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After Gov. Ann Richards’ failed re-election bid in 1994, Texas Democrats attempted to build well-financed statewide campaigns around candidates with star power — and all came up short.
Now, the Lone Star State has a stable of Democratic rising stars not seen since the days of its last liberal lion. Things are looking up, Democrats argue, with long-awaited demographic changes on the horizon and a Republican Party potentially damaging itself for the future in this cycle’s primary battles.
But with a state as big and expensive as Texas, a fighting chance requires statewide candidates to raise an incredible sum of money, which in turn demands a vast network of donors who believe victory is attainable.
“In Texas, unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of having the talent or the political skills, but you also have to have the ability to raise millions and millions of dollars under the federal rules,” Democratic consultant Matt Angle said.
“And so the qualifications for candidates in Texas are a little more stringent than just being a good candidate,” he added. “There are a lot of good candidates who can’t get from here to there $2,700 at a time.”
Democrats rarely fielded competitive Senate candidates over the past two decades — the party’s three best performers in that time span received 44 percent, 43 percent and 43 percent — but that may change by the next midterm cycle. State and national Democrats are gearing up for a competitive Senate bid as early as 2018, when Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is up.
The first potential candidate names out of the mouths of most operatives are the Castro twins, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and freshman Rep. Joaquin Castro — though there are mixed opinions about which one is more likely to jump. Wendy Davis’ name comes up as well, should she comes up short in this year’s gubernatorial race, and the buzz in some Democratic circles is that Davis’ running mate, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, has as promising a political future as Davis.
Beyond those four, there is a second tier of candidates who could possibly run statewide but don’t quite yet have the same star power. It includes freshman Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who ousted eight-term Rep. Silvestre Reyes in 2012. He is young and attractive, but his geographic base is weak — El Paso is remote and actually closer to the Pacific Ocean than it is to the Louisiana border.
Democrats also named state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Chris Turner as possible statewide contenders and pointed to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, albeit with caution. Parker is openly gay, and some say that while Texas is evolving on a number of issues, gay rights is not likely to be one of them in the immediate future.