2014 Texas Governor's Race: Democratic Primary Preview

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The Republican primary is already getting spicy as donors choose between Attorney General Abbott and Governor Perry.

But what's happening on the Democratic side? With Battleground Texas swooping in to give our state the Democratic voter push it needs, the Democratic effort will be one to watch. There are a number of good candidates who may run, but little besides speculation to go on for now. We can expect to see candidate announcements in June, when fundraising commences.

Who's On Deck for 2014?

State Representative Mike Villarreal: Representing San Antonio in the Texas House since 1999, Mike Villarreal has gained a name for himself as a serious legislator with an appealing personality. After growing up in San Antonio, Villarreal went to Texas A&M and then Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and is now pursuing a PhD in public affairs at UT's LBJ School while teaching as an adjunct professor at St. Mary's University. He has spent the last three years focusing on education (a perfect issue to bring statewide) and budget transparency. Villarreal is young, a strong campaigner, and would certainly appeal to Texas's growing Hispanic voting population. The 123rd House District is safely Democratic, making Villarreal an even more appealing potential candidate for Texas Democrats.

Former Houston Mayor Bill White: The Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, Bill White has spent couple of years laying low in Houston while working in investments. White ran an impressive campaign all over Texas in 2010 that garnered national attention, and his loss is blamed in large part on the year's difficulty for Democrats nationwide. A poll released a few weeks ago by Public Policy Polling shows White leading Perry in a 2014 matchup, making a strong case for White's electability. White was a hugely successful mayor, and has a down-to-earth persona appealing to a broad swath of Texans. Earlier in 2010, White sought Kay Bailey Hutchison's Senate seat before she took back her promise to retire. So it's not impossible that White will seek Sen. John Cornyn's Senate seat in 2014. But no one knows what White will do yet – he hasn't said anything either way.

State Senator Kirk Watson: Austin's former mayor is a well-known, personable legislator who would appear to have the energy for a run at the governor's office. He ran for Attorney General in 2002, losing to Greg Abbott, but 2014 is a very different year. Watson might be able to capitalize on his ability to rev up Democrats, six years of experience in the Texas Senate, and plentiful ideas to make a serious run at the governor's office.

Longer shots include…

State Representative Rafael Anchia: Representing Dallas in the Texas House since 2004, Anchia is known as a likable, hard-working legislator. Anchia would certainly run a good campaign with his appeal to both Latinos and Texas's growing 18-35 year old Demographic. Any plans about future runs for office are not yet known.

State Senator Wendy Davis: An energetic and charismatic progressive who singlehandedly forced a special session in 2011 by filibustering the state's inadequate education funding, Davis would be a very good candidate for governor. She's been representing Fort Worth since 2009 and regularly makes lists of state legislators to watch. Even if she doesn't run in 2014, Democrats will be hoping she does soon. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilbert Hinojosa recently said of Davis, “From the perspective of electability, she's one of our top superstars in Texas. Her sensibility and approach to politics will just automatically propel her as a top candidate for statewide office.”

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro: San Antonio's mayor is the top Democrat in Texas and arguably the brightest rising star of Democrats nationwide. From his celebrated keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention to his upcoming autobiography, it's only a matter of time before Castro runs for higher office. But which office will that be? Castro just announced his re-election campaign in the 2013 San Antonio mayor's race, and says he's “not running” for governor in 2014. That's probably true, but he certainly deserves his place on this list – if only for all the buzz you'll hear about him around this race and others.

Whoever the candidate is, expect 2014 to be a year of energetic Democratic campaigning as Texas comes closer and closer to voting blue statewide.

Update: Thrillingly, State Senator Wendy Davis appears ready to run for governor.

About Author

Ben Sherman

Ben Sherman has been a BOR staff writer since 2011. A graduate of the University of Texas, Ben has worked on campaigns, in political consulting, and has written for other news outlets like Think Progress. Ben considers campaign finance reform the fundamental challenge of our time because it distorts almost every other issue in American politics.

18 Comments

  1. Watson does not appear slated to run for
    Senate re-election in '14, as Davis is. The Tex Trib says his term expires in 2015. On that basis I would posit that he is the Democrats' best hope.

    It is difficult to impossible for a state representative to make the leap to the governor's mansion, and White (and Chris Bell, about whom I hear rumors in Houston of a repeat bid) just aren't worthy of a second at-bat IMHO. A Latino candidate should be welcomed, even encouraged to run in a primary… and may well be nominated. But the lack of bench depth is a real hindrance to Democratic hopes.

    I hear there will be open seats at Land Commissioner and Attorney General, and maybe even Comptroller and Ag Commissioner…

    • Senate Terms
      Senate terms (4 or 2 year, depending on straw draw) is a huge factor. Dems largely got the short straws. The full list is here.

      Watson's up in 2014. His term expires in 2015 so that means he runs again in 2014, since they swear 'em all in during the first week of January 2015. Same's true for Wendy.

  2. Some thoughts
    On Villarreal – “The 123rd House District is safely Democratic, making Villarreal an even more appealing potential candidate for Texas Democrats.” I'm failing to find the correlation on that statement. Because a House district is safely Democratic, how does that make one appealing statewide for Democrats? How does that appeal to independents, which is where the real election is held?

    On Davis – “An energetic and charismatic progressive who singlehandedly forced a special session in 2011 by filibustering the state's inadequate education funding, Davis would be a very good candidate for governor.” That filibuster ended up costing Democrats more during the special session than they would have lost had the session ended. While Davis made a name for herself, it cost the state in several items that passed during the special but failed during the regular. I'm not understanding that logic as making her an ideal candidate for governor.

