Thoughts on a Democratic message in Texas

The great unanswered question for Democrats in Texas is what message can win a statewide race.  Especially as it pertains to the race between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott for Texas Governor.  In the recent past it’s been thought that the best way for a Democrat to win was to run as a “bidness” friendly Democrat.  But Texas still hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since the 1990’s, and most “serious” candidates have run with that kind of message.  Below are some thoughts on what kind of message might work to get Democrat(s) elected statewide in Texas.

Two polls released yesterday shed some light on the race between Davis and Abbott.  The Texas Tribune shows Davis down 5 to Abbott (40 – 35), while PPP shows Davis trailing by 15 (50 – 35).

Here are some snippets/advice from each.  First the Trib:

“What you’ve got is a race in which, for the first time in a long time, the Democrat is as well-known as the Republican at the outset of the race,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.

“These numbers are not evidence that the underlying fundamentals are changing in Texas,” said Jim Henson, who co-directs the poll and heads the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “We have not seen a big change in party identification, and we don’t see any large-scale shifts in the underlying attitudes that are forming.”

[…]

“We’re so used to see the Republican gubernatorial candidate running from a position of incumbency,” Henson said. “Greg Abbott, while well-known, is not a household name. At least the race starts that way. That was evident before the rise of Wendy Davis, and it’s a stark contrast now that she has become so well-known in the wake of the filibuster.

PPP:

For a Democrat to win in Texas they need to do 2 things: win independents by a decent sized margin, and get double digit crossover support from Republicans. Right now Davis is falling short on both of those fronts. With independents she’s managing only a tie at 44%. And she’s winning over only 6% of Republicans, far less than the share of Democrats who say right now that they lean toward Abbott. Of course she has a year to try to change that.

[…]

There is some good news for Davis within the poll. Voters narrowly oppose the abortion law that put her in the spotlight, 40/41, including 37/48 opposition among independent voters. Concern that she may have difficulty in the election because she’s seen as too liberal on that particular issue may not be warranted.

The polls offer a good news/bad news scenario.  Davis has better name ID then Abbott.  But she’s not doing good enough with Independents and Republicans.  But, we’re told, there’s still plenty of time to change all of this.  If this race stays anywhere near the status quo, which these polls are, then Abbott’s likely to prevail. Kuff has much more analysis of these polls.

This is not an earth shaking statement, but Davis must do something to make this race different then the typical D vs. R races we’ve had the past 20 years.  While Davis needs crossover and Independent support, I don’t thinks it’s possible for her to win without significantly expanding the electorate.  Which is why the Davis filibuster and the activism it spurred was so encouraging.  It brought many lapsed voters and new people into the political process, who will need to turnout to vote for her to win.

But the message question comes to how to craft a message that needs to appeal to two very different types of voters.  One that brings those who have been left out of the political process together with those that are disgusted with the current state of the Republican Party in Texas.  Not so disgusted that they want to leave it, or join the Democratic Party, but are open to voting for a candidate like Wendy Davis.

One place to start would be with emotional, moral, appeals showing the faces and lives of those who are being hurt by the GOP’s refusal to expand Medicaid in Texas.  It has the support of many in the business community and those likely to cross over from the Republican side to vote for her.  There are many who would benefit from expanding Medicaid , that don’t regularly vote.  This issue would motivate them to vote and work to get her elected.  Plus it fits very well with Davis’ campaign theme of giving a voice to the voiceless.

There are several other issues that could go along with this.  Raising the minimum wage, public and higher education, and women’s health issues just to name a few. Democrats should not be afraid to say that keeping people uninsured unnecessarily is cruel, and it will also cost us more in the long run. Not insuring our children have the opportunity to get a quality education is not just cruel, but wrong.

Democrats can’t run the same type of campaign they’ve been running for the past few decades and expect to win.  If Wendy Davis runs a similar campaign to Tony Sanchez, Chris Bell, and Bill White she’s likely to suffer the same fate.  She has to make enough people in Texas understand the only way Texas gets better is if we all do better.  Right now the inequality and unfairness for poor, working, and middle class Texans is getting worse, and that must change.

She will also have to find a way to hit the extreme and cruel tea party wing of the GOP without putting off the moderates.  It’s time once again to look at Rick Perlstein’s “Rules of Liberal Political Success”:

(Taken from his talk “Whatever Happened to Hope: Why Barack Obama Cannot Become a Transformational President”)

Got to make people feel good.

