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Kos' Mystery Candidate: Rick Noriega

Josh Berthume's picture

Two weeks ago, a post at dailyKos inspired a great deal of speculation. Kos had a candidate in mind to run against John Cornyn, and while every aspect of any recruiting or draft of this particular candidate for the Senate was in the very early stages, it was still a candidate about whom he was very excited. Kos kept names out of the post, but conversations began, and before too long, a few people paying attention to the brainstorming figured out that Kos was talking about State Representative Rick Noriega.

This is not a trade secret, nor is it highly sensitive information. Indeed, a long time before I started to put two and two together, someone had beaten me to the punch in the thread at Kuff's house. There are many people who knew about this being an idea Kos was excited about a while ago, and as it was so informal -- just an idea, really -- it was not treated as highly classified data, as you can see from the Kuff thread. Once you read the whole thing, the identity of the Mystery Candidate becomes pretty obvious. The story here is not that Kos got excited about Noriega as a potential challenger to Cornyn; rather, the story is the fervor that consideration caused in the Texroots.

To say "Kos and the other Texroots officially endorse Noriega for Senate against Cornyn" is not true. Noriega is not currently running for Senate; he has his hands full with a very busy session, and his wife is currently running for a city council seat in Houston. There are no bumper stickers, there is no "Noriega For Senate" website, upon which his tech consultant could affix a "Texroots Endorsed!" or "dKos Daily Dozen" image. I was surprised to see an ActBlue project promoted by BOR, both on the page and in an email, in which funds are being raised for a candidate to be named later. According to the ActBlue page, whoever ends up as the nominee against John Cornyn will get the dollars. The idea of Cornyn's vulnerability has not only drawn many to consider running against him, but it has also convinced some netroots activists that helping whoever is nominated to run against him is a worthy endeavor.

This is fine, and a good attitude to have. Indeed, since last year, the pool of potential candidates has seemed wide open, and we have considered many of them before. Josh Davis ran through a preliminary list in an article that garnered some attention, and in the last two weeks, I poked around quite a bit after the Mystery Candidate had piqued my interest. I asked about a number of other candidates, including State Representative Richard Raymond, who was mentioned on Kuff's list, and Paul Hobby, who was mentioned to me several times in one week by separate groups of people.

When I asked Representative Raymond about it, he said, "We should absolutely replace Cornyn in the US Senate, and I would absolutely love to do it, but I will absolutely not do it next year."

I called Paul Hobby, who said he was flattered to be included in the list of possible candidates, but that he is a long way from making any decision like that. More specifically, he said, "I have no current plans in that regard."

While I was still trying to confirm the identity of the Mystery Candidate that had prompted so much discussion, I contacted Congressman Lloyd Doggett's office. He had been kicked around as a possibility, and his progressive record seemed to fit the Kos candidate profile. The response I got was a definite assertion of Doggett's future plans. He said, "I am pleased to be a senior member of the majority party and plan to continue serving in the House." Texas Democrats, of course, are glad to have him.

A few other potential candidates couldn't be reached for comment, or gave me the short-short answers: no, no, no, it isn't us. This left me at Noriega. For those of you who aren't familiar with State Representative Noriega, he's got an impressive resume. He has a Master's Degree in Public Administration from Harvard; he is a Major in the Texas Army National Guard, with a distinguished record of military service; he's been in office since winning the seat in 1998. He is very active and respected in the Hispanic community, and authored legislation which enables certain immigrant children to receive in-state tuition at Texas colleges. He was deployed to Afghanistan for a year in 2004-2005, and blogged it. He even led relief efforts in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. On Noriega as a candidate, a politician, and a Democrat, there were no negative comments (or, indeed, even feelings) to be found. Democratic operative Matt Angle said, "He's certainly a credible candidate in terms of his profile. He's a high-caliber candidate, and a high-caliber politician."

So what does Representative Noriega think of all this? "I'm very flattered. It's humbling to even be mentioned. However, I'm keeping my eye on the legislative work I need to do right now, and focusing on that mission for the next three months. Restoring CHIP and dealing with the TYC are important priorities." This session is busy for Noriega, and his wife Melissa is running for Houston City Council. His plate, as they say, is currently full.

