On the Democratic primary

I've been meaning to comment on ABC13 political analyst Richard Murray's "assessing Bill White's chances in the March Democratic Gubernatorial contest" for awhile. His conclusion that Bill White is likely to win seems reasonable. He provides 6 reasons:

1. White has name ID in Houston.
2. Other than White and Shami, the other 5 have no money.
3. White has only Shami to beat.
4. Self-funders frequently lose.
5. Bill White can raise money.
6. Bill White is good at campaigns.

If I were teaching a college class, and a student turned this analysis in, I'd give them a D+. Yes, it's pretty bad.

Of course Bill White is likely to win the Democratic nomination, but most importantly he is favored because he has the backing of the Democratic establishment. I can't think of a single endorsement Shami has gotten or is likely to get that brings votes. Bill White is the former chair of the Texas Democratic Party. He worked for Clinton. He's raised money for lots of Democrats currently in office, so it's not surprising that they will endorse him. Union leaders remember him as party chair, so they'll endorse him (I seem to recall Shami recently complaining that a union didn't even give him a chance to compete for their endorsement). Local Democratic county chairs will endorse White and tell their friends. And so on and so forth. All of this generally has a pretty significant effect in politics.

Now let's turn to Murray's stated reasons, since they do not provide much support to his conclusion. #1 is indisputable, but lacks context. How much of the Dem primary vote is the Houston metro region? Murray didn't tell us, but my back of the envelope calculation suggests that it is only about 20%. So, White starts out with a fairly small advantage in name ID. Yet I would guess that the CHI has a favorable name recognition as high as that, so if Shami can establish Farouk Shami = inventor of the Chi, he's probably not as far behind in name ID as it might seem. If my group of female friends is any example, there's a pretty dedicated fanbase for Shami's invention.

2 and 3 are self-evident. 5 is a truism, and 6 is Murray's opinion based on a sample size of...one competitive race. And that race was almost 7 years go against Orlando Sanchez and Sylvester Turner. Yes, both those candidates had already run for mayor once and lost; they were, it could be argued, re-tread candidates. Frankly, neither ran a good 2003 mayoral campaign -- Sanchez essentially mailed it in, but still made the runoff. And Sylvester Turner shocked me and failed to even make the runoff.

As to self-funders frequently losing, Murray states that "big personal spenders lose three times out of four on average." You see the problem with that right? If you said, "compared to what?" then you win. Yes, big personal spenders frequently lose, but if you compare them to non-big personal spending first time candidates, they have an amazing record at running for office.

Are many self-funders weak candidates? Yes. But more often, they are not backed by the establishment and thus lack tradiotional party support and name ID. To even hope to be competitive, they have to outspend the career politician. And, it appears that Shami will outspend White. Now there is a rapid decline in the marginal effectiveness of campaign spending once you get to a certain point, but in the end, Shami probably will have the name ID advantage.

As I finished writing this post, I read Karl-Thomas Musselman's commentary at BOR on Murray's post. It was significantly better, and is worth reading.

Murray goes on to speculate that Shami is a "stalking horse" for Perry, and that only by running a positive campaign will Shami show that he isn't a stalking horse.

But of course, Murray knows that if you are Shami, you are up against the establishment's pick. Shami must define Bill White, because he is up against the establishment. He's not going to win by running bio spots, he's going to have to go over the heads of the establishment and appeal directly to rank-and-file Democratic primary voters. In short, if Shami doesn't attack, he loses. If Shami doesn't define Bill White as an insider career politician...he loses. It's not rocket science.

And truly, this has been done before by a candidate who seemingly had less advantages than Shami has. Obviously, I'm thinking of Victor Morales in both 1996 and 2002. In 1996, schoolteacher and first time candidate Morales beat the Congressmen John Bryant and Jim Chapman to be the Dem's Senate nominee. And in 2002, Morales led Houston Congressman Ken Bentsen and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk in the primary election before losing to Kirk in the runoff. And hey, even Gene Kelly managed to be the Dems' Sen nominee in 2000 and push Radnofsky into a runoff in 2006...without doing any campaigning, even as Radnofsky campaigned for a year and had the backing of the entire Democratic establishment.

In other words, very recent history suggests that the backing of the Democratic party establishment may not actually be very valuable, although it's important to note that the Dem-establishment backed gubernatorial candidates won in both 2006 and 2002 without runoffs. So the data suggests that the establishment is able to provide more support in gubernatorial primaries.

I have not seen any of Shami's ads, which seems to be the biggest factor. The fact that Bill White went up on the air today seems to indicate to me that he is worried about losing the primary. Otherwise I would assume that he would be more likely to conserve his money for the general election. I bet two things: that White has polling numbers that worry him, and that the original plan was not to go on the air on Feb 1.

Murray's post seems less like political analysis and more like Bill White cheerleading. And hey, cheerleading is ok, but let's not cheerlead under the guise of political analysis.

Posted by Evan @ 02/01/10 01:10 PM


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I agree. Bill White has no earthly chance in the general election. Will he keep it close enough and make it seem like a race? Yes. Will a poll at some point show it within the margin of error? Probably.

Will he actually pull it off? No. He'll probably come up short by 8-12 points in the end.

Posted by A. J. @ 02/01/10 04:21 PM

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