Friday, March 17, 2006

Dallas Is Drowning -- Help!!

To paraphrase Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, to nominate a do-nothing candidate for Senator once may be regarded as a misfortune; to renominate him again looks like carelessness.

The Democratic candidates for Judge and other county-wide offices in Dallas County may all be doomed this fall. It won't be their own fault, but that won't save them. Their fate is now in the hands of voters in Democratic Runoff on April 11. If the wrong person wins that election, then no Democrat is likely to win county-wide in Dallas.

The reason is that the very first office people will see on the ballot in November is not President, or Governor, but United States Senator. Pundits assume incumbent Kay Hutchison will pick up lots of independent voters because by contrast with other Republicans her style seems more "moderate". (Her voting record does not, however.). If so, other Democratic candidates still can win some of those swing voters back.

The problem for those lower on the ballot is if the Democratic candidate actually loses a lot of Democratic base votes, who either crossover in the first race listed, or just refuse to vote a straight party ticket, because they won't support that Democrat for Senator. Could this happen? Yes, it did happen six years ago -- with a candidate who is running again in this year's runoff.

Gene Kelly is a perennial candidate, who files for something almost every two years in the Democratic Primary. In years with no opposition he has actually won the nomination for offices like the Supreme Court. He never won in the general election because he never campaigned. Not at all. Not one bit. He simply relied on the familiarity of his name, because of people vaguely remembering the late dancer and actor. In 2000 he tried for even higher office by filing for U.S. Senator. His capacity for delusion was shown by his comment to virtually the only reporter who managed to actually get to talk to him. Kelly said Al Gore needed him on the ballot to help Gore win.

Unfortunately, the state party that year had adopted a strategy of not making a serious race against incumbent Senator Hutchison, so as not to stir her up to a massive campaign effort. Several unfunded unknowns entered. Kelly's false name ID put him in the runoff with a former one-term State Representative named Charles Gandy. Gandy did the best he could, campaigning and winning endorsements from everyone who looked at the race. But with no money, and no other statewide runoffs to draw voters out, Gandy failed.

That fall, Kelly refused to campaign, as usual. When the votes were counted it turned out that he had not helped Gore win. Running in the home state of both Bush and Cheney, Gore still got over four hundred thousand more votes than Kelly, while 130,000 people skipped the Senate race altogether, and the Libertarian and Green Senate candidates each got big jumps from protest voters shunning Kelly. The other two statewide Democratic candidates, both for the state Court of Criminal Appeals, got half a million more votes than Kelly did.

This had a terrible effect in local races. In Dallas County, the only Democratic candidate for Judge, Mary Ann Huey, lost by just 0.74%, while actually winning at the polls on election day by 23,000 votes. The Democratic candidate for Sheriff (an office the party went on to win just four years later) was just behind, again winning at the polls on election day by 5,000 votes. The difference was the drop-off in straight party voting because of Gene Kelly.

Democrats have been gaining ground in Dallas County. Encouraged by changing demographics, a win in 2002, and several in 2004, there are forty-seven local Democrats running county-wide this year. All of them will suffer a serious loss of the straight ticket voters that are vital to down-ballot races if Gene Kelly is once again the Democratic nominee for Senator. The effect is likely to be even worse this time than in 2000, because Kelly's name would be the very first one voters would see on the ballot. Instead of electing several more Judges and other local Democrats, the growth of the party would be set back by years.

Fortunately, this time Kelly does have a serious and credible opponent in the Runoff, who actually does have some money to spend. Barbara Ann Radnofsky has been campaigning for months, and has already earned the endorsements of every paper, organization, Democratic club, elected official, party officer, and Democratic web log which has endorsed in this race. I have not found a single exception anywhere. She almost beat him (and a third candidate, who advocated making Mexico the 51st state) without a runoff, but underestimated the memory of the state's Democrats about Kelly's disaster in 2000. She will make a very good candidate against Hutchison, and will not cause hundreds of thousands of Democrats to desert the ticket and leave those candidates for Judge and other offices hanging in the wind.

"What are you prepared to do?" --Sean Connery's dying words in The Untouchables

If you want those many fine down-ballot people to have a real chance to win this year (not just in Dallas County, but across the rest of the state as well), you need to do all you can to remind Democrats about Kelly's Crash Landing in 2000. You need to make sure Democrats do go back to vote in the Runoff, and vote for Barbara Ann Radnofsky. Endorsements don't vote; people do -- if they are reminded to.

Since Kelly got most of his unknowing support from rural counties where she had not campaigned, it is especially vital to spread the word in any of those areas. If you know any good Democrats in those places, email, call, write, and plead with them to go vote for her, and to drag as many others as they can to do the same. Turnout will likely be much smaller and a few votes may make all the difference, between a serious statewide campaign with a lot of local victories, or a disaster the people will be suffering from for a long time to come.


Blogger Rory Shock said...

so are candidate name changes the wave of the future ... I'm pretty sure that Fred Astaire would have a damn good chance of beating Gene Kelly in a primary

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Mathwiz said...

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I may have actually voted for Gene Kelly in 2000. It wasn't because I thought he was the actor/dancer, though.

It was my first Texas election, and I had no idea who he was, other than the Democrat running against Hutchison. So I assumed he had a small, but non-zero chance of winning, and voted for him.

If I'd known anything about him, I'd probably have voted Green Party for Senate. (I did vote for Nader, knowing that W had Texas's electoral votes sewn up, and wanting the Greens to get to the 5% threshold. Of course, had I lived in a swing state like Fla., I would've voted for Gore.)

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Mathwiz said...

so are candidate name changes the wave of the future...?

This is probably an urban legend, but I heard that someone in Fla. once tried to legally change his name to Mickey Mouse, so as to win the write-in vote!

I wonder if I could change my name to None Of The Above....

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, the straight Dem vote in Dallas County was already diminished by the Craig-never-paid-a-bill-without-being-sued-Watkins win in the DA's race.
But the rest of the state still has a chance to keep that straight Dem vote by putting Radnofsky at the top of the ticket.

5:34 PM  

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