Hamby: Cruz is Dem Enemy #1;
Politico: Cornyn Avoids Tea Party Challenge;
Cornyn Raises $1.8M in Q3;
Battleground Texas Beefs up in FW for Wendy;
Burka Pours Cold Water on Wendy’s Chances
Good afternoon from Washington, DC.
Sorry we are late today — we have been running around like a chicken we our head cut off, as my mother would say.
Here’s the brief:
CRUZ IS DEM ENEMY #1
CNN’s Peter Hamby reports this morning, with a Richmond, VA dateline:
It’s official: Ted Cruz is Democratic enemy number one.
In the span of a year, Cruz has transformed himself from a little-known Senate candidate into the face of a government shutdown that has roiled Washington politics and raised questions about the viability of the American political process.
Democrats are now raising his profile at every turn, in political campaigns from Brooklyn to San Diego, casting him as a right wing zealot and hoping to hang the controversial tea party icon around the necks of every Republican office-seeker in the country.
The first-term Texas senator, a shrewd and often shameless promoter of stand-your-ground conservatism, is currently starring in a slew of television ads, talking points and a raft of fundraising emails attacking Republicans over the ongoing government shutdown.
Far from being an object of fear, Cruz is a welcome newcomer for Democrats — the embodiment of what they claim is dangerous tea party obstructionism, and a far more useful villain than Mitch McConnell, John Boehner or any of the buttoned-up regulars straight out of Capitol Hill central casting.
Cruz might be responsible for pushing the United States government to the apogee of dysfunction, but for Democratic operatives charged with winning elections, any Cruz is good news.
“It’s not that we’re making Cruz a bogeyman,” said Mo Elleithee, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee. “It’s that Republicans are making him their leader. We’re more than happy to have a debate with them over whether that’s a good thing for the country or not.”
With helpful prodding from top Democrats in the nation’s capital, the “debate” over Cruz is playing out in races around the country, far from the halls of the Congress.
When Carl DeMaio, a Republican House candidate in southern California, made a sympathetic remark about Cruz during a speech to the Downtown San Diego Lions Club last week, operatives from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington quickly packaged the clip and circulated it to local reporters under the slug: “Carl DeMaio’s model legislator: Ted Cruz.”
In the New York mayor’s race, long shot Republican nominee Joe Lhota said in a radio interview that he favored delaying the Affordable Care Act’s individual insurance mandate by a year. The campaign of Democrat Bill de Blasio immediately turned their cannons on Lhota, accusing him of “marching in lockstep with Republican extremists like Ted Cruz.”
Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Democratic Senate candidate Cory Booker name-dropped Cruz during an attack on his GOP opponent Tuesday.
‘The Ted Cruz Strategy’
And over the past two weeks, strategists working for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have been carpet-bombing local reporters in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina and West Virginia with statements accusing GOP Senate candidates in those states of supporting “the Ted Cruz strategy” of political brinksmanship.
The Texan also appears in a pair of new television ads about the shutdown from MoveOn.org and Organizing for Action, the White House’s political operation.
Then there’s American Bridge, the well-funded Democratic research group that launched a cheeky website, “SpeakerCruz.com,” after reports surfaced that the Texas senator was brazenly advising GOP House members from across the Capitol before the shutdown began. The website depicts Cruz telling an anguished Boehner, “I got it from here, bud.”
“Ted Cruz is a powerful tool for Democrats for the same reasons he’s so popular among the Republican base: he’s perfectly emblematic of where today’s Republican Party is and where it’s headed,” said Chris Harris, a spokesman for American Bridge. “The tea party loves him for leading the Republican Party into this shutdown, but the vast majority of Americans see it as the disaster it truly is.”
Nowhere has this theory been put to the test more than in the Virginia governor’s race, where Cruz chewed up more than a week’s worth of campaign oxygen in the closely watched contest between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
After the government lurched toward shutdown last week, Democrats were handed a well-timed gift: Cruz had been previously booked to deliver the keynote address at a conservative gala in Richmond where, as it happened, Cuccinelli was also scheduled to speak.
McAuliffe’s campaign cut a television and radio ad binding the two Republicans together, just as the 170,000 Virginians who take home a federal paycheck were bracing for furloughs and service cutbacks.
