, Port Arthur, Texas


October 4, 2012

Democrat Sadler hopes for high turnout

AUSTIN — The cliché "hope springs eternal" has got to apply to Paul Sadler, the Democratic nominee to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who isn't seeking re-election this year.

Sadler, the former chairman of the House Public Education Committee for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is trying to do something no Texas Democrat has done since 1988 – win election to the U.S. Senate.

And Texas Democrats hold the unwelcome distinction of being the state that has gone the longest of any state without winning a statewide election for anything.

The last Democratic victories in statewide elections were in 1994, and all those who won were incumbent office-holders seeking re-election. In 1998, Republicans swept every statewide office, and Democrats have suffered a statewide victory drought ever since.

Politifact Texas' W. Gardner Selby of the Austin American-Statesman found that every other state has elected a Democrat since then -- even in the reddest of Republican states.

One of the things Sadler is hoping for is that the Republican voters choosing Tea Party-backed former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in their primary runoff will have presented a GOP nominee so far to the right that he will leave independent voters wanting someone more centrist.

Sadler, as chair of the Public Education Committee in the 1990s, and also of a special committee dealing with an education tax bill in 1997, worked closely with then-Republican Gov. George W. Bush.

A second Sadler hope is that the increased vote in a presidential election year will bring out a lot of extra Democratic-leaning voters who don't show up in non-presidential election years.

The increase in the voter turnout for the last three presidential elections in Texas -- in 2008, 2004, and 2000 – was more than 60 percent higher than the previous gubernatorial election.

So if the presumption can be made that the turnout for the 2012 election in Texas will be at least 60 percent higher than the turnout of 4,979,870 in the 2010 gubernatorial election, almost 3 million more people will vote in 2012 than voted in 2010.

While Sadler is fighting into a stiff headwind, if he should lose, Texas is gradually trending back in a Democratic direction. And the name identification and organization he is developing this year could position him to run for an office in 2014 like attorney general, or even governor.

There have been several Texas politicians over the years who have run statewide and lost, and later run statewide and won. Among them were Gov. Dolph Briscoe, U.S. Sen. Ralph W. Yarborough, Atty. Gen. John L. Hill, U.S. Sen. John Tower, and U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson.

• • •

Sadler has challenged Cruz to six debates, but has complained because Cruz only accepted two.

Cruz, obviously not wanting to give Sadler any more exposure than necessary, has said he's got a busy schedule. Sadler charges that Cruz is too busy hobnobbing with Washington lobby groups.

The first debate was held on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m. at WFAA-TV in Dallas. The second is scheduled in Dallas at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, at public TV state KERA.

KERA says it is offering the feed of that debate to all Texas TV and radio outlets. It will also be available on the Internet.

• ••

The last Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas, in 1988, was the late Lloyd Bentsen, an incumbent of 18 years at the time. He was also former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis' vice-presidential nominee that year.

Bentsen and Dukakis got just 43.5 percent of the vote in Texas, against George H.W. Bush, but Bentsen nonetheless got 59.2 percent in his Senate re-election bid. He retired from the Senate in 1993 to become treasury secretary in President Bill Clinton's administration.

Then-Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, appointed then-Railroad Commissioner Bob Kreuger to replace Bentsen. But Krueger got just a third of the vote against Hutchison in the special election runoff for the remainder of the term.

While it may be wishful for Sadler to try to win election to the Senate, despite the uphill battle, some Democrat has been on the ballot for every Senate election.

In case you were wondering, here are the Democratic Senate nominees, beginning in 1990, and how they did:

— 1990 – State Sen. Hugh Parmer, 37.4 percent against Sen. Phil Gramm.

— 1994 – Dallas Investor Richard Fisher, 38.3 percent against Sen. Hutchison.

— 1996 – Schoolteacher Victor Morales, 43.9 percent against Gramm.

— 2000 – Gadfly Gene Kelly, not the movie dancer, 32.3 percent against Hutchison.

— 2002 – Former Texas Secretary of State and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, 43.3 percent against Republican former Texas Atty. Gen. John Cornyn.

— 2006 – Houston attorney Barbara Ann Radnofsky, 36 percent against Hutchison.

— 2008 – Former state Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston, 42.8 percent against Cornyn.

Contact McNeely at or 512/458-2963.

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