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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Shedding Loser Mentality is Tall Order for Party

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Who knows? If two candidates for the U.S. Senate debate and the coverage is minimal, does it make any difference? Unfortunately, yes.

State Rep. Rick Noriega and Ray McMurrey, a Corpus Christi schoolteacher, squared off in Austin last week. Noriega is heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination, but McMurrey was vocal enough to force the showdown.

It was the standard drill: McMurrey criticized Noriega for refusing to debate him, the media wrote stories about the refusal, the Noriega campaign denied they were refusing and then agreed to a debate.

The Noriega campaign would have been wise to continue to have “scheduling conflicts.” Not because Noriega did poorly in the debate — I have no idea whether he did or not — but because the event sent all the wrong messages about the Texas Democratic Party.

I tried to watch, but my only access was a live webcast link sent out by the Noriega campaign. When I clicked on the site, I was treated to a blurred stationary camera shot that would spit out about 10 seconds of audio and then stop. I kept trying despite the “technical difficulties” message that suddenly appeared.

Finally, as the audience counter went from a whopping 124 to below 50, I decided it wasn’t going to get any better and gave up.

Then I tried to read about the debate the next morning but couldn’t find a word in the Houston Chronicle (apparently, an article appeared on the newspaper’s website, just not in the print edition).

There were a few short stories in other Texas newspapers. One pointed out that the senate race was having difficulty garnering attention because of all the buzz surrounding the presidential race in Texas. We ignore it at our peril.

The race for the senate is the most important statewide contest in Texas this year and the winner of the Democratic Primary will face Republican Sen. John Cornyn who doesn’t poll above 50 percent.

Interestingly, Cornyn has a primary challenger named Larry Kilgore who hasn’t raised any money with which to campaign. The unknown Kilgore would probably like to debate Cornyn but that will never happen. For a good reason: Appearances matter.

I’m sure McMurrey is a nice guy but just paying a filing fee and showing up at a few candidate forums doesn’t entitle you to a debate or anything else for that matter.

Noriega is a five-term state rep and a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army National Guard who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to compete in this senate race. McMurrey has never run for anything before and now wants to start at the top without raising a dime.

Instead of it being treated like the mismatch it is and allowing Noriega to build up a head of steam heading into the general election, the senate primary appears to be doing more harm than good.

If the Democratic Party is going to be a winning party, then it’s going to have to start acting like one. Last week’s debate screamed “Loserville.” Bad setting, no TV broadcast, little coverage — yuk! It diminished both participants.

For the pendulum to fully swing, we must stop eating our own.

(Originally published by Examiner Newspaper Group)

No wonder you lost the Governor's race.

You can't even do basic research.

A) Are you a Democrat? Debates are part of the process. It's unfortunate that Noriega can't handle himself in a debate, but that's only his fault. I bet he'll want to debate Cornyn. Is that wrong, too? Or is it only wrong if he loses, like he did when he debated McMurrey? I have serious questions about your Democratic credentials right now given this post. (By the way, the debate is available online, but I'll let you find it -- it'll give your research skills a well-needed workout.)

B) The venue was chosen by Keep Austin Blue and the University Democrats. Are you bashing them as well?

C) You're right. The Noriega camp would have been wise to continue with "scheduling conflicts" (after they FINALLY decided they'd debate), but that would have taken a seasoned campaign staff to figure out -- which Rick doesn't have. Better to have conflicts than actually engage in a real conflict/debate with another candidate and lose.

D) That Webcast you tried to watch, that was from Noriega's campaign. So their technical skills are about as good as their campaign skills -- nil.

E) You obviously haven't followed this race. McMurrey not only paid the filing fee, but has been stumping around the state -- more so than Noriega. So, once again, you've proven yourself to be the idiot that Democrats wouldn't vote for in the gubernatorial election.

F) "F" is for the failing grade you receive for even posting such a BS blog. And for thinking that anyone even cares what you think, Robot.

G) Finally, if you're a real progressive (as the motto of this blog states), you'd be supporting McMurrey; not a candidate with no real progressive values or issue stances and who is tied to Big Energy and Bob Perry.

Once again, you've shown yourself to be someone who shouldn't be involved in Democratic politics in the least. Congratulations.

Not a big believer in the democratic process, are you?

This is a stunningly misguided post coming from the TDP's latest nominee for governor.

First off, it is not McMurrey who is entitled to a debate. Democratic primary voters in Texas are the ones who are entitled to a debate. We are entitled to hear the candidates answer the same questions at the same time, and to directly compare their stances on the issues. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but Noriega did not have an platform posted on his website until the day before the debate. He had also neglected to talk much about the issues at the candidate forums, where he instead focused mostly on his military and political background. The debate was literally the first time I ever heard him address the topics of clean elections, a timetable for Iraq (we finally found out that he has none), or the scandal at the Hutto detention facility. McMurrey, on the other hand, has had a well-defined platform from day one, and is running an issues-oriented campaign. His major motivation for requesting a debate was to force Noriega to talk about the issues, which he finally did. Isn't this a major part of campaigning, putting the focus on important issues? Debates are an essential part of the democratic process, and we as a party should not be encouraging our front-runners to back down from debate challenges for purely political reasons.

