Monday, February 11, 2008

Texas Two Step

It's not easy trying to figure out Texas' complicated primary/caucus/thing-a-majig that's going to be held on March 4. Or how it might affect the Democratic race.

Mary Mapes, sounding at times like Molly Ivins or Ann Richards, has an excellent and fun introduction in "Texas Time," at Huffington Post. It's worth reading the whole thing. Here's a Texas-size pecan chew of an excerpt.

[I]n a campaign where voters are already defying some of the old demographic breakdowns, Texas promises to give the pundits and campaign planners a run for their money, beginning with the most basic characterizations.

Texas is not the South. It is not the West. It is not the Southwest.

Texas is all those things, a heady blend of magnolia blossoms and masa harina; a place big enough and complicated enough to treasure both the Alamo and the dreams of millions whose lives began in Mexico. It has memorials to Civil War heroes and civil rights legends, border towns without running water and the latest thing from Barney's.

Texas is home to both big oil and big hair; sometimes to big, oily hair.

It is a warm, fun-loving, forgiving state, the kind of place where the vice-president can shoot someone in the face and the victim apologizes.

Clearly, it isn't easy to embarrass Texas. But it appears George W. Bush has finally done it. In a stark change from the public's attitude here a few years ago, now there are bumper stickers on family cars in grocery store parking lots that proclaim "Bush wasn't born here" and "George W. Bush is a failure."

The rest of the country may figuratively turn disgraced politicians into piñatas, but in Texas, the transformation is literal. In fact, a party store in Austin will custom-make a George W. Bush piñata for you for only 23 dollars. Don't ask how I know this.

The Democratic race is going to be more complicated and more unpredictable because both candidates have huge built-in constituencies, good organizations and giddy support. Texas Democrats are almost hysterical at the heart-pounding possibility that the rest of the country will at long last pay attention to what they think. In addition to all that, no one knows how the hell the delegate count is actually going to work.

In typical Texas contrarian fashion, the primary rules read like a DNA chart. On the Democratic side, 228 delegates are up for grabs. But it's not that simple.

The state has both a primary and a caucus -- on the same day. And you can't caucus unless you voted in the primary. On primary night, 126 delegates will be determined based on voting results in each Senate district.

The number of delegates in each district is based on how many Democrats voted in the last two general elections in that district. Got that? Well, there's more.

The selection of another 67 delegates will begin at the caucuses that night and culminate at the state convention in June. The remaining 35 delegates are some kind of unique political life form that will evolve into actual delegates at the National Convention later that summer.

With rules like this, we may not know the division of Texas delegates until sometime after the new President is sworn in. Now that the state finally has its moment in the spotlight, it appears we will slowly drag our rear ends across the stage and reveal our delegate counts only when we are good and ready.

The candidates are already familiar faces. Barack Obama has been here raising money and making friends since long before he announced his candidacy. Hillary Clinton actually lived in Austin in 1972 while working for George McGovern. She knows the state and has racked up an impressive series of endorsements.

Hillary seems to be ahead in early polling. Texans, despite the state's conservative reputation, have never had any discomfort with women taking the reins. Texas women have been changing the world for a long time.

That creates a special challenge for Hillary Clinton.

Down here, she will have to live with the ghosts of Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Molly Ivins and Lady Bird Johnson. She will have to prove to voters that she has more in common with these iconic Texas political figures than with Ma Ferguson, the state's first female governor. Ferguson took over in 1925, several years after her husband was run out of office.

Actually, Hillary Clinton is nothing like Ma Ferguson. They have nothing but body parts in common. Still, by making that comparison, I get the chance to use a hilarious quote attributed to Ferguson during a debate on the use of Spanish in Texas public schools. She exhorted the state to require English, saying, "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, then it is good enough for the children of Texas."

Which brings up another point. Texans expect candidates to be entertaining. They can be funny like Ann Richards, a charming rogue like Charlie Wilson, or personable like George W. Bush used to be.

Obama has that -- and something more. For Texans old enough to remember, he recalls Barbara Jordan -- not because of race, but because of the power of the spoken word. Decades ago in her campaigns for Congress, in small towns and large cities, in front of crowds who gathered at courthouses and on street corners, she became a political legend by reminding people of why they loved their country. She led old men in sweat-stained cowboy hats to weep openly at the beauty of the Constitution, the power of the American people, the depth of our belief in our own inherent decency.

Texans are still like that. They still like good speeches. They still like to cry in public. And they will always love politics.

To win in Texas, Democrat or Republican, there is really only one rule. Don't be dull. We certainly won't.

Marc Ambider has some interesting thoughts in "Texas's Unique Primaucus," from his blog on The Atlantic web site.
The delegate-rich districts are the most heavily liberal state senate districts. According to this calculation, they're in Austin and in two of the most concentrated African American parts of the state. Advantage: Obama.

Clinton will get plenty of support from Latino voters, but they tend to be more spread out and thus will see their votes somewhat diluted in the 31 separate primaries. In order to "win" -- both enough delegates and statewide, you need to organize what amounts to caucus-like campaigns in each of these districts.

The white vote in Texas will probably split, with Obama taking men and Clinton taking women. Though Latinos make up a slightly larger share of the electorate than African Americans, they tend to vote in lower proportions.

Suffice it to say: whatever you call Texas's system -- a hybrid, a primacaucus, whatever -- do not assume that, because it's a big state and the media calls it a primary, the math favors Hillary Clinton.
Y'all Come Back Now!


Liam said...

Confusing, very confusing, but I like the Mapes article.

crystal said...

"If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, then it is good enough for the children of Texas."

I knew this, from watching all the Jesus movies (except Mel's - what was he thinking?!)

cowboyangel said...

Liam, Yeah, I thought it was pretty good. Makes me wonder if she has more out there.

Crystal, It's strange, isn't it, given Mel's quest for authenticity in his films. I mean, he'll have actors speaking Mayan if necessary, but not English? What gives?!

I'm also disturbed when Jesus gets pictured as some kind of foreigner and not the blonde-headed, blue-eyed man who is our Lord. Or worse, they try to make him Jewish!