The Implications of State Senate Terms on 2014 Statewide Races

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The State Senate drew straws yesterday to determine if each has a 2 or 4 year term before running for re-election. This is customary after an election following a redistricting year in which all Senators must run.

The draw has some major implications for our 2014 statewide races here in Texas on both sides of the aisle, starting, of course, with State Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, a tireless campaigner who drew a 2-year term.

Many Democrats were eyeing Davis as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2014 owing to her fundraising prowess and staunch support of education. Had Davis drawn a 4-year term, thus giving her a “free pass” to run statewide in 2014 without giving up her senate seat, she would have had tremendous encouragement to take the leap and run for governor. Now, her decision becomes somewhat more complicated.

Here are the results from SD-10 in the 2010 and 2008 statewide elections, courtesy of the Texas Legislative Council:

2010 Results in SD-10

38.9% Turnout


Rick Perry: 52.7%

Bill White: 44.6%

Margin: R+8.1%

Lieutenant Governor

David Dewhurst: 58.2%

Linda Chavez-Thompson: 38.8%

Margin: R+19.4%

2008 Results in SD-10

66.4% Turnout


John McCain: 52.1%

Barack Obama: 47.1%

Margin: R+5%

US Senate

John Cornyn: 52.1%

Rick Noriega: 46%

Margin: R+6.1%

Davis won election in 2008 by 2.4% over a Republican incumbent, and won re-election in 2012 by 2.3% over a former State Representative.

Below the jump, find out why Democrats should still be optimistic about Davis in 2014, and what the implications are for the Republicans.Make no mistake, should Wendy Davis run for re-election to the State Senate — which I think she will — she will have a well-funded campaign that again sits at the top of the priority list for Democrats in 2014. In addition to being a statewide leader on education and healthcare issues, Davis is the crucial 12th Democratic state senator, providing us a one-vote cushion to block Republican legislation thanks to the two-thirds rule.

While those 2010 numbers are bracing, several factors should give Democrats hope:

  • Bill White was able to come very close to the 2008 Obama numbers, suggesting that voters can be persuaded here by strong, well-funded campaigns. And remember, Wendy Davis won in 2008 while Obama did not carry SD-10.
  • Turnout in midterms is usually lower, so that gives Team Davis more potential voters to target for GOTV and a lower number needed to get them to the polls to win. It also makes the impact of any overlaying Democratic or progressive efforts all the more powerful.
  • Congressman Marc Veasey's district overlaps with SD-10 and he will be running for re-election for the first time, so ideally he will be able to drive African-American turnout in the district.

Davis will have the funding and the support she needs to run a winning campaign. There's no way to prognosticate now and know if we'll see a Tea Party wave (or any other wave) in 2014 yet, but I'm confident she'll pull it out if she runs for re-election to her senate seat.

Senator Kirk Watson pulled a 2-year straw, and while I'm excited to vote for him again in 2014 this is another case of a statewide leader on budgetary transparency and good government who would be forced to choose between running statewide and winning re-election to his senate seat. Should he go for higher office, his seat would remain reliably Democratic.


Over on the Republican side, State Senator Dan Patrick probably has the worst set of options right now, drawing the two-year straw.

He has signaled some interest in running for Lieutenant Governor and got into a bit of an email spat with Senator John Carona over which man might hypothetically replace The Dew had he won his US Senate race (which he didn't). Meanwhile, Jerry Patterson is running for Lt. Gov (and has the bumper stickers to prove it!) even if that means challenging incumbent David Dewhurst. Other potential candidates include comptroller Susan Combs, fresh off under-estimating statewide revenue by $9 billion, who might also take a tilt at the #2 job in the state.

Should Dewhurst run for re-election — and why not, what else would the Dew do? — this is probably his weakest moment, coming off a defeat in the US Senate primary. I've got to assume Patrick is polling the field and assessing whether giving up his seat in the Senate is worth gambling on the Lieutenant Governorship in a crowded Republican field.

Dr. Donna Campbell, who I still can't quite bring myself to call “Senator Campbell,” drew a 2-year term. While that shouldn't necessarily give Democrats much hope since SD-25 is still a deep red district, it but does present the possibility of a Republican primary challenge from the slightly less, ahem, reality-challenged faction of the Republican party. Dr. Donna shocked many in Texas when she defeated incumbent Jeff Wentworth in a run-off after a three-way primary including former Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones. Those of us who watched her relentless campaigning in 2010 against Congressman Lloyd Doggett — in which Campbell rode a Tea Party wave to win all but one county in the district, that of Travis — were perhaps less surprised, given the intensity of her supporters.

Campbell refused to meet with editorial boards during the general election and has largely avoided public scrutiny. Now it will be interesting to see how she tries to position herself knowing that she has to face the Republican primary electorate again in a little over a year.


So who runs for Governor in the Democratic side if Wendy Davis decides to seek re-election to the State Senate?

San Antonio Mayor and national rising star Julian Castro has already ruled it out.

Democrats still have some real work to do to win statewide, but we have tremendous potential and immediate gains that can be realized from smart investment in base mobilization. Our Latino, African-American, and Asian populations present tremendous opportunity for Democrats in Texas, and national attention is again focusing on the real viability of turning Texas blue in the next decade.

It's time for a candidate with the potential to galvanize this wave of minority Texas voters to step up to the plate, and the donor community needs to get behind this person as well. Our most successful candidates for higher office tend to come up from the legislature, so it's worth looking to see which of our Democratic state representatives have the energy and drive to campaign hard for two years in order to move the needle and help make Texas a true swing state, and eventually a blue state.  


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Burnt Orange Report

Burnt Orange Report, or BOR for short, is Texas' largest political blog, written from a progressive/liberal/Democratic standpoint.

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