Your major critique of the debate is that the venue and the coverage were poor. You say this made Democrats look bad, but who do we have to blame for this failure of promotion? The Texas Democratic Party. McMurrey's campaign contacted them and asked them to host and promote the event, and they refused. Why? Because they're just as cynical about this primary as you are, only thinking in purely political terms. The TDP establishment has been sour on McMurrey's candidacy from the beginning, and in this case, they decided to completely ignore this event in the hopes that everyone else would too. Further, the guy who ended up in charge of the event, Trey McAtee, is a huge Noriega supporter (and McMurrey basher). He didn't lift a finger to promote this event to the media, and he cut the debate short before the audience could ask any questions. As a shill for Noriega, he also had an interest in keeping this thing out of the media, since Noriega never wanted to debate in the first place.

Despite the poor coverage, the debate was still well worth having. If you'd like to listen to the whole thing, try this link:

There were about 150 people in attendance, and many more than that read accounts of the proceedings the next day. All these people now know a lot more about the candidates' positions on the issues than they otherwise would have. And now that Noriega has debated the underdog in the primary, if he makes it to the general, he will have credibility when asking Cornyn for a debate. Frankly, the poor media coverage of this event says a lot more about the media in Texas than it does about the viability of these candidates.

By far your most appalling contention, though, is the idea that having a contested primary somehow weakens the eventual nominee, and that everyone should just fall in line behind Noriega because he's been anointed by the party bosses and a few bloggers. This line of thought has done great damage to the TDP for a number of reasons:

1) It puts winning races ahead of fighting for principles, which is why most people get into politics in the first place. I am a real progressive, which means I want to highlight progressive issues in this campaign. Since Noriega is not progressive, the best way for me to advocate for my principles is to support McMurrey, who is very progressive. He may be the underdog, but he is out there spreading the word about publicly financed elections and single-payer health care. McMurrey is helping to frame the political debate in this state around these issues, and to legitimize them in the eyes of people who may not have previously thought of these ideas as viable options. Just look at what John Edwards was able to accomplish this year in his run for the presidency. He was never close to the lead in the polls, but both Obama and Clinton followed his lead on universal health care, greenhouse gas emissions, and on poverty. Edwards was the most important candidate in the primary by far, because he had a massive effect on the eventual platform of the nominee. Isn't a candidate like that worth supporting?

2) Why does a competitive primary make the nominee look weak? Do you think Obama looks weak right now? I think Obama looks much stronger than he did just a few months ago, because he's already shown that he could beat a tough challenger. And his name recognition has skyrocketed from all the press coverage. If you're such a big Noriega fan, wouldn't you agree that he could stand to raise his profile in this state during the primary, especially since he's taking on the better-known John Cornyn in the general? If this debate had been properly publicized, it would have been a huge boost in name recognition for Noriega. And if he beats McMurrey, it will show that he's got what it takes to best a serious competitor.

3) This idea that everyone should just support the favorite really stifles the exchange of ideas within the party. I happen to think it's a good thing that there are a lot of viewpoints among Democrats - the proverbial "big tent." We should be encouraging discussion and debate, not stifling it in the name of a misguided political expediency.

You're right about one thing - a lot of Democrats in Texas do have a loser mentality. The support of Noriega's candidacy by the establishment is a great example of this mindset. Noriega is a corporate, centrist Democrat, and has done nothing to promote many of the visionary goals that most party members would like to see action on at the national level - single-payer health care, publicly financed elections, drastic change in environmental policy. Yet party functionaries still support him in the vain hope that he is the most "electable" candidate. Why are Democrats in this state so weak-willed? Why are they willing to sell out their principles and support anyone with a "D" next to his name who looks like he might be able to challenge a Republican? This is a loser mentality - supporting a candidate like Noriega who does not have a progressive vision for this country over a candidate like McMurrey who does.

The short-term, horse race-oriented mindset on the left has resulted in this state being pulled to the right in recent years. In contrast to Democrats, Republicans will support candidates who are way to the right. Those candidates are winning, too, and we're allowing the Right to frame all the important debates in this state because Dems are too afraid support candidates that embody all of their principles. Noriega is just the latest in a long line of centrist Democrats in this state who have run only as not-Republicans. Not unlike you, Chris, Noriega would go down in flames against a Republican incumbent because he doesn't give people a real viable alternative. He's saying Cornyn's been wrong on this and that, but he's not articulating a positive vision of his own. No one is going to get inspired by this sort of candidate, he won't bring people out to the polls who wouldn't vote otherwise, and he'll never beat Cornyn. So as long as we're sending another sacrificial lamb out there, why not send one who will really fight for progressive causes?

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