No liberal regime has ever succeeded in American History without successfully stigmatizing the conservatism that preceded it as a failure that ruined ordinary people’s lives.

A transformational Democratic president must be a credible defender of the economic interests of ordinary Americans, to a preponderance of those ordinary Americans sufficient to push through their distrust of cosmopolitan liberals as such. (Anti Big Business Populism).

No liberal regime has ever succeeded in American History without successfully stigmatizing it’s opposition as extreme, as alien, as strange, as frightening to ordinary Americans who want order in their lives.

Make them feel good by giving those without health care, health care. Make sure they know who is keeping, or kept, them uninsured unnecessarily. Show the wealthy and corporations in Texas as those keeping it that way.  Show that if they would pay their fair share of taxes, we could refund public education and make higher education affordable again. And show them that those who don’t want to change these things would like to secede from the United State of America, and stigmatize and blame immigrants, the poor, and those in need as the problem.

That may seem harsh, and not too inviting, to some Republicans in Texas.  But the ones it pertains to would never vote for Davis to begin with.  Hopefully it would open the eyes of some to see just how extreme the GOP in Texas has become.  It might be what they need to realize that something has to change.

But campaigning as a voice for the voiceless means that you’re likely to piss off those that currently have a voice.  There’s really no way around that.  The financial angst that many Texans feel, despite a “good” economy, is palpable.  We know that the benefits are all going to the top, as we see our tax bills grow, as corporations get tax breaks.  Too many working for low wages as corporate profits soar. We see state giveaways to corporations and cronies while college tuition rises and school funding is cut.  These are all connected to the rise of right wing extremism in our government, backed by the wealthy and corporate donors, at the expense of everyone else.

This is happening because too many of us have stood by and allowed it to happen.  Too many of us bought the idea that government was the problem, and if we just ran our government like a business it would all work out.  All that turned out to do was allow those at the top to reap all the rewards, and marginalize the rest of us.  The only way this will change is if the people, in our case the voiceless people, stand up and reassert ourselves into the political process.  We need a party and candidates that will put forth this kind of message in 2014.

Further Reading:
As if on cue in today’s Statesman, As big businesses pay less of the property tax tab, homeowners pay more ($$$).

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7 Responses

  1. […] Eye On Williamson is still blogging at our temporary home. What kind of message to Democrats need to run on in Texas? Good question here are some Thoughts on a Democratic message in Texas. […]

  2. […] Eye On Williamson is still blogging at our temporary home. What kind of message to Democrats need to run on in Texas? Good question here are some Thoughts on a Democratic message in Texas. […]

  3. […] Eye On Williamson is still blogging at our temporary home. What kind of message to Democrats need to run on in Texas? Good question here are some Thoughts on a Democratic message in Texas. […]

  4. […] Eye On Williamson is still blogging at our temporary home. What kind of message to Democrats need to run on in Texas? Good question here are some Thoughts on a Democratic message in Texas. […]

  5. The flip side of this is how we define Greg Abbott. I put up a blog post about him drilling his own water well while Austin was suffering from the drought, and compared that to his working for tort reform AFTER he got a huge settlement for his accident. The post has gotten all kinds of shares and forwards. People who don’t know much about Greg Abbott read that he is the kind of guy who drills his own well instead of dealing with brown grass during a drought – and they are not impressed. Rs need water just as much as Ds do, and there are plenty of voting Texans who recall that shared sacrifice during hard times is something that helped make our country great. We’ve got a great chance to talk about the positive, constructive work Wendy Davis has done as a legislator, and contrast it with the ‘all for me, none for thee’ attitude of Abbott.

    • I agree. Driving up Abbott’s negatives, especially with such a selfish story like this, is much needed. It makes him look elitist, only people with that kind of wealth and power can do this. The average tax paying Texan can’t afford to do this. Your post is great, and framing it in the context of farmers and ranchers and their struggles in the drought. While Abbott wastes water to keep his suburban lawn green during an historic drought, is perfect.

  6. […] a previous post we put forward Thoughts on a Democratic message in Texas. To expand on that the crucial part is to get a two-pronged message to Texans, many who don’t […]

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