It is fall of an election year, and the Texas Democratic party finds itself face-to-face with a longtime nemesis. No, it’s not Rick Perry. Nor is it Texas Republicans. The biggest roadblock to the success of the Texas Democratic party over the past 32 years has been the national Democratic party. When overreaching Democrats are in power in Washington, it always spells bad news for the state party. The years that Texas Democrats have fared reasonably well have been when overreaching Republicans were in power, as in 2006 and 2008, when the party made significant gains in the state House of Representatives. But the worst-case scenario for Texas Democrats is the situation that currently exists: an unpopular liberal Democratic president in the White House. A Rasmussen poll taken after Barack Obama’s August 9 trip to Texas found that only 34 percent of likely Texas voters approved of the way he is handling his job, with 65 percent disapproving. No wonder the current Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Bill White, stayed far away, heading to West Texas while the president toured Austin and Dallas.
This story is all too familiar to Texas Democrats. Even Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn were acutely aware of the divide that separated the state party from the national party. ( LBJ biographer Robert Caro relates how Rayburn’s congressional colleagues gave him a car in 1947. It bore a plaque that read “To Our Beloved Sam Rayburn—Who would have been president if he had come from any place but the South.”) The last Democratic presidential nominee to carry Texas was Jimmy Carter, in 1976; two