However, Noriega didn't deny the possibility that he may run, saying "Everything is on the table for 2008." You may be surprised to know, however, that while it is both obvious and confirmed on double-super-secret-background that Noriega is the guy who Kos was talking about, Noriega says he's never talked to Kos. All of this happened through an intermediary who suggested the idea to Kos. All of this is a suggestion of an idea which led to a few posts here and there as well as three hundred comments in the Kos thread, which is not an unusually high number for that blog but featured some decent reasoning and postulation about a specific, niche subject.

No one denies that the netroots are powerful, or that the blogstar is ascendant in American politics. Angle calls the activism of the netroots community "...the most interesting and important political development of recent years... the netroots provide an efficient way to talk about a candidate and direct people how to give." While it is a very new phenomenon and hard to quantify from a social science perspective, a significant netroots endorsement in 2006 certainly didn't seem to hurt campaigns that received them. Many candidates were the beneficiaries of "contest money," in which candidates receiving the most votes on a PAC website would get $5,000 - $10,000, or a fundraiser at which a similar amount or more would be brought in. To my mind, the fundamental question is this: what kind of resources or advantages would an official, elite netroots endorsement provide to any decent challenger against John Cornyn?

It is difficult to know in a state as large and diverse in Texas, because there has yet to be an elite, concentrated netroots campaign with a sole focus on a single candidate in a similar environment. It is my personal belief that a candidate who starts out at a significant financial disadvantage in a race may, through a combined effort of effective fundraising and serious netroots support, be able to amass a credible amount of money in stages. However, when you talk about a race for US Senate in Texas, I think the equation changes.

My personal belief about the amount of money necessary to compete with John Cornyn is $20 million, and the low threshold for any consideration of the race at all is $10 million. Along this line of reasoning, a candidate considering a run for Senate must either have significant personal wealth or be incredibly well-connected to those who may undertake a statewide bundling operation. It is very difficult to raise even a million dollars when you do it $2300 at a time, let alone ten or twenty times that much.

A good candidate with a lot of money can definitely take on John Cornyn. A great candidate with fewer resources will have a tougher time. The netroots will likely prove to be a valuable resource both for money and organizing against John Cornyn in 2008, but obviously the netroots cannot do it alone. Barack Obama is a superstar in the Democratic Party of unprecedented national proportions, and he is likely to raise $6 - 7 million in the first quarter of 2007 on the internet. If that is sustained consistently throughout the entire election cycle (which it probably won't be), he would raise a combined $56 million from Democrats nationwide.

So, are the netroots powerful? Yes, very much so. Was the tempest brought about by Kos' Mystery Candidate worth examining? I think so. The dynamic of a netroots-supported candidate in a primary against a more traditional candidate was seen in Connecticut in 2006, and I think the possible complications brought about by the strong divide between the netroots and the perceived enemy of "party insiders" is one worth thinking about before it happens in a meaningful way in Texas. The debate is worth having, and reasoned discussion always produces good things.

This is not to say that a netroots-endorsed candidate cannot also be a more traditional candidate and end up as a successful hybrid, as someone like Rep. Noriega has the chance to be. Unity would obviously be the best policy, and the most helpful to the Democratic Party in Texas. I simply wonder if we in Texas will be able to avoid a public party conflict over candidates caused by insular attitudes and the imagined dichotomization between "us" and "them."

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You Can't Say This With Any Real Certainty

There is no way that you can say with any real certainty that Rick Noriega is the candidate Kos was talking about. Unless you contacted ever Democrat in the Texas House and Texas Senate, a hand full of mayors, county judges, and former candidates, you can't make the claim that Noriega is Kos' mystery candidate.

Making a "few" phone calls does not qualify you to say that Noriega is the person Kos was talking about, period. It's speculation like this that gives the established Netroots a bad name.

Whoever Kos' candidate was, he exercised appropriate restraint in not mentioning his or her name. You did not. Such actions can cause irrepairable damage to both the individual and the cause at large. That's why most of us exercise more restraint. However, you tagged a State Representative as being "the Kos candidate" in the middle of a legislative session. Surely, you can see why that may not be a good idea when you consider the progressive cause as a whole.

