News Column

Texas Matters, More or Less?

Nov. 8, 2012

Richard S. Dunham

Texas Mitt

There's Barack Obama's America.

And then there's Texas.

In Obama's America, Latino voters overwhelmingly favored the Democratic incumbent, handing him 71 percent of their votes to 27 percent for GOP nominee Mitt Romney. In Texas, voters overwhelmingly elected the first Hispanic senator in the state's history -- a conservative Republican.

In Obama's America, the tea party wave receded, with some of the most prominent firebrands of the 2010 conservative insurgency sent packing by the voters. In Texas, despite the defeat of freshman Republican Francisco "Quico" Canseco of San Antonio, voters sent three new Republicans with strong tea party support to Washington, including Sen.-elect Ted Cruz of Houston.

In Obama's America, the GOP nominee lost the popular vote for the fifth time in the last six presidential elections. In Texas, Republicans swept every statewide race for ninth time in a row.

In Obama's Washington, the head of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas, said Wednesday that the GOP is "too old, too white and too male." In Texas, Republicans are doing no such hand-wringing.

"Every statewide official is Republican and the GOP has broad majorities in both houses, both U.S. senators and 24 of 36 congressional seats," said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak. "Under conservative leadership, Texas will remain a state where bold policy is advanced and where government is limited, taxes and regulation are low."

In the aftermath of a second consecutive White House setback, there is a bigger disconnect than ever between the mood of national Republicans and Texas GOP loyalists. While national Republicans are downcast about the future, Texas Republicans are upbeat and almost giddy about being the leaders of the resistance to Obama's second-term agenda, from comprehensive immigration reform to implementation of the 2010 health-reform law widely known as Obamacare.

Perry Still Defiant

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who tried but failed to win the GOP presidential nomination, warned Obama on Wednesday to "put an end to his reckless disregard for our rule of law and spare our nation another long, painful and expensive four years for American families, taxpayers and employers."

"Meanwhile," he added, "states have the opportunity to pave the way for Washington by promoting common-sense policies of smaller government, lower taxes and restrained spending that create jobs and prosperity for their citizens."

With Obama back in the saddle for four more years, Texas officials predict continuing legal wrangling between Austin and Washington. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed 24 lawsuits against the federal government since Obama took office. Contentious issues include environmental regulation, redistricting and the strict Texas Voter ID law.

Texas Democrats say they expect Perry, who has not ruled out a 2016 presidential candidacy, and Abbott, who harbors gubernatorial ambitions, to seek out more opportunities to declare legal war on Washington.

"The lawsuits will illustrate the extent to which Republicans, just handed defeats from coast-to-coast because they've drifted much too far to the right, will drift farther to the right in response," said Democratic consultant Harold Cook.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the Senate Republicans' campaign committee, Wednesday lamented his party's loss of two seats and called for "a period of reflection and recalibration." But neither he nor other leading Texas Republicans showed any inclination to move the GOP toward the center.

"We know that we are the party of big, bold ideas with the courage to fight for what's right even if it's not politically expedient," Cornyn said. "?... But all of us should continue to learn from both our victories and our defeats, and work together to build an even stronger Republican Party."

Prominent Losses

Cornyn's uncertain future in Washington reflects the state's tenuous clout in the nation's capital. Soon to be Texas' senior senator, he is hoping to move up in the Senate GOP leadership after the retirement of the second-ranking Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona. But it is unclear whether the party's 2010 Senate setbacks on Cornyn's watch will hurt his chances.

Despite the GOP's House majority, Texas Republicans face the loss of some prominent officials, including departing National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Dallas. But Congress-watchers call Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands a rising star on budget and tax issues.

Texas will have limited clout -- mostly in the form of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, a former Dallas mayor, and San Antonio's Castro brothers, Mayor Julian Castro, the Democratic National Convention keynote speaker, and Rep.-elect Joaquin Castro.

Beyond those personal relationships, however, "Texas will have no clout in the White House," said Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor.

'Ticking ... time bomb'

The lack of Lone Star influence could come back to haunt the state as the administration shapes the future of human space exploration and energy strategy.

"The fact that Texas Republicans are always so willing to stick the president in the eye for political gain certainly doesn't help," said Democratic consultant Cook.

Back home, Cook and other Democratic strategists think that the demographic changes that helped Obama win nationally in 2012 will make the state competitive politically in coming years.

"The ticking demographic time bomb has not been defused," said GOP strategist Mackowiak. "Democrats may be confident about 2016, but they have a weak bench and Romney won Texas by 17 points. I think 2020 is a more reasonable time frame for Texas to become truly competitive, particularly if Republicans don't begin to cut into the Democratic advantage with Hispanic voters."

Summer Ballentine contributed to this report.



Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 the Houston Chronicle


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