Dewhurst no-showing candidate forums a dangerous strategy

Robert Garrett of the Dallas Morning News and Jason Embry in the Statesman picked up a post from the North Texas Tea Party blog on Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst skipping candidate forums across the state. I tweeted out the same thing at the Austin EmpowerTexans/9-12 candidate forum last Saturday night. I was surprised not to see Lt Governor Dewhurst there. It seems to me like a strange strategic decision to skip candidate forums.

They’re playing a dangerous game by letting a narrative take hold that could be quite dangerous for them. When Dewhurst is absent, people get a chance to repeat all the things that they might otherwise just whisper: Dewhurst is…establishment, aloof, moderate, out-of-touch, elitist, not a man of the people, thinks he can buy the election, etc. Some of those might not be fair, but that’s not the point — when you don’t show up, people say them. Then they get repeated and become conventional wisdom.

My sense is that Dewhurst and his team probably see these forums as an annoyance. Many of the candidate forums include straw polls, and it is very unlikely that Dewhurst would win any of the straw polls among party activists. Many of the folks there have already picked a candidate, and it’s usually not Dewhurst. If Dewhurst showed up, he might even be the target of attacks from the other candidates (right now the candidates seem to be aiming their barbs at Ted Cruz, the other perceived front runner), but that is essentially the nature of the race.

Contrast Dewhurst with Tom Leppert. The former mayor of Dallas consistently shows up. He never does well in the straw polls — frequently getting just a solitary vote or two — but at least he is there. If the race were to end up Dewhurst v Leppert in a runoff, I imagine plenty of activists will remember who showed up at their forum and said the right things.

Will it matter? Only time will tell.

Tour of Texas Senatorial Forums (Houston)

The biggest news coming out of the Tour of Texas Senatorial Forum, put on by New Revolution Now at the King Street Patriots headquarters in Houston, happened before the candidates had a chance to introduce themselves. State Sen. Dan Patrick was on the candidate panel (although, as he made perfectly clear, NOT a candidate and not allowed to participate in the straw poll) while Roger Williams was not.

In all there were six candidates in the forum, including some of the major players in the race. Here’s my quick run-down of each candidate’s performance:

1. Glenn Addison – Addison had a pretty good message “common man” and obviously has spent a lot of time thinking about the issues, but he dropped the ball when it came to communicating those issues in a forum setting. Having a well thought-out policy on a website is one thing, not being able to condense those thoughts into campaign-ready snippets another. Not sound bytes, but meaningful, non-wordy statements that drill to the heart of the matter. Still, with his obvious skills and smarts I think he’d do well to lower his focus a tad and consider a run for the State Lege.

2. Ted Cruz – Cruz’s endorsement list is getting longer and longer by the day (including Evan from this site). In this forum I thought he had a great opening (made it about the audience, and not himself) and a great closing (his story about his father’s oppression in Cuba and “where would they go if America loses it’s liberty?” was perhaps the best line of the evening. In between that he almost seemed inconsequential to the forum. Most of this was due to the questioners ignoring him for long periods of time. I think Cruz is one of the two horses in this race that come across as Senatorial, but he needs to do better in these situations.

3. Elizabeth Ames-Jones – It’s not that I don’t like Ames-Jones, I do, I just can’t bridge the gap between TX Railroad Commission and US Senate. If Ames-Jones were a Democrat, she’s be a team leader. As a Republican however she’s fourth, fifth or even sixth string. Her “Tea Party in my heart” line drew a chuckle from me every time she said it.

4. Tom Leppert – In my opinion, the second thoroughbred in the field. Leppert had a good evening. He was thoughtful, his answers had both brevity and well-thought out detail. His big negative will be his resignation as Dallas Mayor to run for this office. I’m no fan of politicians resigning before their term is complete barring scandal. Still, this has to count as a positive evening for him, in Houston of all places.