Furthermore, I'm going to take issue with this statement:

"To say "Kos and the other Texroots officially endorse Noriega for Senate against Cornyn" is not true. Noriega is not currently running for Senate; he has his hands full with a very busy session, and his wife is currently running for a city council seat in Houston. There are no bumper stickers, there is no "Noriega For Senate" website, upon which his tech consultant could affix a "Texroots Endorsed!" or "dKos Daily Dozen" image. I was surprised to see an ActBlue project promoted by BOR, both on the page and in an email, in which funds are being raised for a candidate to be named later. According to the ActBlue page, whoever ends up as the nominee against John Cornyn will get the dollars. The idea of Cornyn's vulnerability has not only drawn many to consider running against him, but it has also convinced some netroots activists that helping whoever is nominated to run against him is a worthy endeavor."

There are a number of problems with this. First of all, the Act Blue page is not only promoted by BOR but more than a dozen other Texas blogs. Second, you seem to imply that the TexRoots U.S. Senate page at Act Blue is somehow tied to the Kos post.

This would be an incorrect assumption. The TexRoots page (which, by the way, is the creation of the Texas Progressive Alliance), has been up for months, and has even been promoted previously.

That BOR sent it out in an email implies, again, that the timing is somehow related to the Noriega mention. While I cannot speak for BOR, I can tell you that I don't believe this to be the case at all. Lots of things relating to the TexRoots U.S. Senate 2008 page have been in the works by various blogs for a while.

Vince Leibowitz
CapitolAnnex.com

a few phone calls

Vince,

I said I "made a few phone calls" but I also said I had received information which had been "confirmed on double-super-secret-background" - which is a slightly silly way of saying that I confirmed this with several credible sources who wanted to remain nameless. I stand by the story I've written and the information those sources provided.

As for the context of the paragraph: I hate it when people, be they writers or politicians or anyone, apologize for context issues, and I will spare you that behavior here. I think what I have written is clear, in that the paragraph deals with two separate ideas. Maybe the separation of those ideas would have been more clear if that paragraph had been two paragraphs, but I wrote it the way it is and that's how it is.

The story is about the netroots phenomenon and the stratification of elite and non-elite netroots participants moreso than about Noriega, although Noriega was important to the story since it is about the genesis of a great deal of speculation caused by a glimmer of an idea by one guy. If you or I had written the same post on our websites, it wouldn't have prompted the same reaction that this elite netroots speculation did. The further examination of the power of the netroots followed.
I say this without at all being flippant: The reaction you have had to this story is precisely what this story is about.

As for whether this damages "the cause" I would argue that no one is going to sneak up on John Cornyn. Are we really that gun-shy that a discussion of a potential, totally unrealized candidacy proposed by a liberal blogger is something we can't discuss? Are we really that weak? I think to treat Noriega or any other potential Cornyn challenger (which, again, we have all speculated about in droves) like they are made of glass does a disservice to them, and seems to imply that we have to run some silent operation because none of ours are capable of standing on their own.

Is this about when we discuss these things, or is it about who decides when we discuss these things? Under Perry's leadership, it is a real possibility that we'll have special sessions. Should we wait until those are over to start discussing possibilities in earnest?

- Josh

Overreaction

I want to start my comment off by saying that I'm a regular reader of Capitol Annex and Burnt Orange Report and I always look forward to seeing what Capitol Report has to say at the end of the day. That being said, I think you're being unfair to Josh with your line of criticism, Vince.

Making a "few" phone calls does not qualify you to say that Noriega is the person Kos was talking about, period. It's speculation like this that gives the established Netroots a bad name.

It's the last part of this paragraph where I think you're being particularly unfair, Vince. It's speculation like this that is responsible for seeding the kinds of memes that make the netroots a dynamic, positive force in contemporary politics.

Whoever Kos' candidate was, he exercised appropriate restraint in not mentioning his or her name. You did not. Such actions can cause irrepairable damage to both the individual and the cause at large. That's why most of us exercise more restraint. However, you tagged a State Representative as being "the Kos candidate" in the middle of a legislative session. Surely, you can see why that may not be a good idea when you consider the progressive cause as a whole.

Here's what rubs me wrong about this line of criticism: It's built on the assumption that we can only whisper and pass notes behind the teacher's back at this stage of the game regarding anyone running for high office in or from Texas because we are weak. I think that's a load.

Yes, Texas is a Republican state. Yes, statewide offices are currently solidly Republican. Yes, the state lege is Republican. But is it ever too early to start talking names instead of generic matchups?

Your answer to this question is "yes." My answer is "no." I wrote a piece published here last week trying to get a sense of the financial impact of having a top tier endorsement like Kos on a campaign. Over the course of researching that article, I found this diary by kos. It's notable for two reasons: His first positive mention of Jon Tester as someone Montana Democrats were looking to for a potential Senate run in 2006 and the date: December 2004, a month shy of two years before the election.

Now, not only had Tester not officially announced his candidacy yet (that came in May 2005), but he too was serving in the state lege at this time of this mention. Yes, Tester was the President of the Montana State Senate at the time, a different position to be in than to be a member of the minority party in the state House, but that's where the differences end. Tester's very dirty, very well-funded and very unpopular future opponent, Senator Conrad Burns, probably heard about this mention sooner or later, or at least someone on his staff did. And yet that still didn't prevent Tester from winning a Democratic primary and eventually beating Burns in the general election.

I'm not trying to gloss over the differences in Democratic success at the state level in Montana at the beginning of the 2006 cycle versus the more hostile environment we have here in Texas at the beginning of the 2008 cycle. There are differences, differences I'm looking forward to analyzing further in upcoming blogs and articles here on The Texas Blue. Despite our states' differences, it's not as if Montana is Massachusetts, yet Tester still won with the biggest conservative boogeyman of them all in his corner from the outset.

Response

You noted:

"It's the last part of this paragraph where I think you're being particularly unfair, Vince. It's speculation like this that is responsible for seeding the kinds of memes that make the netroots a dynamic, positive force in contemporary politics."

I reply:

Speculation, perhaps. Outing something at an inopportune time before it's ready to be outed, no. You wait announce the train just before it leaves the station, not blow it up while people are still boarding.

You also note:

"Here's what rubs me wrong about this line of criticism: It's built on the assumption that we can only whisper and pass notes behind the teacher's back at this stage of the game regarding anyone running for high office in or from Texas because we are weak. I think that's a load."

I reply:

No, that's not what it's built upon. It's built upon the fact that there is a difference between being a responsible activist and responsible member of the NetRoots and stirring things up for the mere sake of doing so or "getting the conversation started." I never, ever, ever, said a word about us being "weak."

You also note:

"But is it ever too early to start talking names instead of generic matchups?"

I'm not sure where you've been, but I and other bloggers have been talking about names for over a year. We've just never gone out and blown the whistle on something in such a way that it caused such significant problems. Seriously, do you know how much of an uproar that this article and Kos' premature mention of any kind of draft movement have caused? Not just among the established Netroots, but all across Texas.

Your attempts to compare this to the Tester situation in Montana are admirable, but don't work.

Texas is *not* Montana. Honestly, there are probably 15 or 20 potential candidates who could be good "netroots" candidates *and* that have as good or better chance to win as Noriega. How many were there in Montana? Three? Five?

Vince Leibowitz
CapitolAnnex.com

Great "Scoop".

I've been trying to imagine why you would have posted this piece, Josh.

I'd like to be able to give you some credit for somehow making some kind of chess move, but I just don't see it. Either:
A) You took a semi-educated guess and landed on Noriega, then rushed to get the story out so everyone would give you credit for figuring out the great mystery, or..
B) You know that it's NOT Noriega, and you put that out there to throw Cornyn's bloodhounds off the trail.

Either way, you've now caused Noriega a difficult time in getting his legislation through committees, and if it's true he had any plans to run, you've given Cornhole a head-start.

We should all try to respect that candidates might have their own plans for how and when to announce their intentions. It's one thing to speculate publicly, but to back someone into a corner like this is just a betrayal. Tell me where I'm wrong.

I think The Texas Blue should immediately make a contribution to the ActBlue fund to defeat Cornyn and to counter the head-start you've given Cornyn's camp, you should focus some man-hours on putting together some research material on the crappy job that he's done while in office.

Steve Southwell
WhosPlayin? Blog: http://www.whosplayin.com

Not really a huge mystery

Steve said:
I'd like to be able to give you some credit for somehow making some kind of chess move, but I just don't see it. Either:
A) You took a semi-educated guess and landed on Noriega, then rushed to get the story out so everyone would give you credit for figuring out the great mystery, or..
B) You know that it's NOT Noriega, and you put that out there to throw Cornyn's bloodhounds off the trail.

A)& B) Again, I stand by my story and my sources. It was not an educated guess. As for the great mystery, one of the main points of the piece is that this wasn't a great big mystery at all.

The assertion that I've given Cornyn anything is silly, and as I know you to be a reasonable man, surprising. The four million dollars Cornyn has in the bank and his incumbency give him a head start, not something I wrote on the internets about a guy who isn't running against him.

I will answer for what I write, and it is of course reasonable to ask me to defend and discuss my opinions and assertions -- we are, after all, here to discuss ideas.

- Josh

Helpful Reminder/Cheering Squad

Wouldn't it be fair to say that The Texas Blue has done their share thus far to show what a bad job John Cornyn is doing? Heck, in our first week of being a website, one of our staff articles was specifically aimed at doing just that. There have been several other occasions as well that, Josh himself, has mentioned in his daily round-ups negativity on Cornyn.
I don't think that Josh wrote this piece for his own personally glory, but more to get the conversation started on putting together a great candidate to replace Cornyn. As we all know, Democrats are not the most well known for working together. A well organized campaign and candidate within the party is what it will take to beat the Republican stronghold in the upcoming 2008 elections. From the recent mid-term elections, Dallas is a perfect example of what can come from the strength of Democrats working together. I would like to see a similar operation state-wide this time around.

Lauren A. Molidor

In Reply To Lauren....

Lauren Noted:

Wouldn't it be fair to say that The Texas Blue has done their share thus far to show what a bad job John Cornyn is doing? Heck, in our first week of being a website, one of our staff articles was specifically aimed at doing just that. There have been several other occasions as well that, Josh himself, has mentioned in his daily round-ups negativity on Cornyn.

I reply: Perhaps, but that isn't the issue here. The issue isn't pointing out Cornyn's faults, but rather whether or not this article was (a) responsible progressive activism and (b) the actual result of a conclusion based on data or an educated guess.

Vince Leibowitz
CapitolAnnex.com

What, no c) and d) ?

(a) responsible progressive activism and (b) the actual result of a conclusion based on data or an educated guess.

As to a), if we can all agree on a collective definition of "reponsible progressive activism" then we've done something pretty novel because if there's one truth to progressive activism, it's that progressive activists don't agree on what constitutes the endeavor.

I think b) speaks for itself. Josh laid out why he thinks Noriega is the guy, complete with a comment on this from Representative Noriega. When you're working with speculation, that's about as good as you're going to get when it comes to data...see what everyone is talking about given question X and then ask principals for comment.

and now...a reply to Vince

Vince,

My comment was simply in reply to the call on The Texas Blue to contribute to the ActBlue fund, as well as to “focus some man-hours on putting together some research material on the crappy job that he’s (Cornyn) done while in office.

I definitely don’t write the checks around here, so I have no say in contributing to ActBlue. But, I do have a personal input as to what The Texas Blue has been doing against Cornyn…and I’m just saying that we have been doing it.

Outside of that…Go Team Donkey!

Lauren A. Molidor

"Scoops" gets validation

Congrats, "Scoops" on confirmation of your story from Kos himself. Well done.

Oh, Sure...

...because we all know that Daily Kos and their draft movement know exactly who can win in Texas.

He Wasn't Officially Drafted, But...

While I don't think Tester was officially drafted (wooed by a "Draft Tester" movement), he turned out to be a pretty good pick for Montana.

That's why we have primaries!

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