I had a conversation with a Craddick staffer during one of those stand at ease moments in the final days (never was standing at ease so uneasy) during which he said that the speaker believed the Republicans could pick up as many as eight House seats in 08 if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. I don’t agree with the number, but the underlying reasoning is sound. For Texas Democrats, she is the worst choice to head the national ticket. The reason is that Hillary motivates Republican voters, who are in serious need of motivation these days. She also motivates Ds, of course, but the key to Democratic success is suppressed Republican turnout. That won’t happen if Hillary is the nominee.

The national polls show Hillary in the lead, but the trend is not consistent.

CBS News/New York Times
3/27 Clinton 36, Obama 28, Edwards 18
4/12 Clinton 39, Obama 24, Edwards 21
5/23 Clinton 46, Obama 24, Edwards 18

The Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, on the other hand, shows that Hillary’s margin over Obama has shrunk from January (43-15) to May (35-20). Rasmussen has it even closer (Clinton 35, Obama 26, Edwards 14).

Hillary’s problem is evident from the Democratic candidates’ favorable/unfavorable rankings:

Clinton 47% favorable, 51% unfavorable
Obama 58% favorable, 35% unfavorable
Edwards 55% favorable, 33% unfavorable

All of this must be viewed in the context of America’s shrinking allegiance to the two major political parties. The Republicans have been in free fall since the 04 election, from a high of 37.3% of the public who identified themselves as Rs, to 30.8% today. Democrats have declined slightly since taking control of Congress in November, from 38.0% to 36.3%. The big winner is the political center; unaffiliated voters have increased by 9 points since the 04 election, to 32.9%. More Americans identify themselves as independents today than identify themselves as Republicans. (The poll involved 15,000 adults, not likely voters. Among likely voters, Rs and Ds run about even, which still represents a considerable loss of ground by Republicans.)

Texas is not immune from national trends. I haven’t seen any polls to prove it, but anecdotal conversations with Republican lawmakers have convinced me that the same movement away from the Republican party is taking place here, not toward the Democrats but toward nonaffiliation. And what did the Rs do to stop it? Nothing. Look at the work of the Legislature. Aside from a property tax cut that will probably have to be reversed in four years (and which was really a product of the 06 special session), what did the Legislature accomplish this year? I think I’ll leave that post for another time, but, aside from adopting a decent state budget, this session was a zero. I’d hate to be a staffer charged with writing my boss’s newsletter about what a great session this was. The Lions Club will be snoring in their chairs before the speech is over.