This story has been updated.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, could certainly be the Democratic nominee.
In early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, the Vermont Senator has caught up to former Vice President Joe Biden in recent polling. In Texas, Sanders continues to trail the former vice president by roughly 9 percentage points, but his numbers have steadily ticked upwards in recent months as other popular options in the state slowly sink or drop out.
In the past year, Sanders has raised more than $96 million from donors– more grassroots cash than any other candidate– and has consistently beaten Trump in head-to-head polls, coming second only to Biden in aggregate polling against the president. That includes Texas, where polling so far suggests a statistical tossup for Biden and a tight race for Sanders in a head-to-head matchup against Trump.
The evidence, so far, shows a clear but tough path to the nomination for Sanders, an anti-establishment populist who has hedged his campaign on sweeping, radical policies aimed at winning over working-class voters from moderate opponents.
In Texas, a state still undergoing seismic demographic and political shifts of its own, the question for anxious Democratic voters in Texas seeking to make 2020 a decisive year is this: Could Sanders carry the state, and just as importantly, could his political revolution bring the down-ballot energy needed to oust Republicans?
“In Texas and across the country, we are building a multiracial, multifaith grassroots movement of working-class Americans to engage and turn out voters of all backgrounds, especially those who are most marginalized,” Chris Chu de León, the campaign’s Texas Field Director, told the Signal. Since the start of his campaign, Sanders has received 230,000 donations totaling nearly $4 million from Texas, the campaign said. More than one-third of those donations, 87,000, arrived only during the last quarter.
Texas Republicans, especially Sen. Ted Cruz, seem more than eager for Sanders to receive the nomination. Yet, Sanders’ head-to-head polling in the state suggests the talking points being sharpened against him warning of the impending doom of socialism (the same dusty talking points drudged up against any Democrat running in the state) may not be as effective as they think.
Regardless, Sanders’ potential in the Lone Star State isn’t really about what the GOP, or polling, is saying. Rather, it’s about the type of voters he has attracted to his campaign— the same voters Texas Democrats are betting on to flip the state.
In a 10-page proposal released by the state Democratic Party last year outlining the party’s path to victory in 2020, the party said it needed to mobilize and register millions of young and minority voters in suburban and urban districts. Between Trump’s inauguration and the 2018 midterm elections, Texas saw at least 670,000 voters registered for the first time. Of those, 38 percent were under the age of 25 and 60 percent were under the age of 35. Likewise, of the estimated 2.6 million unregistered Democrats in Texas that the party still needs to mobilize in 2020, almost half are under the age of 35.
Sanders has handily won those age groups by an impressive margin. “In the 2016 campaign, Sanders won more votes among those under age 30 than the two presumptive major-party presidential nominees combined. And it wasn’t close,” reported the Washington Post.
In recent polls, Sanders continues to lead young voters by staggering amounts.
Sanders has also been making in-roads in other key demographic groups. “Sanders outperforms the former vice president against Trump among voters ages 18-29, those who are not at all interested in politics and self-described independents,” reported Morning Consultant this week making an argument for the Vermont Senator’s electability.
“Despite his popularity with young voters, Sanders still faces a tough battle in the Texas primary. In 2016, he received about half as many votes as his more moderate opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The true test for the Sanders campaign will be whether those young voters show up to vote in Iowa and New Hampshire next month, and in Texas in March. If they do, we could see Sanders opposite Trump on the debate stage.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org