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John Cornyn: Vulnerable in '08?

Josh Davis's picture

With the significant shift in the national political landscape, many political pundits are wondering if this is a sustainable trend or simply voter angst about the Iraq War. 2008 will provide us with the answer: Has there been a paradigm shift or was 2006 just a protest vote?

In Texas, Junior Senator John Cornyn will be running for reelection as a one term incumbent. As his bid for reelection begins to take shape, this article is designed to examine his potential vulnerability in 2008 and speculate as to who may be his Democratic opponent.

I kind of like John Cornyn, for several reasons. We have lots in common. For starters, we're both from San Antonio, leading me to assume that we also both love Mexican food. We're both graduates of Trinity University and we're both lawyers. That's where the similarities seem to end. Notably, Senator Cornyn is a Republican, and of course I am a Democrat.

As a Texas Democrat, I'm wondering if the national schism currently taking place in the Republican party will come to Texas in 2008. Throughout the Bush presidency, and especially since the passage of the Bush Medicare plan and Congress' intervention into the Terri Schiavo case, the traditional conservative wing of the party (the money) has become uncomfortable with the Christian conservative agenda (the votes). The party's growing wedge between these two groups has only been exacerbated by another, different wedge -- between those who support the failed foreign policy agenda of the neo-cons and the more diplomatic, old guard Baker types. Nationwide, Democrats are openly gleeful as they consider the current Republican dilemma. The possibility of a power struggle within the GOP over the 2008 nomination and, ultimately, the GOP agenda, is nothing if not invigorating to Democrats.

It must also be noted that Cornyn isn't currently polling well, nor has he ever been crackerjack with the numbers: SurveyUSA provides tracking of his approval ratings since May of '05, and they aren't phenomenal. They aren't as bad as Bush's approval ratings nationwide, but he rarely gets above 45% and spends most of his time at less than that. Politically, he is not a superstar like Kay Bailey Hutchison is, nor does he enjoy her name recognition.

The Montgomery and Associates poll from early last week also displays a shift underway in party identification in this state. The advantage in that poll goes to Democrats, in general, and while the net was cast pretty wide - the sample was chosen from adult Texans rather than registered or likely voters - it still indicates conditions that are potentially favorable to a Cornyn challenger.

Will those issues and that renewed Democratic vigor inspire an upset for John Cornyn? I don't know. The answer is muddled because, at this point, we don't really know anything. Which leaves only speculation -- the king's nectar for political hacks and economists alike (I'd like to think of myself as both). So here it goes:

If the Democratic Congress is able to address the real concerns of average Americans and assert themselves on Iraq, Texas will be softer ground for any Democrat. If Democrats can solve the problems they were elected to solve, I think most Americans will take note, and hopefully Texans will too. If, on the other hand, Democrats lack the political will to govern effectively, there is no hope for electing a Democratic Senator in Texas. This country reached a point where things are so bad that average Americans don't care as much about what party you're from as whether or not you can solve real problems. Democrats have a chance to solve real problems, and we can't screw it up.

That's the circumstantial reality. The situational reality is Texas' continued urbanization and, therefore, liberalization. Dallas county voted Democratic in the mid-terms and Harris is getting closer every election cycle. The overall demographic shift may be reaching a tipping point that could rear its head in 2008.

And, of course, there's the Democratic candidate. Below is a list of my particular favorites, along with a list of pros and cons for each potential candidate.

Henry Cisneros
First Hispanic mayor of a large city (San Antonio) and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton Administration. This may be his last opportunity, as he is turning 60 in 2007.

Pros: A great orator and campaigner with real star power within the party. He would, hopefully, energize Hispanic turnout in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and El Paso (something that has yet to materialize the way LULAC and others had envisioned). He is widely viewed as pro-business and laid the groundwork for San Antonio's current economic boom.

Cons: His controversial departure from HUD is his biggest obstacle, especially considering the climate of corruption that lead to Republican defeats. Democrats don't want to give up the high ground by nominating a tainted candidate. Time doesn't heal all wounds.

Bill White
Mayor of Houston, Deputy Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Administration and former chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Pros: White has statewide political infrastructure from his time as chairman and has national money from his time in the Clinton White House. At this point, he's probably viewed as the frontrunner within the party. He's been a smart and effective mayor in Houston and is seen as very pro-business.

Cons: Mayor White lacks the Texas brand of real politick you need to win a statewide (think Ann Richards). I won't say he has no charisma, but he's more of a Kerry man than an Edwards man for sure.

Chris Bell
Former congressman and the 2006 Democratic nominee for governor.

Pros: He just finished establishing a statewide network for his governor's race that could be easily called upon in two years if those contacts are effectively maintained. He would also enjoy holdover name ID. He had reasonable proposals and a mature demeanor.

Cons: He had reasonable proposals and a mature demeanor. Some discussed the fact that the former Congressman was not a lightening rod of excitement. In a race dominated by huge and borderline insane independent personalities, some of what would work for him as a federal candidate may have worked against him in 2006.

John Sharp
Former State Comptroller, two time Lieutenant Governor candidate, Texas Democratic Party luminary

Pros: Anyone even tangentially involved with Texas Politics is familiar with John Sharp. He has a power base and name ID among traditional Democrats in Texas, and may be conservative enough to swing some votes in the middle.

Cons: John Sharp's name ends up getting bandied about for every imaginable race, and considering him for a Senate seat discounts the fact that he may be holding out for the Governor's race in 2010.

Barbara Radnofsky
Houston attorney, 2006 Senatorial candidate against Kay Bailey Hutchison

Pros: Radnofsky proved she can raise money and build and run an effective statewide race in 2006. Despite a well-run campaign and a competent candidacy, she was just not able to overcome the KBH.

Cons: Candidate fatigue is a possibility, and the primary may prove to be problematic with a more wide open field.

Jim Turner
Former State Rep, State Senator, and Congressman from Texas 2nd District. Gerrymandered out by Delay in 2004.

Pros: Turner has a long, long history as a Texas Democratic politician, and has legislative cred for miles. Even better, he's got $1,000,000 cash on hand in his federal account.

Cons: Lacks the statewide name ID of other candidates, and has a long voting record for a savvy Cornyn campaign to define him with.

While I'm sure we could add more names (and we will in the coming months), this brief list represents some decent challengers to John Cornyn in '08. We have a whole 2 years to speculate!

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Milquetoast?...

I was one of many who was on Chris (and his manager) early for not being sufficiently exciting. Got to know him better as the campaign wore on and think he would be well up to it. One of our advantages in this contest is that there is absolutely nobody on the planet more boring than John Cornyn!

Texas

You seem to posit hope for Texas Democrats on what happens in Washington. If our fate is not in our own hands, then we are destined, regardless of what happens in Washington, to be victims. We must organize people at a local level if we want success.

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