In the last couple of days there has been a boomlet of discussion about Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez potentially running for US Senate, due to trial balloons being floated by former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes & the DSCC. Before I address the main point of this post, I encourage readers to take a look at any of the following articles to glean some further insight into Sanchez.
- Texas Monthly Talks Interview of Ricardo Sanchez by Evan Smith.
- Can Democrats Win in Texas in 2012 by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post
- Step One: Screw Up a War. Step Two: Run for Senate by Spencer Ackerman of Wired.
- Chewing Up the Dem Senate Candidate by Houston political consultant Marc Campos.
- Democrats in Texas Acting Like Republicans (Shocker) by Flavia at DreamActivist.
- More on Ricardo Sanchez by PDiddie.
- Once more, but this time with feeling (Democratic Edition) by McBlogger.
- Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez by Charles Kuffner.
I'm not surprised by the quick response in the political press and blogosphere; after all, it's less than a year away from the (expected) Texas primary and the only announced candidate is Sean Hubbard, excluding the Draft Tommy Lee Jones movement. Other obvious potential candidates aren't available or interested, ranging from former Gubernatorial nominees Tony Sanchez, Chris Bell, & Bill White to former US Senate nominees Rick Noriega, Victor Morales, or Gene Kelly (if he's still alive). I half suspect that Barbara Radnofsky's name might get floated at some point but I haven't heard from her since her unsuccessful second statewide bid last fall. No big city mayors are in the pipeline other than Mayor Julian Castro in San Antonio who's running for re-election. Heck, it's been so bad that even the perennially rumored John Sharp no longer makes the media's obligatory candidate short list.
Texas Democrats recognize that our bench took a beating last November and are desperate for any hint of a candidate to run in a rare open US Senate seat. That desperation isn't new, it's just more obvious now that 2010 exposed the underlying structural failings of the Democratic Party as it exists in Texas. There is a much bigger discussion that needs to take place about the nuts and bolts re-building of the Democratic Party in Texas, one that I hope will be part of the now open race and debate for the next TDP Chair since Boyd Richie is not running for re-election. But this post isn't about that, at least not directly.
I believe the initial debate over the potential of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez's candidacy has to go deeper than arguments over his involvement and handling of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. In fact, I'd argue that we are having the wrong debate entirely. Every cycle since at least 2000 Democrats have focused around “Winnability” in the major nominees we have put forward as our top of the ticket standard-bearers, and look where that has gotten us.
2002: Tony Sanchez & Ron Kirk would build and fund a winnable rainbow coalition. Lost.
2006: Chris Bell would build a moderate winnable victory in a unique fractured general election. Lost.
2006: Barbara Radnofsky, a female mediator, would be able to make a reasoned dent in Hutchison's personal popularity. Lost.
2008: Rick Noriega, a Hispanic soldier, was the ticket and would get the Hispanics that Tony Sanchez couldn't. Lost.
2010: Bill White would win as a well-funded popular business-friendly mayor of Texas' biggest city. Lost.
2012: Ricardo Sanchez, a economically conservative Hispanic general, will get the Hispanics that Noriega & Tony Sanchez couldn't.
Are we seeing a pattern here? For the most part Democrats have spent the last decade focused on Winnability and received nothing in return but one heart-breaking loss after another. Yet year after year, our aging Democratic institutional and luminary leaders propose “the next sure thing” strategy of running relatively unoffensive moderate nominees with the “right demographics” and year after year we buy it- and lose.
Maybe it's time to for Texas Democrats to stop searching for nominees based upon this model of “winnability” and instead, search for a nominee based upon our Party's “values”.
How many more times are we going to ask the Democratic base of this state to trudge out to the polls and “get excited” by our winnable candidates? Seeing as our “winnable” strategy never wins, is there any harm in nominating someone with a strong Democratic identity who runs a campaign centered on our Democratic values? What if we sought out someone who's more interested in running a multi-million dollar campaign focused on calling out Republicans for their failure of leadership and bankrupting of this state's treasury and future rather than calling up Republicans to plead for their checks and votes?
What if the path to winnability is grounded in our Democratic values?
- Cycle after cycle the Democratic “winnability” strategy has centered around “awakening the sleeping giant” of minority voters, particularly Hispanics.
- If the 2010 election taught us anything, it's that minority voters in Texas are almost all that's left of the Democratic Party.
- The Census confirms that non-whites account for huge shares of population growth at all ages, and fully 95 percent of Texas's child population growth occurred among Hispanics.
It is unlikely that Anglo Texans are going to have a rush of baby-making or that Democrats are going to ever win the Anglo vote back. So it would make sense to me, given the three points above, that there really isn't any harm (or other option) in going all-in with the “demographic change” strategy; except instead of waiting around for it to happen, we invest in making it happen. We seek out engaging Democratic, Progressive, or Populist candidates that can talk to minority voters also known (now) as “the base”. In the process we build stronger, longer lasting infrastructure and institutions. We make an argument to voters that spans election cycles by spending money and organizing around our values, not short term candidate based winnability.
Developing better mail pieces and TVs ads isn't going to change our fate. They can help us win, when we are close, but we still need to get close enough to win, and that starts with voters identifying with our candidates. The kind of change we need now requires a movement as much as it requires money, and we're never going to build a movement in this state until we have the motivation and subsequent momentum to really go out and kick some ass. Moderates may get us money, but they're not getting us movement and they're hurting any momentum we could build. Maybe it's time for us to give the Linda Chavez-Thompsons of the world the same all-in support and consideration as our more “winnable” candidates.
Who knows, we might just find out that running on our values is the most winnable strategy for the future of Democrats in Texas.