The conventional wisdom is that Republicans will pick up House seats in 2010, for two reasons. One is that the president’s party seldom does well in the first off-year election (George W. Bush in 2002 being a notable exception). Another reason is that Democrats have to defend their recent gains in marginal seats in Republican districts. But I’m not so sure that the conventional wisdom is right. The Republican electoral apparatus is in shambles. Tom Craddick has directed every Republican legislative campaign since “76 in 96.” I can’t envision him playing that role in 2010, even though his personal campaign account has $2.12 million cash on hand and his Stars over Texas PAC has another $94,000+. What’s the point? The slaves have been freed; they don’t want him back as speaker. Many GOP members chafed at the tight control and micromanagement exercised by Craddick over their campaigns last fall; it was a factor in his downfall as speaker. More to the point, the Republicans lost seats in every election since Craddick became speaker.
So the question is: Who will run the races? The Republican party is incapable and incompetent. ART, the Associated Republicans of Texas, was very effective in its heyday, but when a split developed in the organization over whether ART should engage in Republican primary races, ART’s godfather, Norm Newton, left the organization. ART is no longer a factor.
The efforts of the Patriot Group to form an umbrella organization for Republican elected officials suggests that the firm might be seeking to take control of the elections. Other consultants and activists might have their own ideas. TAB’s Bill Hammond and lobbyist Mike Toomey oversaw the 2002 elections, but they did so under Craddick’s aegis. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a Toomey client, aligned with Craddick in 2008, but they supported conservative Democrats as well as Republicans, and their efforts were significant. Rick Perry loaned his campaign team to the Craddick effort last fall, without notable success. If Perry were to win his Republican primary race against Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2010, he and his team could organize a campaign, but if he loses, he’ll have one foot out the door. In short, the infrastructure for a Republican campaign does not currently exist.
What about the person with the most stake in the outcome of the 2010 races? That would be Joe Straus, of course. He is going to have to defend his Republican members, and his speakership, against a Democratic effort to gain a majority. But it is not at all certain whether Straus has the loyalty of his members, particularly the hard-right members of the conservative coalition, many of whom missed out on plum committee appointments. (Helping them get reelected and preserving the Republican majority will go a long way toward winning that loyalty.) The long-awaited floor debate over the Appropriations bill will clarify, for the first time, what the teams are in the House. But there have been some ominous signs for Straus. An informal group of conservative Republicans has been meeting on Sunday nights to talk strategy. Larry Taylor, the chairman of the Republican caucus, also made a move that could be seen as unfriendly to Straus: He hired Ryan Erwin, a Las Vegas-based political consultant and lobbyist, to advise the caucus, whose members were assessed $500 each, amounting to $38,000, to pay Erwin. The purpose of the hire was ostensibly to help develop a message for the caucus, but then the question is, Why does the Republican caucus need a message when they have a speaker? Perhaps the answer was, so Erwin could take control of the campaigns, along with Taylor; after all, Craddick used the caucus chairmanship and control of the elections as a springboard to the speakership. As the situation developed, Erwin wasn’t around long enough to advise anybody. It seems that he had been the consultant for the primary challengers of two caucus members in 2008–Jerry Madden and Charlie Geren. Both races were particularly nasty. As soon as they found out who Taylor had hired, and let Taylor know how they felt about it, Erwin was gone. (Erwin also was the consultant in losing general elections races against Democrats Mark Homer and Chuck Hopson.) Speaking of messages, what kind of message was it that the Republican caucus hired a Las Vegas consultant and lobbyist? That would have made a great press release–for the Democrats.
It comes down to this: Straus is going to have to take charge of the races. He has to do it to preserve the Republican majority, and he has to do it if he is going to be reelected as speaker.