Just over a week ago, Dr. Richard Murray, who regularly contributes some really good political analysis for ABC 13 in Houston, posted his thoughts as to why he believed that now former Houston Mayor Bill White would win the Democratic primary- and without a runoff.
I've been meaning for some time to write down some thoughts on the matter and with campaign finance reports now release, it's as good as time as any to use his points as a starting place. Let's walk through Dr. Murray's six points, keeping in mind they were posted on Jan 8th. For reference, the following seven candidates will appear on the ballot for the Democratic nomination for Governor.
It looks like Bill White all the way from my corner for a half dozen reasons.
(1) While not widely known outside of the Houston area, the other six candidates have virtually no name identity with Democratic voters anywhere in the state. So White starts with a significant advantage.
(2) Five of the other six candidates are not only unknown, but also have no realistic way of overcoming that huge problem in 54 days. Getting your name out to voters in a megastate like Texas takes a lot of money, and Ms. Aguado, and Messrs. Alavado, Dear, Glenn, and Locke do not have the millions of dollars required for a quick fix.
Bill White starting out with the most name identification is of course an advantage but Farouk Shami has been advertising statewide for the last month to the tune of what I can tell is about
$2.5-3.0 million over $3.5 million dollars. White hasn't spent money on TV ads to date and it's unclear when or if that will happen prior to March 2nd's primary. I'm a little curious how effective Shami's ads in December will be for a March primary but considering he's probably going to be on air all the way through the next month and a half, that could solve the problem of people forgetting your name/brand if they aren't reminded about it. Of course, if he got himself listed on the ballot as Farouk “CHI IRON” Shami he'd win the name id game in a pinch. Alas…
(3) That leaves Bill White with just one real contender, Farouk Shami, who is very, very, wealthy, to beat in the March primary. Mr. Shami has told media he will spend ten million dollars to present himself to voters before the primary. He has hired professional campaign consultants like Dan McClung and Robert Jara of Campaign Strategies; and his TV ads, yard signs, and other visible indicators suggest he is following through on his promise.
Yes, there are TV ads and yes, yardsigns are appearing around the state- although those yardsigns might be breaking state law; I thought there was requirement that the word “FOR” had to be at least 50% of the size of the office for which you are running and they very clearly are not.
That point aside, Peter Brown proved you can buy yourself 3rd place with an excess of TV and as of yet, we haven't seen supporting field, endorsements, or positive news coverage to supplement the paid media campaign. For uninformed voters, seeing a bunch of “stuff” about a candidate they otherwise know nothing about might raise their curiosity, but without anyone validating the campaign message, or having trusted establishment figures concurring that it's “ok” to indeed vote for said candidate… I'm just not sure what that gets you.
(4) But the odds are strongly against Mr. Shami succeeding in the March primary for several reasons. First, big personal spenders lose three times out of four on average. (Remember Peter Brown in the November 3rd Houston city election?) Farouk Shami's odds are a lot worse than one in four because he has no history in Democratic party politics – a big liability in a primary dominated by party loyalists – and his background of immigrating to the United States from the Middle East and building a hugely successful business is an inspiring personal story, but it does little for him politically in a race where most of the voters are African Americans, Latinos, rural Anglos, and urban white liberals.
So I got a little head of myself on the Peter Brown reference here. I'm not sure if Murray's “three our of four” stat is based on Texas self-funders or national races or federal vs non-federal, but some of the most recent and related cases do back that. Tony Sanchez's tens of millions money earned him below 40% of the general election vote for Governor in 2002, below the ticket average. Jon Corzine's millions couldn't save his governorship in New Jersey last fall. Peter Brown didn't make the Houston Mayoral Runoff. Marc Katz's personal money got him 3rd Place and 13% of the vote for Mayor of Austin in 2003. Michael Bloomberg spent nearly $100 Million to get re-elected as a Republican mayor of New York City last year, but it was by less than 5%.
So are there constituencies that Shami will tap into?
African-Americans– Of the seven candidates running,
none black, it's unlikely we would see any of them rolling up 75% margins of this community as could happen if there was an African-American candidate running. Given that a large chunk of black voters in Texas are in the greater Houston area and have voted for and been part of White's re-election coalitions in the past, he could grab a majority of the black vote given that he's been endorsed by most of the elected leaders in the community. But who knows; I don't have a feel for this one.
**Correction- As pointed out in the comments Clement Glenn is African-American, though the lack of stories, websites, or much of any information about him or his campaign online was the reason for my oversight here. Still, I'm doubting there is any organized underground Clement Glenn organizing going on out there across the state and most voters will be in the same boat knowing noting about him or his race.
Hispanics– A certain chunk of the vote will end up in Alma Aguado and Felix Alvardo's vote totals based upon part primary voting patterns. But Bill White's South Texas Tour and local leaders endorsements fit into a scenario where no one probably gets an outright majority of the Hispanic vote- and that doesn't get Shami any closer to a win.
White Urban Liberals– I think that the white urban liberals are the most likely people to be Bill White's urban liberals. They are paying attention to this race and are being organized by White's field campaign which is clearly evident in Austin. I really don't see these folks voting for the oddball candidates or passively voting for a candidate just because they have seen more of their signs or TV ads. Shami could compete here of course with issues, message, and conversations with voters so we'll see how that develops.
Rural Anglos– If there is a place the “Farouk Shami is a Muslim” type of crap to exist, I'm going to unfortunately place it into this category. I'm also willing to predict that the “also ran” candidates will do marginally better than their statewide average here. The bigger point though, is that this pool of voters isn't the one that determines Democratic primaries anymore.
Not included in Murray's list was Asian American or Middle Eastern voters. It's certainly a growing population in Texas, and Houston has a lot of this group, but it's very diverse, very segmented, and not particularly a heavyweight in Democratic primary politics. For Shami to win, clearly, it's a group he should plan on registering, ID'ing, and turning out and one which he could very likely win a majority of. As a party, we should be doing this anyways, and Shami could be the person who helps make that happen in a serious way, but with the voter registration deadline just 2 weeks away- time is running out.
(5) And then there is Bill White. The former mayor has a strong base in the Houston area, good fund-raising capability in a contest where there is no limit on the size of the checks written, and the support of virtually all establishment Democrats across the state who are hungry to recapture the governor position after 16 years in the wilderness.
(6) Finally, we know from watching the 2003 mayoral race in Houston that Bill White is an extremely hard-working campaigner, who has a veteran team in place to support his statewide effort, and a deserved reputation for getting the maximum benefit from his political expenditures.
Bill White is running a campaign worthy of being called a campaign. If he wins the primary, and wins the general, future statewide candidate will be looking back at his campaign operation and mimicking it because his team and operation will have very much been the reason as to why he won. These people believe in White, they are dedicated to White, they have a plan, and they execute. It's metric-based, blends the old-school and new-school of organizing, and will produce new useful personnel for candidates running in 2012 and 2014.
The caveat is that field & people are long terms investments (and more expensive) for a campaign, and early voting starts in less than 1 month. Shami will end up following what was John Sharp's strategy against Bill White back in the “KBH Mythical US Senate Special Election” scenario…
1) Acquire Millions of Dollars
2) Acquire Short Election Period
3) TV, TV, Mail, TV, Attack Bill White, Mail, TV, Attack Bill White, TV, TV, Mail
4) Repeat for Runoff
Ah, runoffs. Dr. Murray doesn't think there will be one. I'm less convinced. I need to spend a little more time looking through past statewide primaries to better estimate how the major metro regions could break or if indeed, the former Mayor of Houston is headed to a fairytale ending entitled Bill White and the (not quite) Seven Dwarves.