The Republican convention came to Houston and went, and unlike the Yankees sweep of the Astros there were some positives, but also areas of concern and lost opportunities.
First, TCR originally anticipated about 10-15% of the delegates were conservatives dissatisfied with the RPT. This was an underestimation, the last minute Chairman challenges to Tina Benkiser got around 35% of the vote which should be much cause for concern. RPT leadership had numerous opportunities to reach out and work with the dissatisfied conservatives, but instead spurned them and tried to "spin" their way around stubborn facts. Debra Medina, Tim Lambert, Mallory Miller, Robert Johnson and others should be praised for fighting for the rule of law and attempting to provide a welcome to the new folks. TCR wonders where was the RPT leadership? About their (Medina, et al) lawsuit, no hearing was held on the merits due to the legalistic maneuvering of RPT leaders who tried to run down the clock through the court system. Contrary to RPT claims, the issue is not a question for the legislature as the Election Code is quite specific that a Permanent Chairman must be elected before the convention does any business. The conservatives who brought the suit plan to take the dispute to a trial and help clarify the Election Code's mandates for the RPT rules at future conventions.
Second, GOP convention attendance versus the Democrats is a concern that continues a trend started on primary day, when the Democrats outvoted us. If this trend continues to November, the GOP has cause for concern.
The numbers difference is staggering: over 12,500 delegates and alternates for the Democrats versus 4,000+ for the Republicans.
Third, the RPT did nothing to improve the discredited GOP brand. Where was the party's support for a Conservative Contract with Texas being pushed by conservative GOP House members, including Rep. Bill Callegari of Houston?
Fourth, the attendees seemed to be warming to the idea of Hutchison for Governor in 2010, due to concerns about the present standing in the polls of Gov. Perry and differences with the Governor on some issues. But Gov. Perry and Dewhurst, to their credit, both said we need to add teeth to state spending controls. Maybe they did this to get ahead of the spending controls bandwagon, led by CLOUT and Edd Hendee.
Fifth, the attendees were lukewarm about Sen. McCain. If we don't get excited, get ready for the second coming of Jimmy Carter: Sen. Obama.
US Senate Outlook:
With So Many Targets of Opportunity,
Texas Apparently a Second Tier State
So, the good news is Texas Sen. John Cornyn has a significant lead over his Democratic opponent and is much better financed at this point. With so many targets for the Democrats, the Texas Democrats may again be shortchanged by their national party. One cause for concern with Senator Obama, is his unprecedented fundraising prowess and the addition of key Clinton Texas fundraisers like Arthur Schecter and others, it's possible national Democratic funds will find their way to Texas.
Let's review the national picture of the GOP in the Senate. In a word, it's bleak. Overall, we have too many seats we are flatly not competitive in or have lackluster candidates, freeing Democratic money to fund other targets of opportunity.
The following are safe Republican seats this year: Jeff Sessions-Alabama, Saxby Chambliss-Georgia, Jim Risch-Idaho, Thad Cochran-Mississippi, Mike Johanns-Nebraska, Jim Inhofe-Oklahoma, Lindsey Graham-South Carolina, Lamar Alexander-Tennessee, Michael Enzi-Wyoming, and John Barrasso-Wyoming.
Next, let's look at solid Democratic seats and where the GOP either failed to recruit or is running a placeholder candidate (which is inexcusable): Mark Pryor-Arkansas (no opponent in a seat that could have been in play), Joe Biden-Delaware, Dick Durbin-Illinois (placeholder candidate), Tom Harkin-Iowa (placeholder candidate), John Kerry-Massachusetts (no opponent), Carl Levin-Michigan (placeholder candidate), Max Baucus-Montana (joke GOP candidate is 85 years old, liberal forever, green party chief), Frank Lautenberg-New Jersey, Jack Reed-Rhode Island (no opponent), Tim Johnson-South Dakota (placeholder candidate), Mark Warner-Virginia, Jay Rockefeller-West Virginia (placeholder candidate).
As you can tell, that doesn't leave much, and those that are in play are mostly GOP seats.
- Alaska, GOP incumbent Ted "bridge to nowhere" Stevens is in trouble and could lose the primary, which could save the seat. Toss-up.
- Colorado, GOP open seat in a state moving more Democratic. Mark Udall (D) vs. Bob Schaffer (R) and with the Democrats' convention in Denver, we say leans Democratic.
- Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts should be safe, but polls say it could be a race. Leans Republican.
- Kentucky, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) in trouble but is a smart political leader, it says here he will survive a tough GOP year. Leans GOP.
- Louisiana, the GOP recruitment failure of the cycle. In a state moving to the GOP, the GOP candidate is a former liberal Democrat, John N. Kennedy. Senator Mary Landrieu (D) barely won twice and with a strong candidate could have been taken, leans Democratic.
- Maine, Sen. Susan Collins (R) a moderate GOP'er who is a tough politician. Obama coattails could play here, but it looks like leaning Republican.
- Minnesota, Sen. Norm Coleman (R) also is in trouble as it's a tough state. The Democrats picked comedian Al Franken, who TCR believes only wins in an Obama landslide. Leaning Republican.
- Mississippi special, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-appointed) in tight race with former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D). The GOP lost a house seat in a special election in May, so this could be a barn burner, leans GOP as McCain should carry Mississippi and Gov. Barbour will go all out for "his" Senate pick.
- New Hampshire is a replay from six years ago, Sen. John Sununu (R) vs. former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D). This time with the Republicans in retreat in New Hampshire, could hurt. Leans Democratic.
- North Carolina, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) is surprisingly in a real race with State Sen. Kay Hagan (D). This is a tight race where the Democrats will spend big money.
- Oregon, Sen. Gordon Smith (R) is popular and is only threatened by an Obama landslide, likely GOP.
So of the 11 swing seats, the GOP presently holds ten and the Democrats one! TCR presently sees it going 7 GOP and 3 Democratic and 1 toss-up. Overall, TCR sees the Democrats at this point picking up four seats pretty assuredly.
The biggest GOP problem is being behind in fundraising (the vaunted K street project did not halt the money from flowing to the Democrats), have generally lackluster candidates, and a discredited brand name. As bad as things are, if we only lose four, it will be a good day. Pretty pathetic when you think about it.
Wake Up Call For Harris County GOP?
While some Harris County, Texas GOP leaders are confidently claiming another GOP sweep is in the cards more sober GOP hands are very concerned and believe much work needs to be done to insure a successful 2008 cycle.
If you missed it, a recent Mike Baselice (GOP pollster) poll says the GOP in Harris County is down to a 1.5% positive margin. Does anyone think that Obama can't boost the Democratic turnout to that extent?
The problem is the GOP brand in Harris County is soiled after the never-ending Rosenthal scandals and their fallout, the bad press some GOP'ers in Harris County government are getting, the paying of the now infamous GOP Texas gross receipts tax, and while local property taxes continue to explode, clearly the GOP needs to get to work.
The Democrats have their best ticket in a long time.
Even if things break right for the GOP, the Democrats will outvote us on a straight ticket ballot based on prior history. This means a close race and a narrow win at the top endangers our down ballot candidates due to voter dropoff the farther down the ballot the voters have to go.
Clearly, the GOP needs to ditch the cheerleaders and engage in bare knuckles heavy lifting to win this November.
The good news is the leader of the local ticket is tough and smart: County Judge Ed Emmett. The big question is, will the other candidates follow his lead or instead will they rerun the 2006 GOP joint campaign which will not work this year?
The other good news is we have some diverse and strong candidates like District Clerk Theresa Chang, DA candidate Patricia Lykos (hopefully fated to be the first female DA for Harris County) and conservative hero Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt. They are all stars who need to be promoted to the voters.
It's time for the talking to stop and the hard work and campaigning to begin. Like a battle, any slipup could cause defeat, especially when the margin for error is now so narrow.
The Connection - Red, White & Blue, featuring TCR Editor Gary Polland and liberal commentator David Jones. Now weekly on Fridays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. on PBS Houston Channel 8. Next broadcast after PBS Pledge Break on June 27, 2008: The War Horses, with former secretary of state Jack Rains (R) and former Texas Governor Mark White (D).
About Your Editor
Gary Polland is a long-time conservative and Republican spokesman, fund-raiser, and leader who recently completed three terms as the Harris County Republican Chairman. During his three terms, Gary was described as the most successful county Chairman in America by Human Events - The National Conservative Weekly. He is in his tenth year of editing a newsletter dealing with key conservative and Republican issues. The last six years he has edited Texas Conservative Review. Gary is a practicing attorney and strategic consultant. He can be reached at (713) 621-6335.