It’s a certainty with every election cycle. You hear candidates and pundits tout the political backing of what they claim is a significant name or organization. Similar to sports analysts who often claim the biggest free-agent signing means giving a trophy to the offseason winner, certain political endorsements are thought to be game changers.
But the adage that has come to be uttered in many sports may very well have held true in a recent local election: That’s why games are played on the field, not on paper.
Last week, Republican Gary Gates defeated Democrat Eliz Markowitz in a special runoff election for District 28 in the Texas House of Representatives, which includes much of Fort Bend County, by garnering about 58 percent of the vote. He will serve out the remaining term of fellow Republican John Zerwas, who stepped down last year. It was a landslide victory that, on the surface, seemed out of place in a seat many view as a harbinger for future power in Austin. A number of political pundits predicted a close race or even a win for Markowitz. Rice University political science professor Bob Stein also told The Star in an interview just prior to the runoff that he expected a closely-contested race – not a baseless speculation at all given some of the recent cycles.
Some county commissioner seats and the Fort Bend County Judge seats went blue during the last cycle, while Zerwas won the District 28 seat by just an 8 percent margin in the 2018 race. Last week, however, the seat remained in Republican hands by those whopping 16 percentage points. So what gives?
Both candidates had plenty of prominent endorsements from their respective parties. Gates earned the backing of U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls and Zerwas himself. Markowitz, meanwhile, secured endorsements from Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, while former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke was in Fort Bend in early January to campaign on her behalf.
That’s what I really want to dig into. Imagine if you were to look at endorsements and supporters as a sports roster. Based solely on name power, Markowitz’s lineup featured political heavy hitters.
Biden, Warren and O’Rourke read like a “who’s who” of political influencers much like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer read as stars for the Astros. There was no denying – at least on paper – Markowitz’s advantage.
But when I spoke with Gates late last week, he seemed to be under the impression that endorsements of national politicians – whose values might lean away from those in the local district – had little effect on voters’ thought processes. The endorsements even could have hurt Markowitz, because the mouthpieces aren’t boots on the ground here.
I have no way of knowing the actual machinations or mental gymnastics that voters went through before casting a vote for either candidate. It’s to each their own.
So on the one hand, O’Rourke, Warren and Biden are obviously powerful names on the political playing field. They’ve been around the block and people know their names. So, it’s never a bad idea to have people like them clearly in your corner.
However, the other side – the one I tend to lean toward – is that they’re really not that influential in local politics. Nor, in my opinion as a voter, should they be.
If a campaigner shows up at my door, I want to hear the plan straight from the horse’s mouth. These national folks aren’t here in our community every day, they don’t necessarily see what issues arise in Sugar Land, Stafford, Missouri City or Meadows Place, in Richmond or Rosenberg. Why should I put stock in a political mouthpiece with no local skin in the game?
It will be interesting to see whether Gates or Markowitz change up their strategies ahead of the March primaries and a potential rematch this November. Because while certain endorsements may read like an All-Star roster, relying on them as opposed to plans for local neighborhoods could cause someone to strike out in their bid for Austin.
The game may just be getting started.