Cornyn's Border-line Endorsements

Actual headlines from major Texas newspapers: “Is Cornyn in trouble?” “Cornyn not a lock, poll says.” “If challenger raises $10 million, Texas could see a close race.” If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, Rick Noriega would be looking pretty good.

Noriega is the Houston state legislator who’s taking on Texas U. S. Senator John Cornyn. He’s got a lot going for him. An Hispanic name. An easy victory in the primary election. Democratic coattails of Barack Obama. But after that, the “candy and nuts” go back to being just “ifs and buts” with the notable exception of a poll by Scott Rasmussen that has the Democrats excited.

The poll shows Sen. Cornyn leading Noriega — but only by four points — 47 percent to 43 percent. Texas pundits are pointing out that any incumbent who doesn’t poll above 50 percent might be in trouble. (Rasmussen also says that either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama could beat John McCain in Texas.)

So is Cornyn in trouble? Or are the ubiquitous headlines just wishful thinking? There are two major indicators. The first one has to do with the emerging Hispanic voting bloc that we hear so much about — especially here in Texas. Will Sen. Cornyn suffer for his outspoken support of the border fence — and will Hispanics flock to the polls to support Noriega?

We’ll have to wait until November for the answer to the second part of that question. The first part has already been answered. Despite his border fence vote, Sen. Cornyn has picked up major endorsements from Rio Grande Valley officials. And some of those officials are Democrats!

The irony is that the majority of these border officials are more concerned about their shopping malls being able to draw Mexican customers than they are with sealing up the border to stop illegal immigration. They are openly opposed to the border fence to the point of filing lawsuits against the federal government to stop it. And yet, that’s not enough to prevent them from enthusiastically supporting the sitting senator.

McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez: “Obviously, the fence has been a very emotional and very relevant issue for us on the border. But is’ not the only issue.” Joining Mayor Cortez in supporting Cornyn are Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos and Steve Ahlenius who is head of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. Both are opponents of the fence.

The point here is that Sen. Cornyn is not a one-issue legislator. He’s helped border officials obtain more time for Mexicans with border crossing visas to visit the U.S. – from 72 hours to a full month. That type of thing helps Cornyn remain popular even in heavily Hispanic areas.

The other big indicator is “the mother’s milk of politics” — money. Recent disclosures have Cornyn with $8.7 million in the bank — a formidable war chest in a state with huge media markets like Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. Noriega reported just $330,000 as of March 31st. To put that in perspective, Noriega might be able to afford a couple of TV flights in one of those markets. Cornyn has enough cash to blanket the state.

That means that fundraising is really important for Noriega. As the newspaper headline says, if he can raise $10 million, we’ve got ourselves a contest. But Cornyn is having an easier time raising money. His total for the first quarter of 22008 was $2.15 million. In that same period, Noriega raised just under $500,000.

You might be wondering about the issues. A lot of Texas voters — if they are aware that Sen. Cornyn has an opponent — may be wondering too. Noriega’s biggest issue is bringing back the troops from Iraq. He also wants to pump money into healthcare and road construction to prop up the economy. Those are not issues that are likely to propel him to a win.

The ifs and buts remain big obstacles to Rep. Noriega. IF he can raise enough money and IF Barack Obama has Texas coattails, he might close that four-point gap. BUT — neither of those things is certain. The election is still Sen. Cornyn’s to lose.