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Wednesday, April 25th 2007

Can Cornyn Be Beaten?

John Cornyn isn’t exactly a household name in Texas. Which has fueled speculation amongst Texas Democrats, and those just interested in politics, that he might be vulnerable (however you want to define that) in his 2008 re-election bid.


All The Talk Of The 2008 Race Might Be Moot:
John Cornyn May Be Gonzalez’s Replacement As AG

(Note: I’m being serious in the caption above)

Over the past several days that talk of a Democratic Texas Senator has heated up. It has done so for several reasons: the numbers don’t bode great for Cornyn, Cornyn isn’t exactly getting ready to race money wise, and the national party and committee are targeting Texas.

The Numbers Don’t Bode Well For Him

A DSCC poll has liberal Texas bloggers smiling. It certainly isn’t pointing to impending defeat. I’m sure no one is preparing their resumes in Cornyn’s office. But the numbers are a little disheartening. Here’s the DSCC’s summary of the poll, which points out the most pressing concerns for Cornyn,

Republican John Cornyn has lower than expected name recognition for an incumbent US Senator, with 40% of the electorate unable to rate Cornyn either favorably or unfavorably.

Senator Cornyn’s re-elect vote preference against a generic Democrat is under 50%.

That is terribly embarrassing. 40% of the state doesn’t know you are their U.S. Senator. Running up to an election year, to have a re-elect figure <50% and a favorable rating <50% would raise most consultants eyebrows.

Where’s The Money?

Okay, statewide Republicans don’t really hurt for fundraising. Not in Texas.

And it isn’t like Cornyn is a dunce of a traveling medicine salesman – he is a good fundraiser. And we are 19 months from election day.

But Consider:

For those who don’t know $20 million is a lot of money for a Senate race. Especially one in “safe” Texas. For instance, last year, facing lowly Barbara Ann Radnofsky, the popular Senator Hutchinson raised approximately nine million over the election cycle. For his first campaign, for Phil Gramm’s old seat, John Cornyn raised about nine million as well.

To think he needs to more than double that amount shows a respect for the position he’s in, in trying to win reelection. To put it in perspective: last year was the nation’s most expensive Senatorial campaigns ever and still only five candidates raised at least $20 million, $20 million would be more than both candidates raised combined in Cornyn’s first election, it would be the most ever raised by a Texas Senate Candidate.

  • And yet despite talking like that, he doesn’t appear to be moving towards it. He has only $3 million on hand after the 1st quarter of 2007.

By comparison at this time last year, facing what will probably end up having been a much gentler hill to climb to reelection, Kay Bailey Hutchinson had more than twice that on hand.

From the start of 2007 until the end of the quarter (March 31st) Cornyn raised less than a million dollars. That isn’t terrible, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m just trying to view it from the perspective of the challenges he faces and his own goals.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Is Targeting Him

The fact the DSCC even commissioned a poll in Texas is stunning in and of itself. That, more than the numbers themselves, says something.

There is more concrete evidence, besides paying for the poll, that the DSCC is indeed actually interested in Cornyn’s campaign. This weekend a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser in San Antonio not only brought some of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate to Texas, but raised over a million dollars – which by all accounts I’ve seen, just destroyed what the DSCC was expecting of the fundraiser.


Yes That Is Senator Charles Schumer, Chairman of the DSCC
And Senator Ken Salazar…In San Antonio, TX

Always the charmer Senator Schumer apparently ended his comments on the night by telling the crowd:

The eyes of Texas are upon us, but the eyes of the DSCC are upon Texas

There’s more on the fundraiser here.

The DSCC’s involvement in a race is a big deal. By campaign finance law the campaign committee’s for either party can make the single largest contributions to a candidate’s campaign. They can give approx. $38,000 to each House candidate, while the cap for direct contribution to Senatorial candidates varies by voting population in each state (probably pretty high in Texas). But those monies are peanuts. Those aren’t why Texas Democrats are so happy about the DSCC’s renewed interest in Texas. What you really want is the committee to pump in millions of dollars in independent expenditures.

Independent expenditures allow you to put unlimited money into media for candidates as long as you don’t discuss what you’re doing or what you’re planning with the candidate or his campaign.

For instance, in his bid to unseat 7-term incumbent Henry Bonilla last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put this ad on television on behalf of Ciro Rodriguez:


Ciro Rodriguez Had No Idea This Ad Had Been Produced
But I’m Sure He Was Happy To Have It On The Air

A full discussion of independent expenditures is for another time. Needless to say the committees (like the DCCC or NRCC or in Cornyn’s case, the DSCC) want to put their millions of dollars in places where their candidates actually have a chance of winning. I assure you, Barbara Ann Radnosky had little, if any, independent expenditures on her behalf last year.

But if the Democrats think Cornyn can be defeated, the money will come flowing in.

