A Fascinating and Completely Whimsical Look Ahead to Texas 2024 and Beyond Elections
The Texas primary is this week, and no one seems to really care. So looking ahead to 2024, right before we know who will contest the general election in 2022 seems completely appropriate somehow.
Democratic Party Look Ahead
Longtime Democratic Party stalwarts including the former San Antonio Mayor and Obama administration HUD head Julian Castro and Wendy Davis, have sat out this cycle. And the other Castro brother, Joaquin (the one still in office as a Congressman, statewide readers can be excused from the embarrassment of not being able to remember which Castro is which Castro), also declined to run for statewide office. What do the Castros do has been a great Texas Democrat politics guessing game for some years, and so far the answer really hasn't affected any races. That will be the question of the day again in the Democratic Party in 2024 and beyond probably until one or both runs and either wins or gets beat. Without a statewide win in Texas since the mid 90s, the Democrats' bench of candidates with either name recognition or successful campaigners in large campaigns remains witheringly thin.
Davis who rose to prominence with her abortion filibuster in the state senate and won the Democratic Governor's nomination in 2014 suffered another high profile loss this time in a Congressional campaign against Chip Roy in a 2020 run, despite attempting a legal coup to keep the Green candidate off the ballot and pad her odds. Is it possible she is done statewide? With one of the best statewide name recognitions of the Democratic Party but simply no electoral success to show for it. Joaquin Castro may well believe that running for any race larger than Congress in Texas as a Democrat is simply quixotic, and Julian Castro has struggled to find a impactful role since the Obama Administration. But the Democratic Party in 2024 is likely going to need to find something to shore up the shifting sands in its historic South Texas Hispanic voting base bulwark, and the Castros out of San Antonio as the most successful Latino politicians in Texas would seem to be part of the answer.
Congressman Beto O'Rourke is a lock to face Greg Abbott in the Governor's race, but the shiny new copper penny peripatetic magic of the 2018 run (and not facing a flawed candidate in Ted Cruz without the broader center support that Abbott has enjoyed), there is no indication that the general election will be close this time. Assuming an O'Rourke loss in 2022, following O'Rourke losses to Cruz and then the brutal failure to break out in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, what does O'Rourke do? The options seem stark, either retire from electoral politics, mount a 4th statewide/national challenge as a perennial banner bearer destined never to win, or challenge down ballot and reset. We expect the latter, unless the 2022 Governor's race is ultimately down to the wire.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is term limited out after this cycle. He is Democrat (though Mayor is technically a non partisan race). Turner has not signaled publicly any plans beyond this term, but if he chooses to run for a partisan office would be a formidable challenger, having proven able to raise significant money and has won two tough fought elections facing runoffs in both once from the center (edging independent Bill King in 2015 by 10,000 votes in Texas largest non statewide race), and the right (Republican Tony Buzbee 2019, who beat King to face Turner in the runoff but struggled in the head to head when alone against Turner in left leaning Houston electorate). While statewide name recognition is a challenge for any Texas Mayor (seriously can any of you name the current mayors of even Houston, Dallas, San Antonio or Austin?), Turner is a formidable fundraiser and campaigner in Texas' largest electoral base. We have a hard time envisioning Turner, who is a whirlwind of activity in Houston, withdrawing from public life, and I'd expect at least exploration of a challenge for an open statewide race, or Congress, might be in the cards.
We would expect Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher of Houston, who took the former Republican stronghold of John Culberson, Bill Archer and George HW Bush, and looks to be able to hold it this year, to be well positioned as a strong candidate for a statewide Democratic nomination in 2024 or 2026 were she to chase one, but why would she mess up a good thing to get slaughtered statewide?
The 2022 wildcard this year was the toying by actor and activist Matthew McConaughey who declined to run for Governor in 2022, and has not signaled which party preference he has, though was most widely expected to run as a Democrat if he did. His move paved the way for O'Rourke, and he had polled very well in our last way too early straw poll. Similar rumors have swirled around Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for some years.
Republican Party Questions
The largest questions in the Republican Party, now that Greg Abbott appears to have the 2022 primary well in hand, surround do Governor Greg Abbott or Sen. Ted Cruz run for President in 2024, and what if any race does that open up? Does entrenched and controversial Lt. Governor Dan Patrick ever retire, or is Ken Paxton ever forced out of office over his perennial ethics and legal challenges?
What do former legislator Don Huffines and former Florida Congressman and Texas GOP state party chair Allen West do, both popular with wings of the Republican grassroots party, after they split the primary vote and fail to dislodge Abbott this cycle? Either would be formidable primary opponents were a statewide open seat to emerge in 2024.
If Ag Commissioner Sid Miller survives his primary challenges this week (as generally expected) the larger than life West Texas, cowboy hat wearing, somewhat controversial experienced campaigner and former legislator would be expected to win in 2022, and has long been considered to be eyeing the Governorship or other office once done as Ag Commissioner. Miller remains one of the few candidates of any party with strong name recognition statewide.
We expect far right wing Republican State Representative Mase Middleton (a successful grassroots challenger who led the legislative drive to tamp down the Libertarian Party candidate numbers in 2019), to eventually seek higher office, as well as Conservative Republican Congressman Chip Roy, an experienced campaigner and a former staffer to both Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.
And Land Commissioner George P Bush, who was embroiled in the Alamo controversy and is challenging embattled Attorney General Paxton. Should he get Paxton into a runoff and poll well, or topple Paxton, we'd expect him to use that as a strong platform for a future run for Governor, Senator, or Congress. I mean, why not?
Third Party Impact
Two potential Libertarian statewide candidates for 2022, Wes Benedict, who was formerly executive director of the Texas Party, and the national party, and Ted Brown, the well liked Texas State Party's candidate coordinator, a perennial candidate and activist transplant who was formerly State Chair of the Libertarian Party of California, barely missed the residency window for this cycle for statewide office, and a third, Whitney Bilyeu, the current State Chair and former State Board of Education Nominee, took the Chair of the national party instead this year. Another, former Executive Director and experienced campaigner Lauren Daugherty took the Executive Directorship of Young Americans for Liberty.
Note both Matthew McConaughey, Bill King and Houston right libertarian radio talk show host Kenny Webster turned down recruitment drives from the Libertarian Party, prior to 2018 Governor Nominee Mark Tippetts agreeing to run a second time in 2022. The LP in Texas continues to remain one well known and resourced candidate away from playing major spoiler in the race (a role the author came very close on the 2018 Senate campaign between Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke. Party candidates have done so in high profile down ballot races like 2018 Harris County Judge Race where Libertarian Eric Gatlin played spoiler to long time Judge Ed Emmett in a close race where turnout was driven by the Beto O'Rourke effect - shockingly handing unknown Lina Hidalgo a Democratic win in effectively the highest ranked Democratic partisan win in the state in decades.
The SAM Party is expected to launch a petition drive for ballot access in Texas in 2024, and with former independent Houston mayoral candidate and Mayor of Kemah Bill King at the helm, along with former Democrat Congressman Chris Bell, we'd expect for the first time we may see a third third party on Texas ballot potentially with an experienced campaigner and fundraiser at the helm.
No significant Green Party candidate recruitments are known.