“Look who’s coming to Virginia this weekend,” a stern-sounding narrator intoned on the radio ad, which was still on the air as of this week. “Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas who is the leader of the government shutdown. Cruz is coming in to campaign for another radical Republican, Ken Cuccinelli.”
The Democratic Party of Virginia launched a similar broadside, blitzing households with robocalls admonishing Cuccinelli. American Bridge got in on the act, too, creating a “Dump Cruz” petition demanding that Cuccinelli not appear with the Texan.
An uncomfortable position
Forget that Cuccinelli, himself a tea party darling, was technically not holding a campaign event with Cruz. The onslaught put Cuccinelli in a vise grip, drowning out his message and putting him in the awkward position of demanding an end to the government stalemate while dodging questions about Cruz’s role in the Beltway drama.
When Cuccinelli finally did speak at the Family Foundation dinner on Saturday night, he made only a passing reference to the shutdown and made no mention of Cruz, one of the GOP’s biggest stars who happened to be waiting backstage only a few yards away.
He slipped out the Richmond Convention Center in a hurry, well before Cruz took the stage.
Aside from surveys that show the shutdown to be deeply unpopular, the blame-it-on-Cruz strategy is, at the moment, more of a safe bet than a poll-tested message.
Polls show a vast majority of Americans disapprove of the shutdown, and a CNN/ORC poll on Mondayshowed Republicans in Congress shouldering slightly more of the blame for the stalemate than Democrats or President Obama.
Yet while Americans seem to have clear opinions on the shutdown, Cruz is a much less defined figure. In a poll from Quinnipiac University released last week, almost 60% of Americans said they did not know enough about Cruz to have an opinion about him. Among those who did, opinions were slightly more negative than positive.
Democrats working on the Virginia governor’s race tested Cruz’s name in a focus group with roughly 30 undecided voters race this past weekend, according to a person familiar with the session, which was held in the Washington suburbs where the shutdown’s impact is felt most acutely.
According to the source, Cruz was not a well-known personality among the voters. But when the Democratic operatives described Cruz as a tea party leader with a prominent role in the shutdown, and said he was appearing with Cuccinelli at the gala Saturday night, impressions of both men soured among the focus group participants.
Some Republican pragmatists, already worried that emboldened conservative hard-liners are tarnishing the party’s brand, acknowledge that Democrats appear to have found a potent weapon in Cruz.
David Kochel, a 26-year veteran of Iowa politics who managed Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in the battleground state, said bluntly that “swing voters are repelled by Cruz.”
Little personal downside for Cruz
But there is little personal downside in the high stakes fight for Cruz, an in-demand figure on the conservative speaking circuit who has designs on the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Having a Democratic bulls eye on his back only boosts his stature on the right, Kochel argued.
“It’s an interesting strategy that works to the benefit of Democrats who want to attach his brand to the GOP at a time when he’s underwater in approval ratings, but it also works to Cruz’s benefit because it elevates him with the GOP base,” he said.
Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican strategist, said Cruz is custom-built for today’s political environment, in which political leaders are often rewarded for combat and punished for compromise.
“The base loves him, he’s become the Official Enemy of the Left, and he’s raising major bank,” Wilson said. “This is the United States of Ambition, and he’s making his bones, fast.”
Cruz’s white-hot profile could easily fade in the coming months, well before the 2014 midterm cycle begins in earnest. But the Republican has shown a remarkably canny ability to maneuver his way into the national conversation.
As long as Cruz remains in the spotlight, Democrats have plans to use him to their advantage.
“Right now, Ted Cruz and the tea party has become a synonym for the problem, and we’re going to continue to use that against the Republicans who voted with him,” said one national Democratic strategist working on a number of House races. “How big that will be next year, the verdict is still out on that.”
POLITICO: CORNYN AVOIDS TEA PARTY CHALLENGE (AND RAISES $1.8M IN Q3)
Politico’s Katie Glueck reports:
In recent weeks, conservative purists have maligned the Senate’s second-most powerful Republican as a “turncoat,” questioning the sincerity of his opposition to Obamacare and charging that he deserves an election challenge.
But Texas Sen. John Cornyn doesn’t have a serious primary opponent, in contrast to several of his Republican Senate colleagues.