The decision to get involved by the DSCC is based on a multitude of viability factors – polling and the ability of a campaign to raise money. Word on Burnt Orange Report is that there might have been an agreement to count the more than million dollars raised at the DSCC fundraiser towards the total raised by whoever the Democratic challenger to Cornyn is. Not in real terms, but in terms of whatever formula the DSCC uses (which as said above, involves a campaign’s ability to raise money) to decide if, when, and how to make independent expenditures in a race.

After All That, The Fact Is: Cornyn Is Relatively Safe

Kuff’s World has a pretty levelheaded view of the feasibility of the Dems taking Texas’ junior Senator seat for a Democrat.

None of this means anything yet. The Democrats don’t have a candidate yet…and you still can’t beat somebody with nobody. Cornyn himself ought to have plenty of money, and while his approval numbers aren’t stellar, they ain’t that bad. There’s no way that beating him will be easy or pretty.

That is the major point. There is nobody. And it isn’t clear there will be somebody of quality. Cornyn’s campaign responded to the DSCC poll by saying,

[T]he partisan poll doesn’t reflect reality, Cornyn’s office said. And it is belied by the fact that no major Democratic challenger has stepped forward.

“This poll is part of their tactics,” said Cornyn spokesman Brian Walsh. “They know Sen. Cornyn is in very solid shape in Texas, as evidenced by their recruiting failures thus far.”

There simply doesn’t appear to be anyone to field. At least with anywhere near the name recognition you’d hope for if you were a Democrat. What’re they going to run Radnofsky again?

Beyond that agreed upon obstacle to the Dem’s mounting a credible effort to unseat Cornyn, I think the picture is less rosy in places than some Democrats imagine it. For instance Kuff’s World loves the fact that Bush’s approval rating is turning in Texas,

I think the biggest factor in all this is not so much Cornyn’s approval numbers but President Bush’s. Bush has long been a rock at the top of the ticket for Texas Republicans, even in years where he wasn’t up for election, but for 2008 he’s looking more like an anvil. Cornyn has been one of Bush’s more stalwart supporters. The more Bush’s numbers tank in Texas, the more Cornyn will have to try to distance himself, and the more he’ll be open to attack for all the water-carrying he’s done since 2002.

However, there is NO doubt that an accountability strategy like that is much weaker when the other candidate is out of sight. Cornyn’s relationship with Bush can be made an issue still, but it will pull a lot less on the voter’s sense of outrage with neither Bush nor Cheney on the ballot.

As Texas Politics says,

Bush’s negatives may be high, but he will not be on the ballot again next year. So unless the GOP does a massive pratfall next year, the presidential campaign should give Cornyn a slight boost in the voting.

In fact even the poll numbers themselves aren’t as bad as I made them out to be earlier.

Cornyn’s unfavorable is good (at 19%), he merely lacks name recognition. But any likely Democratic candidate will suffer that same problem even worse.

Sure, the re-election number being under 50% isn’t good for an incumbent. But, that ‘Generic Democratic’ candidate? At 38%, it is nearly identical to what Radnofsky achieved last year. Indded, that is about what all Democratic Senate candidates have achieved the past few decades.

That is to say, again we have evidence that this is merely a matter of poor name recognition on Cornyn’s part. The poll doesn’t seem to display either a negative stigma associated with Cornyn or a massive jump in the Dem vote in Texas.

It is true that other limited polls from SurveyUSA have found Cornyn’s name recognition better, and also an alarmingly high negative stigma (here’s one from around the election last year). But when put against this DSCC commissioned poll and earlier Scripps-Howard polls it seems SurveyUSA is overstating Cornyn’s name recognition in Texas.

Finally, while the DSCC and the national Democratic Party is clearly taking an increased interest in Texas, that is a relative thing.

The DSCC is going to be well funded, but it doesn’t have unlimited attention or resources. And the Republicans are defending a whooping 21 Senate seats in 2008. If you’re very liberal in ranking those seats in terms of the Dem’s odds of taking then you might be able to put the Texas race high in the third quarter, maybe as the 12th or 13th most competitive race. In January, CQ Politics spelled out how competitive the various Senate races would be (note: looks like they already may be way off in at least one of the races – Kentucky – which might be shaping up as competitive).

Of course Senator Schumner and company have to talk big, they’re preaching to people who just raised a million dollars to hear them talk. And I’m sure there’s sincerity in their talk about how they’re going to pay attention to Texas and target Cornyn. The DSCC will be more involved in the 2008 Texas Senate race than any Texas Senate race in a long, long time. But considering their previous involvement (or lack thereof) that isn’t saying a whole lot.

The situation is: this isn’t going to be one of the DSCC’s top targets. I seriously doubt you’ll see the Dem candidate and his/her allies (by independent expenditures) outspend Cornyn and the Republicans.

If I was John Cornyn I’d be dreaming of Kay Baily Hutchinson’s numbers, and shaking my head at an upcoming campaign that was going to be tougher than it need be or that I might’ve expected a couple years back. But I wouldn’t be staying awake at night worrying about losing my job. It just doesn’t seem that likely.

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