I think I can speak for nearly all the pundits in the right side blogosphere when I say that we’re going to miss Wendy Davis. Few candidates have offered more fun coverage and easy peasy headlines than the pink sneaker wonder delivered during the 2014 races. When the end came, it came down like a hammer, and even with all of the rosy pictures being drawn by Texas Democrats about shifting demographics and a new majority, Davis took home a brutal, 20 point drubbing for her efforts. (Prompting Salon to proclaim that White Women had let down the entire state.) But according to her supporters, she was supposed to be viable all the way to the end. Even if she wasn’t elected governor, it should have been close. So where exactly did this campaign go completely off the rails?
Ross Douthat has some theories.
It should be said, and many people are saying it, that Davis and her team ran a poorer-than-expected campaign overall, and that the allegedly-brilliant team running the Democrats’ new Texas ground game were not in fact so brilliant. But the more important issue, surely, is that the Democrats decided that it made sense to run, well, Wendy Davis as their “change-the-map” candidate in Texas. Nunn and Carter in Georgia were nominations that fit reasonably well with the facts on the ground, and while they obviously disappointed Nunn did at least outperform the last two Democratic Senate nominees in her state. Davis, on the other hand, actually underperformed the Democratic nominee’s totals in the last two head-to-head races against Rick Perry … which is, again, pretty much exactly what you’d expect when you nominate a figure who owed her prominence to a filibuster on late-term abortion to contest a statewide rate in Texas.
The author also shoots down comparisons which are being made between Davis and the ill fated campaign of Christine O’Donnell.
The Christine O’Donnell thing really did happen more or less by accident, because she happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch an anti-establishment wave and win a primary in which she was supposed to be a protest candidate. Whereas the Davis experiment was intentionally designed: She was treated to fawning press coverage, lavished with funding, had the primary field mostly cleared for her, and was touted repeatedly as part of an actual party strategy for competing in a conservative-leaning state. Of course she had a much more impressive resume than O’Donnell, with less witchcraft and real political experience, and in that sense she made a more credible candidate overall.
But Douthat acknowledges that while O’Donnell lost, she outperformed the polls and the professionals’ expectations going into the general contest. Davis was just destroyed. Yet none of this explains exactly how the Texas Democrat strategists got this so completely wrong.
Perhaps the answer might once again be found in the apparent mistake which Democrats around the country have made time and time again. Too many strategists fall into the trap of treating demographic groups of people as if they were monolithic entries in pigeonholes which can be placed on a war room map and shoved back and forth. Yes, the demographics of Texas are shifting (along with much of the country) and the voting base is becoming decidedly more Hispanic. But despite repeated evidence that the Hispanic population frequently leans toward social conservative views, the Democrat Monday morning quarterbacks still seem to base their analysis on the assumption that nobody could ever possibly vote for a Republican except for elderly white people.
Perhaps it is precisely that sort of insulting generalization which leads liberals to consistently under-perform with Hispanic voters. By now it should have occurred to at least some of them that the quality of the candidate and the positions they embrace are more important to many voters than whether they have a D or an R after their name. And that lesson is true whether your name is Smith or Garcia. Maybe this wasn’t a failure of some grand strategy session at the Texas Democrat headquarters after all. Just maybe the house of cards fell down because you nominated somebody who became famous due to arguing in favor of third term abortions. Perhaps it was because her team was so incompetent that they constantly stuck their foot in their collective mouths by making awkward references to Greg Abbot being in a wheelchair, painting their candidate as an unsympathetic, heartless shrew.
Or maybe you just shouldn’t mess with Texas. Better luck next time, and we’ll eagerly wait to see what lessons you take from this adventure.