Yarbrough: 'Ready To Roll Up My Sleeves'

How did this retired school teacher end up in a Democratic run-off?

Grady Yarbrough
Grady Yarbrough

If raw experience decided primaries, then former state Rep. Paul Sadler would have secured the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator on primary day. So how did he end up facing retired public schoolteacher Grady Yarbrough in a run-off? Why not his other challengers, Beaumont bureaucrat Addie Dainell Allen or Dallas businessman Sean Hubbard? Both have stronger Democratic credentials than Yarbrough: Hubbard was an Obama '08 organizer, while Allen describes herself as a lifelong Democrat. By contrast, Yarbrough ran for the Republican nomination for land commissioner in 1986 and 1990 before running for state treasurer as a Democrat in 1994 – unsuccessfully every time. So how did he slip through to the second round?

Ask Yarbrough, and he puts it down to demographics. Hubbard and Sadler are white, while he and Allen are African-American. With Texas now being roughly half white and half minority residents, he said "The population can't stand a one and two finisher from the same demographic."

Many Democrats have pigeonholed Yarbrough alongside another perennial candidate, Gene Kelly – an even more famous name – who ran and lost in every election cycle between 1992 and 2008. Indeed, Sadler vs. Yarbrough raises the specter of the 2006 Senate race, when Kelly forced eventual winner Barbara Radnofsky into a run-off, wasting months of campaign time and resources. Unlike Kelly, Yarbrough actually shows a few signs of a campaign – barely. His website is his Facebook page, and he answers his own phone. He's self-funding his run, sinking roughly $35,000 into the first round. He plans to spend the same on the run-off and has said he is eying how much TV time he can afford in key markets.

His politics are, for the most part, mainstream Democratic. He described the job done by Sens. John Cornyn and the departing Kay Bailey Hutchison as "far below par, and it doesn't represent 95 to 98 percent of the people in the state." If he were senator, he said, he would push for the DREAM Act, and beef it up to cover the parents of undocumented children raised in the U.S – yet he also suggested a "Berlin Wall" at the border to block illegal immigrants.

Yarbrough insists that Sadler's years in the Legislature have little relevance in today's political climate, even though he himself remains a candidate with no legislative experience whatsoever. Much like the Tea Party activists, he portrays himself as a "throw all the bums out" alternative to a failed status quo. Yet he rejects the role of electoral underdog, and bristles rather than responding to Sadler's specific comments and charges. He also dismisses the notion that starting with a Senate seat is a major leap for a three-time electoral loser. "Nothing is too big for me," he said. "I'm ready to roll up my sleeves."

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