TX-28 Postmortem, Part II: Qualitative and Strategy

Well, it looks like our first primary challenge against an incumbent Democrat didn't work out. To my knowledge, there haven't been any official concession yet, but no matter what happens, I would like to point out that Republicans still haven't won anything new on the electoral front since 2004. While we it looks like we were unable to defeat a Democrat who sucked up to Bush, over the past year we still have a pretty good streak going of defeating Republicans who suck up to Bush. This is not even to mention that Republicans are still too gutless to even try to run someone in this majority-Latino district. I'd like to se how close they would come to defeating Henry Cuellar.

There is no way to prove this, but I still bet that if this was a closed primary and Republicans and Independents had been unable to vote, we would have at least forced a run-off, if not won outright. The margin was so close, I can easily imagine a few thousand registered Republicans and Republican-leaning indepdents wanting to vote for Cuellar because of his connections to Bush. The Texas primary system would have allowed them to do so. Update: Check out the NCDem in the comments for a more accurate description of the Texas primary system.

Also, considering the wildly different vote totals for each candidate in different counties, it seems fairly safe to assume that "voting for the home-boy" was probably the number one voter issue in this campaign. It wasn't the only issue, but it was probably the biggest issue. As one pro-Ciro commenter on the ground noted yesterday: Zapata County is made up of good, hard working, blue collar folks. They voted overwhelmingly for Ciro, before Laredo was put into the mix by DeLay. They voted for Ann Richards by far, over Bush. They voted overwhelmingly for Kerry 2 years ago. (...) They're voting for Cuellar besause they are part of Laredo's orbit. They are simply voting for the home boy. They are nor conservatives -- socially or otherwise. They're poor folk, mostly Mexican-Americans trying to get by. They are progressive-liberals, and good Democrats. We shouldn't get too mad at Cuellar's voters. Most of them are with us a lot more often than Cuellar himself is.

Further, as Steve Gillard pointed out over an email tonight, it is important to remember that the netroots doesn't actually run campaigns--we just have the ability to offer resources that can give candidates the chance to win. The rest, ultimately, is up to the candidate, the campaign, and the voters. I'm not saying this to throw Ciro under the bus, but rather so that we all get a little more perspective on the role we play online. We are not an alternative party apparatus unto ourselves.

As for tactics, it seems to me that we should have moved into this race earlier--probably as early as November. There was a large gap to overcome in this district, and six weeks proved to not be enough time. We even won the voting on Election Day voting, but we lost because of the early voting. Had we spent more time on this campaign, we could have made it closer earlier, and we could have kicked up a lot more media. As Matt Singer noted over email:Campaigns also need these resources earlier. When it ends up coming down to a good ground effort, it just can't spring up overnight. And mail/TV ads need to be planned in advance, too. True dat. In the future, we need to develop a target list for primaries much further in advance. Too often we jump on board campaigns when it is already too late, as I complained about in my Edjamacation post. We have to start moving in earlier.

Of course, even had we come in earlier, defeating federally elected incumbents is a difficult game. Even on the Republican side, for all of their vaunted ability to run primary challenges against their sitting incumbents, the only real win they have against a federally elected incumbent is Sununu over Smith in New Hampshire in 2002. We may be 0 for 1, but they are 1 for 100. Primary challenges are almost always failures at the ballot box.

However, even in electoral defeat the Republican base has often succeeded in forcing some incumbents to start toeing the conservative line. If Cuellar becomes a more reliable vote as a result of this primary, then we will have succeeded anyway. If Cuellar makes fewer appearances with Bush, then we will have succeeded anyway. We won't know if that has happened right away, but we do know that even if things don't change, we can always run another primary challenge against Cuellar in 2008. Netroots electoral wins may seem few and far between (Chandler, Obama, Herseth, Dean for DNC), but the only way we are going to get more of them is if we keep trying.

Hope that is enough qualifiers for you. Make sure you read Ciro's statement to the netroots. I know you are disappointed, but you helped turn what would have been a blowout election that no one noticed into a real fight. Never give up hope. It's on to CA-50.

Update: I just received the following statement from Ciro:“Last night we didn’t receive the outcome we had hoped for. The end result was true to the intentions of Tom Delay when he carved out this district for his friend — geographic rivalries won out over a true discussion of the issues for working families.

I congratulate Mr. Cuellar on his victory, however, and I hold no bitterness or ill will.

I do hope, however, that he takes seriously the message sent by over 47% of the voters — and by a community of progressive donors from across the country — that a Democratic congressman’s first responsibility is to stand up for the needs of seniors, of children and of working families.

