Ten presidential campaigns, the national press corps and scores of Democratic Party donors and insiders descended on Houston for last week’s third presidential primary debate at Texas Southern University. 3,500 attendees packed TSU’s basketball arena, which ABC News transformed into a made-for-national-TV political venue.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leader of the polling pack, occupied center stage flanked by his two closest competitors, Senators Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. The three-hour debate was pretty standard fare, with Biden drawing fire from his fellow candidates, most notably Texan Julian Castro. The other Texan on the stage, Beto O’Rourke, also stood out for his passionate statements on mandatory gun buy-backs and institutional racism.
But the big winner from last week’s debate festivities? Texas itself.
Houston, which most think got the debate as a consolation prize after losing the bid for next summer’s Democratic National Convention to Milwaukee, played a fine host. The Bayou City’s hospitality, diversity, urbane sophistication and newfound status as a Democratic stronghold were on full display last week.
More broadly, the Lone Star State’s emergence as a political battleground has been a growing theme among the national chattering class and further intensified around the debate. Since its launch several months ago, the Texas Signal has championed the state’s rapidly changing politics, as have others. National players have noticed. A slew of news articles in recent weeks has highlighted Texas’ fade from red to purple, driven by suburban disaffection from the GOP and a rising young multicultural electorate. The “Texodus” of Republicans retiring from Congress has strengthened that narrative.
Leading into last Thursday’s debate, multiple polls put the icing on the cake, showing Donald Trump under water and trailing various Democrats in a general election matchup in Texas. Senator John Cornyn, now facing as many as three Republican Primary opponents and more than a half dozen Democrats vying for the nomination to take him on, fared no better. Texas, with its 38 electoral votes has long been the indispensable brick in the Republican’s red wall. Without it, they lose the presidency.
So last week’s starring role for Texas was timely. As national reporters, donors and insiders return home, many are now openly asking the question once reserved for fanciful daydreaming. Will Texas finally turn blue? From their lips to God’s ears, as the saying goes. But we are now really in the conversation, and in that sense, we’ve already solidified ourselves as a battleground state.
Photo: Joe Bowen/The Texas Signal