5. Dan Patrick – As I said earlier, Dan is still not saying he’s a candidate and he wasn’t allowed to be voted for in the straw poll but the fact that he was there speaks volumes *cough*he’s running*cough* and his public speaking experience sometimes serves him well here. What Dan still needs to learn is how to turn off the radio host and turn on the Senator. At times, you could feel the audience growing weary of his moral sermonizing. Dan saves his biggest attacks for David Dewhurst and Tom Leppert, which should surprise no one.

6. Lela Pittenger – A political newcomer in every sense of the word this is Pittenger’s first shot at elected office. Like Addison, I’d love to see her channel her positive campaign and energy toward the Texas Lege. I think she’s make a great Texas Senator, but she’s going to get overwhelmed in both spending and experience in this race. She does have a great “it’s my generation’s time” hook going for her with which I identify however. Just not in this race. Texas has enough Barbara Ann Radnofsky’s we don’t need a Republican version. (Of course, the difference is the Democrats have no candidates, so Radnofsky could win the nomination, Pittenger and Addison won’t)

The crowd numbered somewhere around 200 in my estimation, although I’m not much of a crowd estimator so it could have been anywhere from 100-300. The room was approximately 3/4 of the way full. Make no mistake about it, this was a forum for the hard-core Republican, so skipping it is probably not going to hurt Roger Williams all that much in a race where all of the money is still to be spent. Still, it could have an impact in your mind if you believe the Tea Party is more than just a passing political fad.

There are several more of these forums scheduled State-wide. Check the New Revolution Now website and try to attend the one near you. If you see Roger, please tell him we missed him in Houston.

Note: I live-tweeted this event. If you want to see the tweets you can find them here.

Dan Patrick and his not-very-persuasive Texas Senate poll

You’ve probably seen the news that Dan Patrick released a poll purporting to show him being the frontrunner in the Senate race. Pretty much everyone I talk to scoffed at the numbers regardless of who they work for or whether they like Patrick. I sorta agree, although I probably take them a bit more at face value. That doesn’t mean I think they have any predictive power whatsoever. Quite the contrary.

Here’s Patrick’s numbers, which they basically released without any supporting information:

Dan Patrick 19%
Tom Leppert 11
Roger Williams 6
Elizabeth Ames Jones 4
Ted Cruz 2
Not sure/Refused 58

1. It’s a name ID poll against carefully selected opponents with less name ID. I would expect that Dan Patrick’s name ID is right about there, followed by Leppert’s. After years of a radio show and years as a big suburban state senate district, Patrick has good name ID in Houston, Leppert in Dallas.

2. A name ID ballot test is close to worthless when you exclude Lt Gov David Dewhurst…who has significantly more name ID over the better part of a decade and a few downballot primaries. If Patrick takes his poll and he shows up higher than Dewhurst, that might be news. We can be pretty sure that Dewhurst beat him however, or they would have released that.

3. Also, what’s Patrick’s fav/unfav? What’s his name ID? For example, if Patrick has ~30% name ID compared to < 10% for every other candidate in that poll (possible), then that means only 2 out of 3 pick him even if they probably haven't heard of the other candidates. Not great for him. Dan Patrick accompanied the release with, "This poll confirms that I would be the conservative front runner if I announce for the United States Senate." Well...not really. He's proved that he may have more name ID (highly concentrated in Houston) than others, but most of the folks who might have supported him have already lined up behind other candidates. So if Patrick enters the race, he's probably decreasing the chances of someone winning (whether him or another candidate) that he considers conservative. So I'd be surprised if the release of this poll has the effect that his camp hopes. He's floating the trial balloon and seeing how people respond. But my guess is that more people will tell him that they don't think he should run. And that includes, I believe, all the members of Texas Iconoclast. (As you probably already know, I support Ted Cruz.)

Ricardo Boilerplate Sanchez?

Ricardo Sanchez announced that he was running for Senate this afternoon with a two paragraph boilerplate statement on Facebook (kinda played out by now, isn’t it?). Back when the trial balloon was originally floated, I expressed some skepticism that General Sanchez would prove to be a good candidate:

Sanchez will have to explain his candidacy. Why now? What’s his motive for running? He can’t run against the Bush administration — which has been the point of most of his media appearances since retiring from office. He can’t run on the Iraq war. He will have to talk about the Obama administration’s wars — which will probably put him either at odds with the president or with the liberal base. What does he know about economics, solving America’s debt crisis or creating jobs?

