Texas Democrats are having trouble convincing themselves that victory is within reach this election cycle—even though the evidence is everywhere. One of the few facts that seem to unite a majority of the voting population is that they don’t like Governor Rick Perry. In the state House, only four Democratic pickups (not an impossibility) could signal the end of Speaker Tom Craddick’s reign. Nationally, the Democrats need 15 seats to retake the U.S. House. There could be as many as 40 contested House races at the end of the day. A few are turning into easy wins: Republican money has refused to compete with Nick Lampson for Tom DeLay’s Sugar Land seat; the GOP candidate is a write-in. The felonious sleaze from the Jack Abramoff scandal has already sent Republican Congressman Bob Ney into retirement and soon to jail. The Mark Foley-Congressional Page scandal is threatening to engulf a number of GOP members including, ironically, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Campaign, Rep. Tom Reynolds. The Senate is also in reach. The Republican National Committee has all but abandoned Pennsylvania, Montana, and Rhode Island. They’ve set up a “firewall” strategy to try and hold onto Ohio, Tennessee, and Missouri.
And yet somehow Democrats can’t quite believe. It’s not that Democrats don’t see what a decade of Republican rule has wrought—and fear for the future because of it. Hell, most of the country feels that way. Public opinion of the White House and the Republican Congress is in the toilet. In Texas, Democrats understand better than Republicans that the budget choices of today will determine the social and economic realities of tomorrow. Three decades from now the state can be a booming economic powerhouse or an anarchic third-world economy depending on how seriously Texas takes its health care and education responsibilities at this moment. Add Perry’s contributor-driven agenda of the Trans-Texas Corridor and school vouchers and the stakes this Election Day are clear. In Washington, Democratic control of the House means, above all, oversight. A functioning intelligence system in perilous times, constitutional rights like habeas corpus, and societal compacts like social security all hang in the balance.
Still Democrats hesitate. Republicans have spent the past decade beating Democrats like redheaded stepchildren. The minority party has the aspect of the whipped dog about them. The Republicans are masterful campaigners; brazen and ruthless. Who else would attack a legless Vietnam veteran—Georgia’s Max Cleland—as soft on terrorism? As revolutionaries they disdain the rules and would rather attack straw men than participate in real debates. From a distance, they seemed a likeable bunch. Only now, among the American electorate, familiarity has bred contempt. It’s clear the Uniter-Not-the-Divider wears no clothes. Even the court herald Bob Woodward has declared it thus.
Maybe Democrats refuse to believe because their candidates project the earnestness of do-gooders rather than the magnetic certainty of the radical. Take for example gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell. The man doesn’t have much Elvis, just a stubborn confidence and the promise of common sense over ideology. The other side has perfect hair and a sheen of folksy charm. Even Bell’s independent challengers have funny one-liners and fiery stump speeches. “I liked Bell,” one political science graduate in San Marcos told the Texas State University Star after the Texas gubernatorial debate, “but I don’t think he has what it takes to be elected as far as charisma goes.”
The simple truth is that if Democrats just went to the polls this November 7 and voted for their candidates, Rick Perry and his ilk would be history. It’s apathy and cynicism, not Republicans, that are the true enemies of change.