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 didnt 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 congressmans 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.