Where the race stands today -- overview and analysis

My thoughts on the Strayhorn announcement:

1. Why it is good for Democrats:
It shakes things up, and makes the race more fluid. Anything which gets the Democrats out of a standard Republican vs. Democrat election cycle is good for Texas Democrats right now.

If Strayhorn qualifies for the ballot, then Strayhorn will be another voice that criticizes Rick Perry for the duration of the election cycle. Campaign messages are all about repetition, and this campaign will (if ballot qualifications are met) feature three candidates who likely spend a majority of their time criticizing

Clearly, there's also the possibility that Strayhorn and Perry will split the Republican vote to the point where Bell/Gammage can hold the Democratic base and win.

Of course, it's bad for Democrats in three major ways: 1) trial lawyers may decide to give Carole Strayhorn money instead of the Democratic nominee. Since plaintiffs' lawyers are the primary funder of Democratic campaigns in Texas these days, this could bode poorly for the Democrats. 2) Strayhorn may drown them out, and Bell/Gammage may not be able to distinguish their criticisms of Perry from Strayhorn's, giving the Dem nominee little chance to reach beyond the base. 3) The anti-Perry vote is split.

2. Why it's good for Perry:
As Perry's campaign sent out post-Strayhorn announcement, Strayhorn is essentially conceding that she couldn't have beaten Perry in the primary.

A year ago, it looked very precarious as to whether Perry would survive the GOP primary, and now he is unopposed. Nobody could have forseen that a year ago.

He's also still a strong favorite for re-election.

3. Why it could be good for Kinky Friedman:
Friedman's campaign is being run straight out of the Jesse Ventura playbook. That's not a slam on Friedman's campaign; after all, Ventura won.

But one of the reasons Ventura won in 1998 was because he was the voice of reason. While respective Dem and GOP nominees Humphrey and Coleman (now Senator) argued and bickered partisanly (with the partisanship of impeachment as a backdrop to the election), Ventura appeared to be above the fray.

There's a lesson here for Friedman.

4. Why it's good for Carole Keeton Strayhorn:
Comptroller Strayhorn wasn't going to win the Republican primary, unless she really found a way to bottle lightning. Going independent probably improves her chance of being elected governor, although it's still going to be an uphill battle.

How it all plays out:
Politics is about math [wait, I thought all politics was local. Which is it? -- ed. Shut up.] and Rick Perry is the favorite in a four candidate scenario because he has the largest base. I estimate Perry's absolute minimum base at 35%. If we assume that the Democrats base is about 30%, then that leaves only 35% for Strayhorn and Friedman.

Who is the Democrats' base? It's white liberals and African-Americans. Now, is the Democrats base solid? Quite possibly not. Like Kuffner, I see significant numbers of cars with Kinky Friedman and KerryEdwards bumper stickers. These aren't African-Americans. I always check the ethnicity of the driver, and it is invariably white, and it is invariably an expensive car.

Why? Gay marriage. Right now, gay marriage is probably the most polarizing issue in America today, moreso even than abortion. Whether you think gay marriage is right or wrong, political reality right now is that gay marriage is a strong motivating factor for voters [though I wouldn't be surprised if the political landscape is much different 20 years from now]. I actually think there are a large contingent of both left-leaning and right-leaning voters who would consider Friedman as a candidate, however, enough of the middle-class white voters that Friedman needs most will probably not vote for him. And yes, I know Friedman isn't running on gay marriage, but if Friedman were ever in striking distance of winning, I feel confident that there would be a media campaign on the issue. Thus, given the lack of current support for gay marriage in Texas, Friedman probably has no chance of winning unless he's able to neutralize the issue, a la Mitt Romney did in 2002 with abortion in Massachusetts.

I think Friedman ultimately draws slightly more from the Democrats' base than he does from disaffected right-leaning swing voters.

So, that leaves us with Perry 35%, Bell/Gammage 25%, Friedman 5% (5% being 1/3 of white liberals). That leaves us with 35% of the vote left, probably 2/3 (23%) of which lean rightward and 12% of which lean leftward.

Given that Perry will raise the most money, do we really not think that Perry will be able to win enough of this remaining percent of the vote? I do, though if a Democrat can successfully hold all white liberals and African-Americans together while reaching some swing voters, and Strayhorn is able to siphon off a large portion of Perry's softer right-leaning support, then the Democrats have a chance. Notice that there are a few conditions on that statement.

As I write this, I've been wondering how people will disagree with me. My guess is that people will quibble with my assumption that Perry's absolute minimum base being 35%. To those people I ask this question: even if school finance were to fail miserably and everything were to go wrong for Rick Perry, do you really think that any Republican nominee will get less than 35% of the vote? If you do, then -- barring an ethics scandal on the order of Watergate -- we fundamentally disagree and I think you should go examine recent election results.

You could also argue that I'm wrong about Friedman...that could be. With independent candidates (this applies to both Strayhorn and Friedman), it is very hard to be seen as a reasonable alternative. Voters don't see you as a possible winner, and so they won't vote for you. This is a very difficult perception to overcome. Also, Kinky Friedman is a first-time candidate, and first-time candidates for big offices like governor of Texas generally lack the discipline necessary to win. The chance that Friedman blows up is definitely above negligible.

My analysis doesn't sound good at all for Carole Strayhorn, which I didn't fully realize until I started writing it. But quite simply, Republican voters will need a strong, strong reason to depart from the Republican party line. That's very difficult to do, although not impossible, when you are as good of a campaigner as she is. Unfortunately for her, as election day draws near, if Democrats appear to have a chance of victory, Republicans will probably vote for the Republican most likely to win, which would likely be the incumbent.

One more point about Strayhorn: her once-favorable editorials have turned considerably more negative lately. She once seemed to be receiving the most favorable coverage of any candidate, however her coverage has been much less favorable in the last few months. If she is to have a chance, this needs to be turned around.

Bottom line: Perry is still a strong favorite, because he will have partisan loyalty, the powers of incumbency, and the most money to spend. It will be difficult for Strayhorn to position herself as having a chance to win, but if she can, she may be able to counteract the partisan loyalty. Strayhorn's entry of the race is definitely good for Democrats, because it shakes up the race and adds considerable fluidity. However, this is still a strongly Republican state. While my analysis shows that the race will be tough for the Democratic nominee, it's not impossible if Strayhorn is able to split the Republican vote with Perry and the Democratic nominee can hold the Democratic base together. With Kinky Friedman in the race, that may be tougher than it appears.

UPDATE: I should note that Perry Dorrell has his own analysis, which I obviously don't agree with, for the reasons I delineated.

Posted by Evan @ 01/03/06 05:23 PM


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