Eyes turn to Texas

For Texas Democrats, it is only a matter of time before Texas turns blue because of game-changing demographics, especially the huge wave of Hispanic population growth.

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The odds still favor Republicans keeping the governorship of Texas, but Democrats now have a fighting chance to achieve a stunning upset.

Houston Mayor Bill White leaves office as one of the most popular Democrats in the state. He is one of the most interesting political figures in Texas and may have the ideal qualities for the political moment. He is reminiscent of my former boss and mentor, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas), with a can-do style, the ability to unite Democrats and strong appeal to independents.

As mayor of Houston, White attained great popularity across the political spectrum. He is backed by the Democratic base, respected by moderate Republicans and admired by an entrepreneurial business community that makes Texas unique. This is the formula for a Democrat to win in the Lone Star State.

By all accounts, White has been a spectacular success as mayor of the largest city in Texas, with reach well beyond city limits. He is a first-rate manager and savvy political player. He had a high-level position at the Department of Energy before becoming one of the most successful mayors in the history of Houston.

White has successfully promoted economic growth and won the respect of the business community and environmentalists alike. When the tragedy of Katrina struck, White ably steered Houston toward a prominent and successful role helping those affected by the tragedy.

What makes Bill White a potent statewide candidate is that he follows the model of political independence at a time when voters greatly value problem-solvers who get things done.

The Republicans remain favored to retain the governorship. However, the Republican battle between Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) will be unpleasant and divisive. Perry enters the campaign with high negatives, modest positives and a feeling among many Texans that it is time for change.

For Bill White to win, it would probably take his running alongside a Hispanic candidate for lieutenant governor who would inspire a major surge of voter registration and turnout. If White taps into the public appeal of independence and the Democratic surge of Hispanic voters, he can win.

Several prominent Texans have begun major campaigns for voter registration and civic engagement that could catch fire when the race heats up.

The Texas battle intersects with a major national redistricting following the census. Texas will gain a number of new House seats, including districts with surging Hispanic populations.

The last redistricting was “fixed” by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). If Democrats elect a governor and lieutenant governor and control either house of the State Legislature, there could be a party swing of five to seven House seats, especially with a Justice Department friendly to the Voting Rights Act.

Watch for the White House and the House Democratic leadership to take a major interest in Texas. Watch for a surge of Democratic donations and activism as this high-stakes election approaches.

Can Bill White pull it off? It will not be easy, but the political eyes of the nation will soon turn to Texas.


Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.