Especially in South and Central Texas, where so many mothers and fathers have sacrificed their whole lives for their children, and so many veterans have answered the call of their country, we need a Democratic congressman to put his personal political ambitions aside and take a stand for Social Security, for quality, public schools, and for affordable health care for all.

The driving force behind our campaign was a group of volunteers who took such a stand — students, retirees, and working people from all parts of the District. For their commitment and dedication, Carolina and I will be forever grateful.

And I believe I speak for all our supporters and campaign team when I say that we were profoundly touched by the thousands of regular working families from throughout the country who helped fund our effort with their checks of $5, $10, and $20. They looked beyond geographic and cultural differences and sent a message that we are all Americans and that we must stand and act together to reclaim our government.

As educators, that inspiration will forever stay with Carolina and I as we take the next step in our lifelong commitment to public service.” Thank you Ciro. And I hope that Cuellar takes this message seriously too.

Tags: Activism, Democrats, election results, House 2006, netroots, Primaries, TX-28 (all tags)



Re: TX-28 Postmortem, Part II: Qualitative and Str

The good news is that while Cuellar may not be our favorite Democrat, he is still a Democrat, and believe me, will stay one as long as he is in this district. And he still votes right 67% of the time because most House votes are partisan or near party-line.

On to CA-50! If you want to contribute to Francine Busby, she is on my ActBlue page

by Ament Stone of California 2006-03-08 07:12AM | 0 recs
Re: TX-28 Postmortem, Part II: Qualitative and Str
My loyalty socrevards only give him a 44.4% rating. Granted, I haven't updated them since October, but I'm not confident in the 67% number.
by Chris Bowers 2006-03-08 07:28AM | 0 recs
Re: TX-28 Postmortem, Part II: Qualitative and Str

A 67% record of voting with Dems is nothing to really brag about but it's hardly GOP territory. The problem with Cuellar is that refuses to acknowledge that he is part of a partisan institution. Being a Democrat carries duties that he didn't want to acknowledge.

He endorsed & campaigned for Bush in 2000 & against fellow Dems, openly told the Democratic congress that his vote wasn't a given and that the Democrats would have to earn his vote, sneeringly dismissed important progressive Democratic interest groups & constituencies & made it well known that he's more proud of being Bush's favorite pet Democrat than with identifying with his Democratic peers in the house. It wasn't jst the netroots that disliked this guy, almost the whole of the DNC establishment got behind his primary challenger. The DNC, usually being neutral if not partial to incuments in these matters had to really dislike Cuellar for them to do something that unprecedented.

The interesting thing will be to see what Cuellar does now. Not only were the party activists against him, but the entire party establishment stricture too. He seems to be friendless. Does he take a lesson from his nailbiting primary challenge & try to make peace with the party establishment? or does he figure his most dangerous days are behind him & continue to put himself above the party.

by Epitome23 2006-03-08 07:23AM | 0 recs
Re: TX-28 Postmortem

As long as he cooperates with Bush, the Republicans will not challenge this seat -- there are no Republicans running in District 28 in November.  Its the deal with the devil Cuellar has made.

Unless Ciro can somehow get the voters of Webb county to give him another look, or he or another candidate can tap into organizations in Webb, Cuellar has a pretty safe seat.

If Democrats ever take back the House (in my lifetime?) then Cuellar would be forced to change his behavior since the Republicans would be forced to run a candidate against him.  Until then, expect Cuellar to continue to toe the Bush line and for the net community to continue to be frustrated.

by PageUp 2006-03-08 07:33AM | 0 recs
Re: TX-28 Postmortem, Part II: Qualitative and Str

Good coverage and excellent wrap up, Chris.

by NeuvoLiberal 2006-03-08 07:44AM | 0 recs
Thanks for all of your hard work Chris!

You are correct, we need to identify and act much earlier. We lost the ground war, but what are the mechanics behind this? I hope you find the time to do an extensive post mortem in the near future.

I would not be surprised if Cuellar becomes the next traitor to officially switch sides after the general election. Let us now intensify our efforts on Joe.

by Citizen80203 2006-03-08 07:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Thanks for all of your hard work Chris!

"I would not be surprised if Cuellar becomes the next traitor to officially switch sides after the general election."  

Doubtful, unless Cuellar decides to seek a statewide office because this district drawn to be a Democratic district, even if he votes.

"Let us now intensify our efforts on Joe."

