Friday, March 23, 2012

Romney and Texas Republicans | Casey's Last Word

Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum was in town this week, making a sales pitch for Etch-a-sketch and promising to spend a lot of time in Texas before the May 29 primary.

Santorum hopes Texas will help him achieve his goal of keeping Mitt Romney from wrapping up the nomination before the Republican Convention.

But even if Santorum does well in Texas, Romney already has a 2-1 lead in delegates over Santorum and is likely to more than offset the Lone Star State with wins in California and New York.

So here is a quiz: Even though the odds are overwhelming that Romney will win the nomination, who is the only statewide Republican official to endorse him?

It’s not Governor Rick Perry, who endorsed Newt Gingrich immediately after quitting the race himself – apparently in the hope that Newt will be his debate coach in 2016.

It’s not Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, whose strategy for winning the Senate race to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison is apparently to keep his head low and avoid offending anybody.

It’s not State Comptroller Susan Combs, who endorsed Santorum in a transparent attempt to make up for earlier being pro-choice and endorsing that pro-choice New Yorker Rudy Giuliani in 2008.

Combs is preparing to run for lieutenant governor in 2014, and apparently figures she can make up for her prior sins by tying herself to a guy who is not only anti-abortion, but anti-birth control.

No, the only one to endorse Romney is San Antonio’s own Joe Straus, the powerful speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

Normally endorsing a frontrunner is considered the safest course in politics.

But not in the Texas Republican Party.

Romney remains under suspicion of being a moderate, and that doesn’t play in the primary.

It’s been that way for some time.

In 2000, State Senator Bill Ratliff was elected lieutenant governor by his Senate colleagues when Rick Perry moved into the governor’s mansion to replace newly-elected President George Bush.

But when it came time to stand for election in 2004, the highly respected Ratliff retired rather than to take the hard right turn he felt was needed to win the nomination.

Two years ago, Senator Hutchison, who had the highest ratings of any Texas politician, was creamed by Perry in the gubernatorial primary, even as he spoke of Texas’s imaginary right to secede from the Union.

So why is Straus endorsing Romney?

The first reason is, because he can.

As speaker of the House, he doesn’t have to run statewide.

He just has to win re-election in his Alamo Heights-based district, and Alamo Heights and its close-in environs is not Tea Party country.

And he is elected speaker by a majority of the entire House, both Democrats and Republicans.

Second, because he doesn’t have to run in the statewide primary, Straus can base his politics on his assessment of where the state as a whole is.

And earlier this week at a fundraiser for Houston State Representative Sarah Davis, he publicly voiced what would be heresy if he were running statewide.

“Texas is a center-right state,” he said, according to a blog entry by prominent Houston lobbyist Robert Miller. “It is not a far-right state.”

Taking the state as a whole, Straus is right.

When Texas was a one-party state, we tended to elect center-right governors such as John Connally, Dolph Briscoe and Bill Clements.

But because of our polarized party primaries, it seems these days a man who represents the state as a whole could not get elected statewide by either party.

No comments: