Kos' Mystery Candidate: Rick Noriega
Tue, 03/13/2007 - 9:11am
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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