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Things Go Right in Texas

In the Lone Star State Republicans won 16 state-wide elections and now control all 29 state-wide offices. Are Texas Democrats doomed?

11:00 PM, Nov 6, 2002 • By BETH HENARY
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TUESDAY NIGHT, the Texas GOP delivered for former governor George W. Bush--in grand fashion. Besides holding the governor's mansion and the Senate seat vacated by retiring senator Phil Gramm, the party refused to concede any statewide office to a Democrat, leaving the Democrats' representation at the highest levels of Texas government at zero.

Republicans didn't just beat their opponents; they pummeled them. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Governor Rick Perry and U.S. senator-elect John Cornyn led their opponents Tony Sanchez and Ron Kirk by 18 and 12 points, respectively. GOPers down the ballot showed similar strength, with many of the "closer" races having victory gaps around 10 percentage points. Despite all the hype about the racial "dream team" of Kirk and Sanchez, Democrats really thought their best bet at gaining an office was with lieutenant governor candidate John Sharp, a white, moderate Democrat. Sharp conceded to Houston oil investor David Dewhurst Wednesday morning.

Democrats in Texas have been dogged by Republican dominance since 1998, when George W. Bush won reelection and helped pull the rest of the Republican candidates into office. Is all hope lost for the Democrats?

No, says University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan. After Kirk's loss yesterday, Buchanan told the Dallas Morning News that Kirk had failed to invigorate the Democratic base. "The dynamic was, can a candidate like Kirk exploit the ethnic base in both the black and the Hispanic community, while at the same time sustaining his storied appeal to the center and to the classic mainstream white vote? . . . He was trying to straddle those worlds," Buchanan said.

Similarly, Sanchez didn't excite Hispanic voters, which he needed to do to have a chance. Early returns had Rick Perry and John Cornyn each receiving about one-third of Hispanic votes--even with high turnout.

Democrats need to take away two things from the election. First, Texas voters didn't buy the "racial dream team" thing. It was a demagogic farce from the beginning. Sure, Democrats were trying to make history with the state's first Hispanic governor and the first southern African-American senator (since Reconstruction). But minorities already hold statewide offices in Texas, and last night, African Americans Dale Wainwright and Wallace Jefferson became the first blacks elected to the state supreme court (Jefferson had been appointed to replace White House counsel Al Gonzales last year). Both are conservative Republicans. Michael Williams, also an African-American Republican, won reelection to the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that oversees the state's oil and gas industry. Together, these three hold over one-tenth of offices elected statewide, a figure acceptably close to blacks' percentage of the population overall, and they were elected with percentages similar to those of the Republicans up-ballot. Tony Garza, who is Hispanic, also serves on the railroad commission.

Second, sometimes all the money in the world can't make a Republican vote Democratic. This was particularly true for gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, who spent $60 million of his personal fortune and may just break 40 percent.

More proof that money can't pull off a Democratic victory comes from a state supreme court race. For an open seat on the court, Republican Steven Wayne Smith, who raised just $20,000, estimates he was outspent 50:1 by his opponent, a sitting appeals court judge. Smith sailed to victory with 54 percent.

Another plus for Republicans in Texas is the capture of the state house for the first time since Reconstruction. (They already held the state senate.)

There may be a latent Democratic base left in Texas--a very latent one. But it's not going to be invigorated with thinly masked appeals to ethnic groups. And a wealth of funding can't hide a lack of what's important to Texans: a reasonable, conservative agenda.

Beth Henary is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.