Nov. 3, 2004, 10:41PM
State Democrats regroup after resounding defeats
Ousted incumbents look ahead to 2006 elections
By R.G. RATCLIFFE
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
AUSTIN - Republicans put six Democratic congressmen
out of work through redistricting. But, in an
unintended consequence, the Republicans also may have
created a pool of candidates for the Democrats to draw
on in the 2006 statewide elections.
Only one of of the unemployed congressmen is near
retirement age. None was ready for their political
career to end. And all could bring experience and
political organization to a new set of political
"Obviously, some of these guys are going to make great
candidates in the future, and some will retire, but it
does increase the pool size for potential statewide
candidates," said Texas Democratic Party Executive
Director Mike Lavigne.
Texas Republican Chairwoman Tina Benkiser said the
losses may give the Democrats a new "team," but she
would rather take the improved position Republicans
gained Tuesday by winning offices from Congress down
to county courthouses. She said the GOP now holds
about 2,000 of the 5,000 elective state and county
offices in Texas.
"The county officials of today are going to be our
future state and national leaders. Our bench is very,
very deep and continues to grow deeper," Benkiser
With Republicans holding every statewide office and a
majority in the Legislature, the Democrats in recent
years have gone into each state election with a short
bench of potential candidates.
During the 2002 elections, Democrats drew on
millionaires and mayors to form the cornerstone of
Until the smoke started clearing from Tuesday's
congressional elections, there was hardly a word on
whom Democrats might run for office in 2006.
By contrast, Republicans have been busy speculating
whether U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Comptroller
Carole Keeton Strayhorn will challenge Gov. Rick Perry
in the GOP primary. And the ripple effect of those
potential shifts have other statewide Republican
office holders looking for their chance to move up the
Among the soon-to-be unemployed Democratic
congressmen, U.S. Reps. Martin Frost of Dallas and Max
Sandlin of Marshall are being mentioned as potential
candidates for attorney general.
Of the five targeted Democrats, only U.S. Rep. Chet
Edwards of Waco won re-election Tuesday. Youthful,
handsome and a former state senator, Edwards might
have been one of the Democrats' brighter prospects for
statewide office if he had not returned to Washington,
U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, lost in the
Democratic primary this spring in a district
Republicans drew to make it difficult for him to win
re-election. Bell has created an Internet site to
"foster new and bold leadership for the state of
Bell said the Democrats will want to come to grips
with the current losses before moving on with plans
"I'll certainly be talking to people about the playing
field and what they see as the possibilities," Bell
U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, is not ruling out
any future race, said campaign manager Adrienne Elrod.
U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, has openly discussed
the possibility of running for governor or the U.S.
Senate in 2006.
Turner said any Democrat thinking about running for
statewide office is going to have to ask just how
Republican is Texas, which gave President Bush about
1.7 million more votes than Democratic nominee John
Kerry in Tuesday's election.
"There's got to be a little analysis. It was pretty
clear that even some of our state legislators had a
tough time, even here in East Texas," Turner said.
"It's time to look at numbers and be realistic about
where we stand."
Devising a strategy
Turner said no one on the Democratic ticket in 2002
"was even able to come close" to capturing a statewide
"Statewide, Republicans have an edge. Can you overcome
that natural advantage a generic Republican has in the
state of Texas?" Turner said.
"You can overcome some of that with the right
candidate and the right campaign, but there is a limit
to your ability to do that based on what your
candidate brings to the table."
Turner said candidates such as himself who have run in
Republican-leaning districts may have what it takes to
"You've got to have a candidate in a statewide race
that's got an appeal across into those moderate
Republicans," Turner said.
U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, who also lost
Tuesday, is mentioned as a possible Democratic
candidate for state agriculture commissioner.
Stenholm, 66, is the oldest of the dethroned
Democrats. He said he is not ready to make any plans.
"We've had a 26-year pretty good run. We've got a
lame-duck session coming up. Got a cotton crop out in
the field that my son's going to need a little help
between now and Christmas doing," Stenholm said. "Then
we'll look at it and all options down the line."