Straus’s margin of victory was of landslide proportions. Despite having more than $100,000 spent against him, and a blizzard of negative mailers, he cruised to a decisive victory over Matt Beebe.
But the big story of the election is the carnage that befell Straus’s chairs. Vicki Truitt, Tuffy Hamilton, and Rob Eissler lost. All three defeats were self-inflicted. Truitt had accumulated too much baggage; Hamilton was lazy and overconfident; and Eissler was slow to engage or to spend money. Two other Straus chairs, Sid Miller and Chuck Hopson, now find themselves in runoffs–never a comfortable position for an incumbent. Miller blew a huge lead and was lucky to recover sufficiently to make a runoff. Hopson, a dogged, never-say-die campaigner, was the one Straus hand who overperformed. He almost won a race outright against a strong candidate from the biggest county in the district. In several cases, the losers have no one to blame except themselves.
Members of the Straus team are going to be unsettled by what happened. This election reminded me of 2006, when Craddick lost five seats to Democrats, and that was the beginning of the end. The troops have to know that somebody is in charge. It’s not good enough to say that the losses were self-inflicted by candidates who ran poor campaign. It’s up to the leader to know who is running poor campaigns and to do something about it. That didn’t happen.
There will be immense repercussions from these races. Straus is weakened, make no mistake. Another speaker’s race is already under way. The runoffs are going to be crucial; the anti-Straus forces are organized and well funded, and the Straus team must do a better job of handling these races. They have to know who is for them and who is against them, and what kind of races they are running. One thing in their favor, as they see it, is that their allies did well in races for open seats, but several face runoffs.
It is hard to know what Straus’s ultimate objective is. Does he really want to serve a third term as speaker? Do his ambitions lie elsewhere, such as a congressional seat? He could probably succeed Lamar Smith in Congress without breaking a sweat, but serving in Congress is one of the lousiest jobs in politics. If he runs for another term as speaker, he will have to face the likelihood that he will be leading a divided House. It is highly unlikely that he could run for statewide office and win. There is too much built-in opposition in his path — some of it due to ideology, some of it due to religion. It is unfortunate for Straus that the state and his party have swung so far to the right in recent years that there is almost no impulse to govern in the Republican party. Straus would like to govern, but in the present political climate, it’s not possible.