Point Austin: Money Matters, and the Senate

Can the Dems find (and fund) the candidate to beat Cornyn?

Point Austin: Money Matters, and the Senate

Like cocktail hour, it's always campaign season somewhere. Currently, we're in the summer lull between candidate announcements and the official filing window, when campaign teams take to the airwaves and the email lists to announce fundraising totals ... in order to generate more fundraising.

Although I'm not among those who believe money is all that matters in politics, it's a fact that if a candidate can't raise sufficient funds to campaign, she is not going to find enough voters to win. Each campaign season, earnest candidates with the best of intentions reach out to reporters for coverage, and it becomes clear that they can't raise enough financial support to recruit a field team, host events, or canvass voters ... let alone pay for social or broadcast media advertising. And among a brace of accumulating candidates, reporters will inevitably be skeptical of those who can't find resources sufficient to run an effective campaign.

I've been following the local congressional primary campaigns and speculatively attempting to sort out the sure-shots, the long-shots, and the no-shots. It's hardly an exact science – and it's still early – but among the six districts that cross Austin, right now it looks like we'll see competitive primary and general campaigns in TX-10 (Austin to Houston); TX-21 (Austin-Kerrville-San Antonio), and just maybe in TX-31 (Williamson/Bell Counties). That's not only because of money, but ... it certainly helps, and in those three (currently primary) campaigns, there's enough to go around.

Cornyn vs. ... ?

The money question becomes more insistent for a statewide Texas race. It's at least possible to run a congressional campaign with relatively constrained resources – albeit less so in our extremely gerrymandered districts – but a U.S. Senate campaign is another matter altogether. To reach 29 million people through 19 media markets takes considerable cash, even if you decide to drive through all 254 Texas counties in a pickup truck. (In case you've forgotten, in 2018 Beto O'Rourke raised and spent roughly $80 million; Ted Cruz, $46 million.)

It’s possible to run a congressional campaign with relatively constrained resources – albeit less so in our extremely gerrymandered districts – but a U.S. Senate campaign is another matter altogether.

Incumbent Republican John Cornyn is currently sitting on roughly $9 million, which will certainly swell to several times that amount by spring. There are now a half dozen Democratic candidates seeking the nomination, but only MJ Hegar has been running long enough to have declared funding: As of June 30, she had raised about $1 million and spent $400,000. The others who've declared – Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards, state Sen. Royce West, former Congressman Chris Bell, activist Sema Hernandez – have not yet filed fundraising reports, and presumably this quarter will begin to separate the contenders from the also-rans.

Although Cornyn is indistinguishable from other GOP senators on policy (always the gray eminence standing portentously behind Mitch McConnell), he doesn't carry Cruz's intense personal negatives that undoubtedly helped O'Rourke. Once O'Rourke, Wendy Davis, and Julián Castro passed (for now?) on the Senate contest, the lower-profile names in the race will need as big a message and as many resources as they can find. Right now, Hegar is building on her military heroism, her previous campaign in TX-31, and an inventive (and no doubt expensive) advertising campaign branding her as a no-nonsense veteran, mother, and feminist.

Money vs. Madness

Bell, Edwards, and West arguably have big-city bases to fall back on and draw from, and the next quarter of fundraising will show us who among this group can assemble sufficient statewide resources to survive a likely primary run-off, with enough left over to take on a nervous national GOP conglomerate. Money alone is never sufficient – that's why Tom DeLay and his successors so radically gerrymandered Texas to make districts uncompetitive for a generation – but without it, even the best and most well-meaning candidates are whispering into the wind.

Early Money, as the acronym goes, Is Like Yeast. Some will watch their bread rise, and others will be hoping for the eventual reversal of Citizens United. Until that happens (along with a great many other necessary political changes), we will be governed by the ungodly American combination of deep pockets, fickle populism, and racial polarization. The latter has become the default electoral strategy of the Grand Old Party, finally led by an inheritance-and-TV-manufactured grifter and con man who subscribes to only one political principle, of yet venerable American vintage: Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

March 2020 Primaries, Texas Senate, Beto O'Rourke, Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Amanda Edwards, Royce West, Chris Bell, Sema Hernandez, Mitch McConnell, Wendy Davis, Julián Castro, MJ Hegar, Citizens United, Grand Old Party, TX-10, TX-21, TX-31

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