I assume you are speaking of Senator Lieberman, if you are then you have good and bad news.  The good news is primary is not until August, if the reason Cuellar won is the opposition began too late, then you will have the proper time.  The bad news is that unlike this race where party did not jump on board the incumbent, some have even suggested the DNC backed the challenger, expect in the case of the Connecticut race the incumbent will have full party backing.

by THE MODERATE 2006-03-08 08:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Thanks for all of your hard work Chris!

"Doubtful, unless Cuellar decides to seek a statewide office because this district drawn to be a Democratic district, even if he votes."

This is exactly what I think his next move will be; statewide office. However, the case has probably been made to see if such a defection could draw the Hispanic vote by name recognition alone. We shall see.

And yes, I was referring to Lieberman. I am aware of the DSCC, DLC, and possibly the DNC will get behind the distinguished senator. It is all about projecting net/base power. It is a long shot, but a strong challenge will send a message and over time the message will get through.

by Citizen80203 2006-03-08 09:31AM | 0 recs
TX Not an "open primary"

I mentioned this in an earlier thread, but it must have gotten buried...

Technically, Texas is a "closed primary".  The party primaries are technically closed to only "Republicans" or only "Democrats".  However the kicker is, one doesn't register as a "Republican" or a "Democrat" at your local elections board.  Rather, you become a "Republican" or a "Democrat" the second you vote in one of the two primaries.  You (literally) get your voter card stamped "Republican" or "Democrat" once you vote in the primary. This can really screw somebody up if they're interested in party politics... For instance, as a (real) Democrat, if you vote in the Republican primary, then you ARE a Republican, until two years have passed and you get to vote in the next (presumably Democratic) primary.  If you vote in a Republican primary, you are unable to hold party offices in the Democratic party, because at that point, you are not registered as a Democrat.

So, technically, Texas is not a "closed" primary system... everyone that votes in the Democratic primary is at that point, a registered Democrat. Though of course, your point remains the same.

by NCDem 2006-03-08 07:53AM | 0 recs
Re: TX Not an "open primary"
Tahnk you for the correction.
by Chris Bowers 2006-03-08 08:36AM | 0 recs
Re: TX Not an "open primary"

I was an election judge in TX-28 in yesterday's primary (albeit in Bexar County, not Webb). NCWeb is completely accurate in his description of how the Texas primary system works. There is, however, one theory I've been hearing that I want dispel as soundly as possible.

While it is technically true that "real" Republicans could choose a Democratic ballot and vote in favor of whatever candidate they choose, this is certainly not the case here or in virtually all elections.

The level of political sophistication required to foresee the effects and "cross-over" vote is so extraordinarily high, the effect of "dishonest" primary voters is virtually nil. Certainly, a handful of insightful Republicans here and there voted for Cuellar but it is absurd to suggest that they were numerous enough to throw the election in his favor. What's more, a widespread, systematic "cross-over" voting effort is literally impossible to execute.

On the ground, I saw not one voter at my precinct that would have fit this bill.

The reality is Cuellar was able to bring out the "homeboys" in Laredo and surrounding counties and that, not "cross-over" voting that lost the election for Rodriguez.

by c tettlet 2006-03-08 09:51AM | 0 recs

Well, I have to say:

(1) We didn't need to see this result to know that open primaries make no sense. The fact was that it was an open primary, and one can only hope that the Ciro campaign took that into account (though few in the netroots seem to have been made aware of that until very late in the game).

(2) The netroots can't just shrug and say, "Hey, we did our part (donating), but we don't run the campaigns." If the good guys want to win in the future, and the netroots wants to have its donations (and volunteerism) pay off, then we have to work with campaigns to make sure they are well-organized and getting the on-the-ground operation in shape to use that funding. And the grassroots campaign has to do its part to honor that compact. The party is supposed to bridge this artificial net/grassroots divide, but often fails to do so.

My seven (constructive) questions for the campaign, looking forward to future efforts, are at:

http://www.mydd.com/story/2006/3/8/12244 2/3793

by Hudson 2006-03-08 07:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Well...

"We didn't need to see this result to know that open primaries make no sense."

I disagree.  I think that a district like this demonstrates why open primaries are sometimes necessary.  If the true contest for this seat is the primary, it seems terribly undemocratic to say that some significant portion of the electorate cannot have a voice in its outcome, since democracy is about having a voice in the selection of your leaders/representatives.

by Kumar 2006-03-08 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Well...

Closed primaries is actually what creates DINO's, I see it often in North Carolina, some counties here you must be a Democrat to win and offices holders and the voters who elect them remain registered Democrats although extremely conservative ones for that very reason.

by THE MODERATE 2006-03-08 09:05AM | 0 recs
Perspective, Before and After

Congratulations on your effort.  There is a lot to be proud of in what was accomplished.