“I would like to think it’s because I’ve done a good job and people believe my record fits what you’d expect of a Texas senator,” he told POLITICO, the day his campaign’s first television ad buy went up. “That’s why we’re doing a little bit of advertising now, to remind people what that record is.”
And the chatter back at home indicates that as angry as tea party activists are, Cornyn probably doesn’t have much to worry about come 2014.“I am irritated as all get-out with him,” said Toby Marie Walker, president of the Waco Tea Party in Texas. But, she added, “we’ll see if we have a choice. Filing doesn’t close until December, but he may not have a challenger.”
In the eyes of tea partiers, Cornyn is an emblem of the D.C. establishment, a top member of Republican leadership as Senate minority whip and a recent two-term head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
But Cornyn is also generally regarded as a conservative even by Texas’s high standards. Tea party leaders paying careful attention were miffed at Cornyn in the past over his votes in support of policies like the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the fiscal cliff deal. But that grumbling had remained at a low simmer — until the most recent spending showdown, when he broke with the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz, on a procedural vote on a spending bill in which language over the health care law was a key sticking point.
That choice was billed by some conservatives as akin to supporting Obamacare, though Cornyn is vehemently opposed to the law. Still, it infuriated the tea party and led the Senate Conservatives Fund to blast Cornyn and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who does have a primary challenger — as “turncoats.” And at a recent panel with Texas tea party leaders hosted by The Texas Tribune, five of the six speakers onstage said they would like to see Cornyn challenged, with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey the sole exception.
Yet the newfound rage some in the grass roots are aiming at their senior senator may be coming too late. Compared with several other places in which incumbent Republican senators are facing varying degrees of serious tea party challenges — McConnell in Kentucky, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, Mike Enzi in Wyoming — Texas is a massive and astronomically expensive state in which to run a campaign.
That’s especially the case when the Republican primary, which is the only contest likely to matter in this race, occurs in early March, with a December filing deadline. Texas political observers note that it’s tough to raise enough money and name recognition to run statewide in about five months.
Tea party leaders promoting a challenge to Cornyn often invoke the Cruz legacy. The conservative firebrand came out of nowhere to trounce establishment favorite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the last Senate race.
“Nobody gave Ted Cruz a chance, you saw what happened,” said JoAnn Fleming, a leading tea party activist who wants to see Cornyn challenged. “I’m just saying, that same kind of dynamic is at work among the grass roots for the right candidate.”
But some observers say the Cruz comparison doesn’t translate well to Cornyn’s race. Cruz was running for an open seat and the campaign time frame was much longer, leaving more room to raise money and secure high-profile conservative endorsements from Sarah Palin and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
And Dewhurst, who now faces multiple challenges for his reelection bid, is not the candidate that Cornyn is, said Jim Henson, a Lone Star State pollster and the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
“Dewhurst went into that race very strong on paper but with people inside the process feeling he was weaker than he looked,” Henson said. “He was perceived among insiders as vulnerable … I just don’t think there is a perception of weakness around Cornyn.”
Several tea party-affiliated candidates in Texas have signaled that they’re running but so far none are considered viable.
“I think if a credible challenger emerged, and you have to underline ‘credible challenger,’ that there would be a lot of voters that took a look,” Henson said. “But the question that would remain would be, [would] a lot of elites and a lot of fundraisers take a look?”
Still, Cornyn isn’t resting easy. On Monday, his campaign went up with its first statewide TVad, backed by an initial buy of “several hundred thousand dollars,” an aide said. It flaunts his conservative credentials on issues like Obamacare, a balanced-budget amendment and the so-called death tax. “Our John Cornyn,” the ad says. “Conservative like you. Like Texas.”
“You never can take it for granted, particularly in this environment where out-of-state interest groups can finance races,” Cornyn said. “So we’re just getting prepared.”
He led all GOP Senate candidates in fundraising at least through June, and had $6.9 million in cash on hand at the end of last month, a Cornyn aide said Tuesday. The campaign also hired a campaign manager with ties to Cruz and to the tea party-bolstering group FreedomWorks. Cornyn’s campaign has also mounted an effort called “Keep It Red,” assisting the grass roots and the state party in local efforts to fend off Democrats eyeing the state. An aide emphasized that Cornyn also spends a lot of time in Texas, frequenting county dinners and GOP meetings across the state.
