Four candidates are seeking the Senate seat formerly held by Kip Averitt: former state senator David Sibley, retired lieutenant colonel Brian Birdwell, insurance agency owner Darren Yancey, and Baylor professor Galye Avant, who is the only Democrat in the special election.
The Birdwell campaign yesterday released the results of a “poll” by Heritage Alliance. This is the new name of the Free Market Foundation, and FreePAC, the longtime base of operations for Richard Ford, one of the truly malevolent people in Texas politics. (It was Ford who distributed the notorious mailer of two males on top of a wedding cake back in 2002 in a fruitless effort to defeat Bill Ratliff and Jeff Wentworth.)
I wouldn’t trust anything Ford is involved in, but the release claims that 3,279 registered voters were contacted. Respondents were given the following instructions:
* “Press 1 for Baylor professor and Democrat Gayle Avant” (22 percent)
* “Press 2 for Republican and retired Army colonel Brian Birdwell” (31 percent)
* “Press 3 for Republican former State Senator and lobbyist David Sibley” (23 percent)
* “Press 4 for Republican and insurance agency owner Darren Yancy” (3 percent)
* “Press 5 for undecided” (23 percent)
This is a protypical push poll, in which respondents are given biographical information that can influence the person’s choice. Here, the targeted candidate, Sibley, is identified as a lobbyist, while the preferred candidate, Birdwell, is identified as a high-ranking military officer. The poll also directed voters to the Heritage Alliance web site. The alliance did not provide a margin of error for the poll.
The likely outcome of today’s voting is that Sibley and Birdwell will end up in a runoff. This is a dangerous situation for Sibley, one that is reminiscent of a couple of House runoffs: a moderate Republican forced to wage a two-front war against two hard-right conservatives to get into a runoff. This was the scenario that led to the defeat of Mabrie Jackson in Plano and Delwin Jones in Lubbock. Both Jackson and Jones led on election day; both lost their runoffs.
I hope Sibley wins – he was a first-rate senator – but I see a lot of red flags: (1) Waco is one of the three hottest hotbeds of Tea Party support in the state, Lubbock and Tyler being the other two; (2) Sibley is the candidate of the Waco civic establishment, which is very nervous about this election cycle. Waco could lose its congressional district to Bryan-College Station if Chet Edwards loses, and it could lose its state Senate district if Sibley goes down, and if it loses them, it just doesn’t have enough population or political clout to get them back. But the backing of the political establishment is not an asset this year; (3) Sibley is a lobbyist, a profession that proved to be toxic to Zach Brady’s bid to defeat Jones in Lubbock. This is not the year to be a political insider; (4) Sibley sought and received the endorsement of George W. Bush, but the support of establishment politicians hasn’t been an asset this year. George H. W. Bush and Dick Cheney didn’t do a thing for Kay Bailey Hutchison; Robert Duncan didn’t do a thing for Jones.
If the Heritage Alliance “poll” had any credibility, which it doesn’t, Sibley would have to worry about getting knocked out of the runoff by Avant, the lone Democrat, who polled within one point of Sibley in the Heritage Alliance exercise. The likelihood is that Democratic turnout will be extremely low, and that Sibley will have no trouble getting into the runoff; indeed, he will probably finish on top. Birdwell going into a runoff. That will be a very mean race, and the right-wing R’s will be after Sibley in force.