So what did he come up with in his announcement to explain why he is running? Boilerplate. Trite phrases used by liberal Democrats across the nation. Probably written by a consultant who apparently wasn’t even feeling creative that day. Here’s the McAllen Monitor with Sanchez’s announcement:

“Here in Texas, too many families are struggling to get ahead,” Sanchez wrote. “Jobs are hard to find, our schools simply aren’t good enough and increasing food and gas prices are breaking household budgets.”

All of those phrases return thousands of hits in google searches. They’re all just standard things that Democratic consultants write. These phrases have all appeared word-for-word in many a Democratic politician’s speech. “Families struggling to get ahead” is particularly popular in New England. New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Maryland Governor Tommy Carcetti Martin O’Malley’s State of the State. How ’bout faux populist John Edwards? The list goes on.

Am I being unfair? “Jobs are hard to find” has appeared in speeches from Democratic Senators like Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, Montana’s Max Baucus, Vermont’s Socialist Bernie Sanders, and South Dakota’s Tim Johnson, etc. Likewise, “schools simply aren’t good enough” is a recent line from Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Repeating standard Democratic talking points word-for-word in Texas is not a winning strategy. Sanchez completely missed an opportunity to explain his candidacy — he just defined himself as a standard-issue Democratic candidate running on the same things consultants write all over the nation.

And yikes, apparently his consultants — or perhaps General Sanchez himself, but I’m being charitable — decided that he should announce but reject all media interviews because he needs to prepare to face the media:

Sanchez was not available for media interviews Wednesday as he preps for a formal announcement at a later date. He released a two-paragraph statement on his Facebook page where he said the state needs “leadership that focuses on results rather than politics.”

Meanwhile, someone already started a Veterans Opposed to Ricardo Sanchez page on Facebook.

If I were a Democrat, I’d find the lackluster start quite disheartening.

Texas Senate Republican candidates fundraising – Leppert wins, Cruz second, all others trail significantly

Raised Q1 Spent Cash On Hand
Tom Leppert $1,090,081* $97,861 $2,592,219
Ted Cruz $942,885** $47,820 $965,153
Roger Williams $593,470*** $162,092 $1,250,300
Michael Williams $414,119 $54,506 $369,369
Elizabeth Ames Jones $122,185 $304,371 $128,541

* Does not include $1.6M in Leppert self-funding
** Does not include $70k from Ted Cruz
*** Does not include $5k from Roger Williams
An unknown Democrat also raised $7k.

Leppert and Cruz obviously raised significantly more than the rest of the pack. Ted Cruz surpassed expectations with about a million raised and Roger Williams underwhelmed. Leppert’s victory was hardly surprising but ensures he’ll be in the fight, whereas others might have to drop out.

The biggest surprise is Elizabeth Ames Jones. She raised just $122k and spent over $300k. That’s obviously not sustainable. If she can’t raise more money, she’ll have to drop out.

It’s still early, obviously. Who can get traction in the next few months?

Ricardo Sanchez for Senate?

I had three main thoughts to the news that Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is the choice of Democrats in Washington, DC to run for Senate in Texas:

1. Gen. Sanchez is probably about as strong a potential pick as Texas Democrats can make
2. Texas Democrats continue to think candidate recruiting is about checking boxes.
3. Can he survive a primary?

Over the past decade, Texas Democrats have had a tendency to recruit candidates by checking off demographic boxes. That led to the 2002 “Dream Team” disaster. Frankly, until Sanchez, Texas Democrats really had no one who looked to be even near a strong enough nominee to beat any generic Republican even in a good Democratic year (which 2012 may or may not be). The alternative to Sanchez is probably John Sharp, who has lost a few races in a row now and thus whose current name ID is probably neither particularly high nor favorable.

In this case, Sanchez checks off the “military,” “stature,” and “Latino” boxes. Let’s not underplay those in a state which is increasingly Latino and more pro-military than average. Rising to be the commander in Iraq gives a certain stature as well that previous Democratic Senate candidate and military officer Rick Noriega didn’t have.

