It appears Texas Democrats are hoping the 2018 Beto-mania (which failed – but gave them hope) transitions into Joaquin-mania in 2020.
There’s a lot of tea leaf reading going on – but Texas Monthly is pretty sure San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro is going to challenge U.S. Senator John Cornyn.
“We’ll be making an announcement in the very near future,” said Matthew Jones, Castro’s campaign adviser.
“This instantly makes the race very competitive,” Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist and longtime political observer, said of Joaquin’s potential entry into the race. Running in tandem with his brother, who announced his candidacy for president on January 12 in San Antonio, would only benefit both candidates, Miller said, and “doubles up on all the positives.” When asked if Cornyn was vulnerable, Miller said, “Every Republican senator up for election next year is vulnerable.”
“This is quite an important development,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “Beto proved Texas can be competitive, and this means that Cornyn is really going to have to work hard to raise money and work hard to earn votes—and Republicans in Texas are not used to doing that.”
I’m not sure I buy the notion O’Rourke’s almost success against Ted Cruz means Castro will suddenly make Cornyn’s re-election uncertain (although anything is possible because it is politics). The main factor hurting Cruz is the fact he’s Cruz – and a figure who rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Multiple conservative friends of mine were livid at Cruz last year because they believe he had changed from the person they supported in 2012. Traditionally Republican Texans were also turned off by his Patrick Henry-esque approach to campaigning and rhetoric – something I like, for the record – and his sometimes unwillingness to play nice with his own party.
Cornyn doesn’t have these problems – even though a Quinnipiac poll from last month showed he only had 43% approval. The rating is a bit of a misnomer because a whopping 31% (including 26% of Republicans and 34% of Independents) were in the “Don’t Know/No Answer” category. One would guess it would change as more and more people start paying attention to politics in the run-up to November 2020. Cornyn’s personality is more genteel to Cruz and he plays nice with pretty much everyone. This will go far with those who are not part of Cruz’ base – and Cruz has already endorsed Cornyn for re-election meaning his staunchest supporters will probably (?) pick Cornyn in 2020.
Cornyn isn’t planning to take any potential Castro run lightly – which he shouldn’t. Via The Texas Tribune:
“Whether it’s Hurricane Harvey relief or the Green New Deal, time and again Congressman Castro has stood with Nancy Pelosi at the expense of Texans,” Jackson said in a statement. “John Cornyn looks forward to contrasting the Democrat-Socialist agenda with the policies that have made Texas the best state to live, work, and raise a family.”
This does not mean Cornyn’s victory over Joaquin Castro is all but certain. Texas is slowly turning purple – specifically on a local level. Democrats enjoyed gains in judicial races – mostly in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. Democrats also won the Harris County judgeship – a feat which hadn’t happened since 1974. There’s a definite purple hue in Texas, even though it may not be as bright (or dim) as people think.
Of course, Cornyn enjoys a nice fundraising lead (almost $6M) and his hire of former Texas Republican Party chair Steve Munisteri is extremely wise because of his focus on outreach. One would guess Cornyn is going to press hard once the 2020 race starts in earnest and make sure his name is plastered all across Texas in billboard and commercials (something Cruz was rather lackadaisical on until the final part of last year’s race). He can also play the, ‘Hey, I’m one of the top U.S. Senators for the GOP. When Mitch McConnell retires, wouldn’t you want me to be the lead GOP in the Senate?’ card, which could play well in certain circles.
There is a wild card in all this: the VP slot on the 2020 Democratic ticket. Let’s say O’Rourke or Julian Castro (Joaquin’s twin) gets tapped as a VP nominee. It is completely possible more Texas Democrats and those who are enamored with O’Rourke decide to turn out to help Joaquin Castro. The aforementioned success of local Democrats in 2018 was probably helped by Beto-mania, especially in races where Republicans weren’t used to anything really competitive.
A Cornyn v. Castro race would be quite interesting to watch, one way or the other. The Castros have been biding their time in Texas political circles as they hope to increase their own profile in the state. I honestly thought Joaquin Castro would target the governor’s mansion whenever Governor Greg Abbott decided to vacate, since next in line for the GOP would be Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (who was Trump before Trump). The advent of Beto-mania – which was a short-term failure, but could have long-term benefits – has obviously pushed Castro’s timeline – and possibly his sights – up a bit.