Texas has not had a meaningful presidential primary since 1988, when Michael Dukakis won Texas and a couple of other big primaries on Super Tuesday. We’re going to have one on March 4. The Republican race is over, with the withdrawal of Mitt Romney, although Mike Huckabee apparently intends to continue. Ron Paul will probably soldier on as well. What effect will the heating up of the Democratic primary and the cooling off of the Republican primary have on local races in Texas?
Clearly, all the steam is out of the GOP primary. I didn’t think Huckabee could beat McCain in a three-way contest with Romney, but …
Can I just say something here? I can’t write for fifteen minutes without getting a flash for a new press release for Hillary Clinton. I have gotten NINE e-mails today. NEW AD: HILLARY CLINTON LAUNCHES AD IN WASHINGTON STATE TOUTING COMMITMENT TO UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE … NEW AD HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR REAL SOLUTIONS TO AMERICA’S ECONOMIC CHALLENGES … NEW AD: NEBRASKA SENATOR BOB KERREY ON HILLARY’S HISTORY OF MAKING CHANGE … UPDATED: HILLARY CLINTON ATTENDS “SOLUTIONS FOR AMERICA” RALLY TONIGHT … NATIONAL CHAIRMAN MCAULIFFE BRIEFS CAMPAIGN FINANCE CMTE. ON POST-SUPER TUESDAY FUNDRAISING SURGE … SENATOR BLANCHE LINCOLN ENDORSES HILLARY … SUPER TUESDAY VICTORY GENERATES MORE THAN $4 MILLION ONLINE IN SINGLE DAY … CLINTON CAMPAIGN TO HOLD CONFERENCE CALL TO DISCUSS THE LATINO VOTE IN UPCOMING CONTESTS … LETTER FROM PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CAMPAIGN MANAGER [to the Obama campaign] … HILLARY CLINTON SCHEDULE: FEBRUARY 7-9, 2008. Oops, I miscounted. It was ten. No wonder the Clinton campaign is having to borrow money. They must have cornered the market on pressroom aides.
Where was I? Oh, yes. McCain vs. Huckabee (and Paul). In a head-to-head race between McCain and Huckabee, the conservatives could vote for Huckabee and send McCain a message. But is that a message that Huckabee wants sent? If he is hoping to be number two on the ticket, as everyone speculates, showing up McCain is not the way to get it – unless he demonstrates so much strength with evangelicals that McCain feels he has to have him. The risk for Huckabee is that McCain will win the primary anyway, with the votes of suburban moderates, and McCain can say, I don’t need to make peace with the conservatives.
In fact, peace with the conservatives is just as dangerous for McCain as war with the conservatives. I believe that McCain’s fall from atop the leaderboard in 2006 was not due to his stand on the immigration issue; rather, it came because McCain, who called Jerry Falwell an “agent of intolerance” during the 2000 presidential race, agreed to speak at Falwell’s Liberty University. Asked by Tim Russert on Meet the Press whether he still believed that Falwell is an agent of intolerance, McCain said, “No I don’t.” McCain can’t cozy up to the conservatives without tarnishing his image with moderates and independents as a straight-talker.
The absence of a bona fide presidential contest will probably have the effect of depressing turnout across the Republican spectrum. The more the primary is restricted to the base, the more conservative the vote is. That has implications for several Republican primary races. So does the hot Democratic presidential race, which will hold a lot of Democrats who might otherwise have crossed over into the Republican primary. The two incumbents that are most obviously affected are Pat Haggerty and Charlie Geren.
The Democratic battle will undoubtedly do here what it has done everywhere else, which is greatly increase the turnout in the Democratic primary. Hillary will be targeting Hispanics, which means that there could be some surprise winners in districts that normally have low turnouts and whose incumbents were previously regarded as safe. The Craddick Democrats could feel an impact: Kevin Bailey won his primary in 2006 with around 900 votes. It won’t take much of an increase in the Hispanic vote in that district to blow Bailey away. (Aaron Pena and Kino Flores have to worry too.) The last thing an incumbent wants is a deluge of people who haven’t voted before. New voters can’t be reached by phone banks or mail, because nobody knows who they are. The only way to reach them is through the mass media, TV and radio, and that can get expensive. A lot of other races could be thrown into similar turmoil: Moreno-Marquez in El Paso, Escobar-Ybarra on the southern coast, Miles-Edwards in Houston, just about any contested seat in districts with a high minority population and a history of low turnouts has suddenly become less predictable. It is going to be a wild night for the Democrats.