Some on Capitol Hill complain that he’s playing it too cautiously in Washington, taking safe votes even though no one has mounted a substantive challenge. Aside from breaking with Cruz on a cloture vote, Cornyn typically toes the conservative line.
“The landscape is much more fluid and in some cases more perilous than it has been historically,” said Ray Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Gov. Rick Perry. But “he has a record of consistent conservatism that others in Texas politics, other Republicans, do not have. That will serve him well.”
Debra Medina, a Texas tea party candidate who garnered nearly 20 percent of the GOP primary vote when she challenged Perry in 2010, said there’s energy at the grass-roots level to boost a late-entry primary challenger — but also acknowledged that money is a big impediment.
The tea party “has the ability to put boots on the ground and work for a candidate very quickly,” she said. “If that money were to come in, I think you could see a pretty significant campaign mobilize.”
But, she added, “that money is gonna have to get in pretty quick.”
Another factor working in Cornyn’s favor is a flurry of state elections occupying candidates who might otherwise have taken a look at the Senate seat. Perry’s decision to not seek reelection next year triggered a cascade of other contests for statewide positions that are now vacant. And vying for an open seat is often an easier task than challenging a well-established, well-funded incumbent.
“There’s all this lofty rhetoric about competition being good,” said Medina, who would like to see a viable challenger take on Cornyn. “But the reality is, an incumbent is very rarely unseated. It’s going to be a real test of the liberty wing, of the tea party wing of the party to demonstrate whether or not they can identify, fund and coalesce behind grass-roots candidates who can unseat a really entrenched [incumbent] … but he’s certainly leaving himself as a big open target.”
> In a related story, the Cornyn campaign released its 3rd quarter fundraising numbers this morning:$1.8M raised, $6.9M cash on hand.
BATTLEGROUND TEXAS BEEFS UP IN FORT WORTH
TT’s Jay Root reports:
Battleground Texas, the Democratic group trying to make the state politically competitive again, is relocating key staffers to Fort Worth as part of its increasingly energetic drive to help Sen. Wendy Davis in her race for governor.
While Battleground has said repeatedly it is focused on resurrecting the moribund Texas Democratic Party over the long term, the moves highlight the extent to which those hopes rest on Davis’ run for governor in the short term.
Battleground spokesman Ellis Brachman confirmed only that the group has ramped up staff in Fort Worth, where Davis has based her gubernatorial campaign.
“We’re really excited about the Wendy Davis campaign, and we’re going to be working closely with them, so of course we’re moving some staff to Tarrant County,” Brachman said in an email. Davis spokesman Bo Delp, meanwhile, said the organization would “have some staff working closely with us here in Fort Worth.”
Neither would elaborate.
According to Democratic donors and operatives, though, Battleground has increasingly focused its energies on getting Davis elected. One person working for the group — who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record — said that when phone calls to voters are made, volunteers say, “This is Battleground Texas calling on behalf of Wendy Davis.”
“We’re really focusing on Wendy now,” the worker said. Battleground staffers have also become a ubiquitous presence at Davis campaign events. At a recent one in Waxahachie, Davis supporters were asked to add their names to a Battleground Texas volunteer sign-up sheet.
Battleground director Jenn Brown, who ran President Obama’s successful field operation in the battleground state of Ohio in 2012, briefed donors and supporters about the group’s growing ties to the Davis campaign, and the relocation of staffers there, during a meeting last week at the Headliners Club in Austin, several of those present said.
Democratic operatives familiar with Battleground’s activities said decisions about which staffers go where are still being finalized and described the effort to coordinate activities with the Davis campaign as a work in progress. Given the size of the state, top staffers are spending a lot of time on the road, regardless.
According to an Austin Democratic strategist who was at the meeting last week and is familiar with Battleground’s plans, the goal of the coordination between the two groups is to have a substantially integrated voter identification, registration and turnout effort so that the campaigns do not have redundant field operations.
Democrats have not won statewide office since 1994, so Davis can use all the help she can get. Her most likely Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, had more than $20 million in the bank at last count, compared with more than $1 million for Davis. The next campaign finance reports aren’t due until January.
