For the first time in over a decade, a Democrat leads a Republican statewide in a public opinion poll. Sure, it's within the margin of error. And sure, we aren't close to an election and Republicans poll better as we get closer. And sure, the polls that truly matter (in November) show that Texas actually has a very long way to go before electing a Democrat.
But a scientific survey of Texans has a Democrat winning the state.
“If the candidates for Governor next year were Republican Rick Perry and Democrat Bill White, who would you vote for?” asked Public Policy Polling. 47% answered Bill White. 44% answered Rick Perry.
Before we go hootin' and hollerin' in excitement, let's remember that if Rick Perry wants to run for reelection to governor in 2014, Rick Perry is still the favorite. This is just one poll, and we don't even know if Bill White would want to run again. Rick Perry also leads other hypothetical match-ups against Democrats.
But Battleground Texas is getting Democrats excited to compete sooner rather than later and to aggressively campaign instead of simply waiting for demographics. If we're ready to bring the fight to a new level, we need a candidate, too. So, we only hear Greg Abbott's name when people speak of potential challengers to Rick Perry? We can't make Texas a battleground without strong candidates. And if nothing else, this poll shows that even as soon as 2014, a strong Democratic candidate can win Texas.
If you're still unsure; the reasoning is a two-step process. First, Rick Perry is the favorite if he runs again in the Republican Primary. Second, Rick Perry can be beat. But he clearly can't be beat by anybody, so we need someone to step up. Read on below the fold about these two steps.First: Rick Perry would be the favorite in a 2014 Republican Primary.
Remember how Kay Bailey Hutchison was a big favorite to beat Rick Perry in 2010? Yes, she really was; I know how hard that may be to believe now. But at a similar time in the 2010 cycle, Public Policy Polling published a poll of that hypothetical primary, too. The result? Kay Bailey Hutchison in a landslide, 56% to 31%.
Now, at this point in the 2014 cycle, potential challenger Greg Abbott can't even boast a single point lead. In the poll released today, Rick Perry leads Republican voters over Greg Abbott: 46% to 41%. Think of what will happen after Perry has a successfully conservative legislative session (see: his State of the State) and a campaign to make Abbott appear moderate? I don't care about any Abbott monetary advantage; if Rick Perry wants to stay governor, he can definitely get the nomination. (Note: we saw similar numbers in a BOR PAC poll in May!)
Further proof in the polling: Rick Perry has a 62% approval rating among Republicans. That's a pretty big margin for an “unpopular” governor.
Is there any good news for Greg Abbott in the polling? Sure. More Republicans would generally prefer someone else to Rick Perry, 47% to 41%. And Abbott's approval rating is an impressive 46% approving to 13% disapproving. But he will have a long way to go, and Rick Perry has some sort of Texas Teflon.
Second: Rick Perry can be beat in the general election.
Not since John Sharp led David Dewhurst in a 2002 poll has a Democrat led a Republican in a statewide publicly released survey. Yet, Bill White leads Rick Perry – and by 3 points, too.
Now, if Bill White runs in 2014, that's already a strong candidate who we know can win (if he runs a better campaign than 2010). But as anyone who remembers the 2010 election results can attest, Bill White isn't all that special when it comes to Texas Democrats. Another strong candidate can also succeed.
Notably, however, other candidates polled against Perry were all down by a range of 5 to 7 percentage points in today's poll. (Perry 47% to Julian Castro 42%; Perry 47% to Wendy Davis 41%; and Perry 47% to Annise Parker 40%.) None of those candidates, however, name recognition as high as Bill White. Annise Parker and Wendy Davis don't even have name recognition above 35%.
Any unknown yet strong Democrat has plenty of room to grow.
Yes, Rick Perry would still be the favorite in 2014. He'd be the favorite in both the Republican Primary and the general election, even if Bill White runs. But with some luck, a strong uphill campaign, and whatever magic outside groups like Battleground Texas may bring…A Democrat can beat Rick Perry in 2014.
Democrats can't afford to let Rick Perry sail. We know a strong candidate can win. Now, we'll just have to find one.