that will produce victories in congressional, legislative, and courthouse races, maybe even the U.S. Senate race, if Noriega can ever get his act together. Democrat numbers-crunchers believe that if Obama gets 42-43% in the state, Democrats will fare well in downballot races. If he gets 45-46%, Democrats will reap a bonanza. Why should Obama care? The message to the Obama camp will be that Texas can help solidify the Democrats’ hold on the U.S. House of Representatives by holding the Tom DeLay seat currently occupied by Nick Lampson and the seat Ciro Rodriguez won in 2006, and by defeating Republican incumbents Michael McCaul and John Culberson (the latter is a long shot, but the D’s have a great candidate in wind power billionaire Michael Skelly). They can take over vote-rich Harris County. They can win a majority of the state House of Representatives and block passage of a congressional redistricting bill in 2011, which then would be drawn by the courts instead of by Tom Craddick. But everything depends upon whether Obama will campaign here and generate the kind of turnout that would be necessary to produce the desired results.