The brainchild of Jeremy Bird, Obama’s former national field director, Battleground Texas launched in February with the goal of making the state hospitable for Democrats. The group raised $1.1 million in the first half of the year and reported more than $600,000 in the bank as of July.
BURKA POURS COLD WATER ON WENDY’S CHANCES
TM’s Paul Burka weighs in on State Sen. Wendy Davis’ (D-Fort Worth) chances in the gubernatorial race:
Harry Enten, a political columnist for the Guardian, has written a piece arguing that Democrats should forget about Wendy Davis and Texas, and instead reallocate the party’s resources to state’s where the Democrats’ chances of winning key races are much better. Here is Enten’s thesis:
The issue is that resources are always limited. Sure, there are mega donors who will donate to every candidate they can. There are also volunteers who will hit the ground in Texas. There are, however, plenty of donors who will pick and choose their campaigns. There are folks who might go down to Texas to help Davis, when they could be somewhere else.
The dollars and volunteers spent for Davis lessens the opportunity that they be spent in other places. That’s a problem for Democrats given that they have a real opportunity to make major gubernatorial gains in 2014.
Democrats are far better positioned to regain control of the governor’s mansions in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. All these states have had at least one poll come out over the past year indicating that a Democrat led in the race for governor, which cannot be said about Texas.
By now, everyone who follows politics knows the case for why the Democrats should contest Texas. It is that if Democrats can turn Texas blue, the state’s rich harvest of 38 electoral votes gives the party a lock on the presidency. But the likelihood of a Democrat’s winning Texas is very low. Texas is a state where the half of the voters are white and evangelical. It doesn’t make sense for Democrats to go for the knockout punch in a state with those demographics. If they try, they’ll lose.
Enten argued this in July in another column
The math of Texas over the next dozen years is rather simple. Latinos might not even be 35% of the voting-eligible population by 2024, even as they are a larger share of the voting age population. Remember, you have to be a citizen to be able to vote, and a decent number of Latinos in Texas are not citizens (yet). White non-Hispanics should maintain a majority of the vote.
That’s key because, while polling in Texas is limited, we can infer that whites in Texas vote a lot more like those from South Carolina than those in New York. Add on the fact that Texas Latinos are not as overwhelmingly Democratic as they are nationwide, thanks in part to good Republican outreach, and what you have in Texas is an absolute sinkhole for the Democratic party.
I’m inclined to agree with Enten. Texas is not winnable by Democrats at this point in its political evolution. Hispanics have not matured as a voting constituency. Many Hispanics are small-business owners who tend to be conservative and pro-military; that is, natural Republicans. Even if Texas were to turn blue, Democrats would have to fight to win a majority of the Hispanic vote. Remember, George W. Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote nationwide in 2004. It is conceivable that Greg Abbott might have a meltdown, as Republican Claytie Williams, the gaffe-prone Republican nominee did in his race against Ann Richards in 1994, but Abbott is no Claytie. The only winning strategy for Democrats today is to hope for suburban white women to be very active voters on women’s health issues. Even then, the number of entrants in a multicandidate primary is going to make it all but impossible for Davis to win a plurality.
– The SAEN editorial board endorses the constitutional amendment on this year’s November ballot for water infrastructure.
– A PAC created to support the water effort raised nearly $1 million.
– The Tax Foundation dropped Texas out of its list of the top 10 states for their business tax climate.
– State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-TX) criticizes Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) in a Chron op ed for his refusal to have Texas participate in Obamacare.
2013 / 2014 / 2016:
– LA Times’ Mark Z. Barabak reports on State Sen. Davis’ “no label” strategy in her run for Governor.
Other stories of interest:
– 52 individuals have been named in a wide-ranging federal indictment related to a drug conspiracy in South Texas.
– U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) criticizes the Congressional exemption (subsidy) in Obamacare in a Chron op ed.
– AP’s Jim Vertuno reports on UT athletic director search.
– Sports Illustrated reviews the UT athletics program.
– The first ski resort in North Korea is about what you’d expect.
– An expert believes the U.S. will not be a top eight seed in the 2014 World Cup.
– Kobe Bryant says he is ahead of schedule.
– The NFL will play three games in London next year.
Your Daily Source of Inspiration:
– Absolutely amazing.