And yet one has to wonder whether Gen. Sanchez will be a strong candidate. He was commander in Iraq while the insurgency took root and military casualties began to spike upward, culminating in one of the 2 most deadly months of the war at the height of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Gen. Sanchez also got the surge completely wrong, saying about the surge in October 2007 that “the best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat.” Not exactly good judgment in what should have been his area of expertise.

But beyond that, let’s go to more technical issues. I’d guess that most high-ranking military officers are not the type of people willing to do the dialing for dollars necessary to be a successful Senate candidate. He also may not have firm stands on some domestic issues. And while he’s had some experience appearing on cable news shows, he’s perhaps not the most polished candidate.

Or watch here, where he implicitly accepts that he let torture happen on his watch:

Questioner: How did [torture] happen? How did it happen on your watch?
Sanchez: Well, I think it’s fairly simple. You had the torture memorandums as we now clearly understand them, how they came about, what they authorized and those were transmitted to the different entities that were operating in these wartime environments . . .

My point is not to impugn General Sanchez’s integrity, but to point out that being a candidate is much harder than it seems. He authorized things that he now calls torture — that’s something that will make people pause and go hrm?.

Many national Democrats — including those who recruited him — were quite vocal of Sanchez when he was the commander in Iraq. Almost all of them called for Secretary Rumsfeld’s dismissal — and yet they now want Rumsfeld’s commander in the field in the Senate? Perhaps not surprisingly, there are already liberal Texas blogs crying out against Sanchez.

Finally, Sanchez will have to explain his candidacy. Why now? What’s his motive for running? He can’t run against the Bush administration — which has been the point of most of his media appearances since retiring from office. He can’t run on the Iraq war. He will have to talk about the Obama administration’s wars — which will probably put him either at odds with the president or with the liberal base. What does he know about economics, solving America’s debt crisis or creating jobs?

For all those reasons, I remain somewhat skeptical that Sanchez will “do better than any other Democrat could,” as Paul Burka wrote yesterday. I think that he probably has the potential to do better than any other Democrat could, if he is decent at being a political candidate. But I’m not sanguine about that. Sanchez probably has just as equal potential to run behind Obama in Texas, even if he is able to survive what might be a probable primary.

So will Sanchez decide to run? He sounded a bit noncommital, and I think most retired generals would probably think it’s not worth it to invest a year and a half into a race that will very likely end in defeat. But only time will tell.

Michael Williams raises under $500k…now what?

So far, we know the fundraising totals for 3 of the 5 Texas Republican Senate candidates.

Money Raised as of 3/31/2011 FEC deadline
Tom Leppert $1.1M (+1.6M loan from candidate)
Ted Cruz $1M (including $70,000 loan from candidate)
Michael Williams under $0.5M
Elizabeth Ames Jones (TBA)
Roger Williams (TBA)

This is a pretty weak showing from Michael Williams. [Disclosure: I support Ted Cruz though I’d be relatively happy with all the candidates as nominees]. The knock on the former Railroad Commissioner is that he couldn’t raise the money necessary to win a high profile office statewide. Raising under $500k will definitely not quell those fears. A couple different friends separately have made similar jokes to me: Give me a month, I think I could raise $500k. With the individual limit now at $2500, that’s only 200 rich people. After more than 10 years in statewide office serving as one of three energy regulators, you’d think that Williams would have had the opportunity to forge the relationships that convince those people to donate. But so far, it doesn’t look like it.

The Williams camp would certainly reply that Williams was focused on being Railroad Commissioner for all of Q1. And there’s probably some truth to that.

Yet for anyone wavering between Michael Williams and Ted Cruz — and my sense is that there are quite a few out there — it’s tough to feel good about M. Williams’ ability to win the primary. In particular, RedState said that it would wait and “see how much money they can raise” before deciding between Cruz and Williams. Jim DeMint might be thinking the same thing, and he was a pretty effective kingmaker in Republican primaries last cycle.