    Finally, we can look at Perry all day long as the Republican opponent. In reality, Abbott will most likely end up being the candidate and we better start seeing how we can find a candidate to match up against him.

    This posting is just one more indicator of the Democrats taking the eye off the real prize of fielding a candidate who can break the statewide lock Republicans have had for over two decades. What about down ballot races? Where do you think Perry entered the cycle? It sure wasn't governor.

    • Reply
      Coming from a safe district means that if a candidate loses a statewide race, that House seat is not likely to be lost. That's a good thing.

      I understand your view about the special session, but do you think it was a bad idea to filibuster? And do you disagree that it makes clear that Sen. Davis is an strong progressive?

      The post only discusses Perry as the opponent once, in the White blurb, to make the clear point that White is electable. There's no reason he couldn't also compete against Abbott, nor why another of the other candidates couldn't. This is about the race overall.

      This post is about the governor's race. It's not about down ballot races. There will be many more posts about down ballot races on BOR. Stay tuned.

      • theonlydangerdog on

        Bill White has the strongest shot.
        In terms of electablility, let's consider a few criteria:

        Fundraising: No one on that list has raised more money than Bill White. Bill White is top notch on fundraising. In a state large as Texas, we need more money for a Democrat to win than ever. Bill White was a constant subject of national attention in 2010 due to his massive fundraising sums and coupled with brand new initiatives like Battleground Texas, Bill White has more than just a 'slim chance'. He has a full, head-on battle with Perry or Abbott if he (*hopefully*) decides to run.

        Name recognition: Compared to any other Democrat, yes including Mayor Julian Castro (who has announced re-election for San Antonio in 2013, so unlikely to run for Gov yet), Bill White is strides ahead.

        Crossover appeal: During 2010, many Hutchinson fans did cross-over for Bill White. It wasn't a major aspect because 2010 was an abysmal year for Democrats across the nation. White is an incredibly successful and ridiculously popular Mayor (re-elected 3 times, averaging an 80% amount of votes over those terms vs. Annise Parker who has got barely 50% of the vote for her 2 terms) with a personality that really has common-sense written all over it.

        In terms of electability AND (very importantly) the ability to most better the state of Texas, Bill White is a clear front-runner in the Democratic primary and strong, viable opponent to take on Rick Perry or whoever they throw our way.

        (Edit: There is a movement out there to encourage Mayor White to run again–https://www.facebook.com/DraftBillWhiteForTexasGovernor?fref=ts)

        • Very good points
          about Bill White. I think if he does run, he'll be very hard to beat in a primary. Especially since, at least according to that PPP poll, voters remember and like him. If he doesn't, I think Democrats have reason to be excited about our pool. No one on there is, qu'est-ce que cest, lame.

        • Also…
          Bill White lost by 13% in 2010. If Democrats can mobilize their base and new progressive voters, that gap can be closed – especially if Perry is the nominee again. His own party isn't that enthusiastic about him.

  3. Priorities
    So my question, my meta-question, is “What do we consider key criteria for a good statewide candidate in 2014?”

    Assume we can't have everything and have to pick between demographics, geography, fundraising prowess, and campaign energy.

    How do we rank those in order of priority?  

  4. Good questions Katherine
    Those are the real questions to ask when vetting a candidate for statewide. I believe they apply to every statewide office, from dog catcher on up (joking, of course). Really, they apply to the things like Comptroller up the line.

    Think of it this way. If we really want to take back the governor's office, we need to get someone with good marks in most of the categories you listed. Try this one. Parker was Comptroller of Houston before she became Mayor. Why not running for state comptroller, letting the state build that Democratic base more, give her some statewide name recognition (remember, the Comptroller is the one everyone looks to at the beginning of the session), then move on up the line in the future. Even Villarreal would be great in that slot, based on his work in the Lege with the budget.

    But to always pine about the governor's office, giving the down ballots lip service, really doesn't look at this issue in long game terms. It's just a lot of speculation and will remain that for a good while.

    I mean, I've seen more articles about gubernatorial speculation in this site than anything else. Very little about the down ballots until someone actually files and runs. That tells me we sure like to dream a lot but have little desire to accept a smaller prize to make the bigger one more realistic.

  5. Good points
    But the top of the ballot is what the low-info voter and the media dwell on. So we need strength at the top of the ticket.

    It was clear in counties surrounding Travis this year that Obama's low popularity REALLY hurt down-ballot. Like it or not, top of the ticket and national atmosphere matter in local races.

    So we can't just write off governor and nominate someone who can't help — or worse, can hurt. And a strong Gov candidate can help give those strong potential downballot statewides the push they need to get in the race.

  6. Maybe we get someone to take it for the team
    To your point, I wrote a column in Plaza de Armas with an idea of Castro running at the top of the ticket in 2014 with a ballot filled with some really good down ballot candidates. I know I'm going to take dings in here but I've written off a 2014 gubernatorial victory and ceded it to Republicans. Going against Abbott (Perry's going to be asked to follow Palin's lead) will be really hard, if not impossible.

    Instead, have Castro create ballot draw, especially among Hispanic voters to help other down ballot Democrats get elected. Castro can come back in 2018 and run for governor or Cruz's seat.

    I know it's radical politics but maybe we need something like that.

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