"I'm not saying this to throw Ciro under the bus, but rather so that we all get a little more perspective on the role we play online."

I would second that comment, but admonish the netroots to also have that perspective BEFORE the election as well.

by Kumar 2006-03-08 08:31AM | 0 recs
Bad analogy on Smith in NH

Smith was ousted because he engaged in bizarre behavior over his time inh Senate.  If anything, he was to the right of Sunnunu.  Sunnunu won because Smith was too much of a wingnut.

by mhacker 2006-03-08 09:04AM | 0 recs
Hereseth, Chandler and Obama netroots campaign?

That's really a reach. I don't think it's appropiate for the netroots to take credit for these wins. The entire Democratic establishment were behind these wins. All these guys would have won regardless of blogs and netroots.

by progressiveliberaldem 2006-03-08 11:10AM | 0 recs
Re: TX-28 Postmortem, Part II: Qualitative and Str

If Obama read this, he would literally laugh out loud that you beleive his win was in any way attributed to Netroots.

Let's not take credit where it obviously isn't due.

by slightlyright 2006-03-08 11:52AM | 0 recs
Cautionary note

I'd just like to point out that the prospects of having an effect on a statewide Senate race are a lot slimmer than effecting a special election for the House.  I think I'd rather see the netroots figure out how to help win a winnable seat (Hackett, Ciro) than jumpin' up to the big-time (Lieberman) quite yet.  I think we've figured out how to make them sweat at this level, now we need to figure out how to make them pay.


by PortDork 2006-03-08 02:25PM | 0 recs
Re: TX-28 Postmortem, Part II: Qualitative and Str

we're not 0-1 in going for wandering incumbents - we took out gun-nut and right winger marty martinez with hilda solis in california 32 in the 2000 primary.

by Shimpiphany 2006-03-08 02:43PM | 0 recs
We need to get our shit together on

running early voting operations.  I am an expert at running early voting programs within a campaign organization.  Any wee-oiled campaign is going to have about 1/3 to 1/2 of their dollars earmarked (don't ya just love that word?) for EV operations.  

In early voting states, you CANNOT win without an effective EV program.  It appears the Ciro didn't even have one.  If he had one that wasn't even that effective, if it shed some votes off of Cuellar's EV total, Ciro's election day total would have made up for it.

To run an effective EV op, the key is EARLY MONEY.  Early money is indeed like yeast.  Because of the EV situation on the ground in TX-28, Ciro lost this race a LONG time ago, and all the last minute money in the world wouldn't have changed that.  

With his good EV campaign, Cuellar institutionally could not lose this race.  The numbers just weren't there for us.

Next time, we need to get involved early and concentrate JUST as much on EV as election day.  

by jgarcia 2006-03-08 02:45PM | 0 recs
Re: TX-28 Postmortem

One thing people are missing is just how corrupt the electoral process has historically been in this deep south Texas counties.  Just read Caro's biography of Johnson.  Electoral politics in these counties has had more in common with neighboring Mexico than with the rest of the US.

When Webb County doesn't release even its early voting (!) returns untill all the other counties has reported, than reports a Cuellar margin just large enough for him to win, its pretty obvious what is going on.  This has been SOP for political machines engaged in ballot tampering since the founding of the republic (and not just in south Texas!).  And this happened in 2004, too.  You think people would have been prepared.

Yes, Cueller improved his percentages in some of the sparesly populated counties south of San Antonio, but if this had made the difference, we would have seen the Webb County results alot earlier.

Also, there was a legitimate reason for voters in Webb and Zapata to vote for Cuellar, to make sure they had representation in Congress.  This area should have its own Congressional district.  Delay deliberately created two CDs stretching from the Rio Grande to Austin, and to San Antonio, with the population slightly weighted to the Rio Grande Valley, in the expectation that Valley voters would throw out liberal incumbent Congressmen from San Antonio and Austin, and put in Valley politicians, who tend to be conservative even though nominally Democratic.  These voters can't really be represented from San Antonio or Austin.

Finally, everyone forgets that Bush carried this district.  Yes, everyone there is a Democrat, but its like a cotten belt district, a majority will register Democrat but hold very conservative beliefs.

In short, this district is so unusual that I don't think you can draw any lessons from it.  I think influencing an election here was too ambitious a project for the netroots to pull off at this stage.

by Michels 2006-03-08 05:53PM | 0 recs


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