My guess is most Americans who don’t live in Texas – and plenty who do — still think Texas is a bastion of Republicanism.
The Texas brand, seared into the national consciousness by the 1980’s hit TV show “Dallas,” President George W. Bush’s two terms, and Sen. Ted Cruz’s ultra- conservative tenure, has screamed Republican for decades. The GOP has had an easy lock on government since the 1990s, when the incomparable Ann Richards was governor.
But because of demographics and an overreach by the extreme right, things have fundamentally changed here. If you look at a statewide political map, there’s a whole lot more red. A closer look though reveals vibrant blue in all the big cities — which is where all the people (and voters) live. In his latest book on Texas, Lawrence Wright explains the more rural red divide as the AM radio part of the state, the big cities as FM.
The blue parts have a longer lasting frequency.
“Texas is on the doorstep of emerging as a battleground state, and any number of Democrats might stand a chance to compete there in 2020 for the presidency or the Senate,” wrote the New York Times’ political data cruncher in March.
“Texas saw the biggest gains for Democrats anywhere in the country from 2012 to 2016,” Hillary Clinton told a packed room of fired-up Houston Democrats last month. “If Democrats win in Texas– wow– we will sweep the nation in 2020.”
And both parties believe we’re in politically precarious times.
“Texas is not as solidly Republican as people think,” warned Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Tex.) campaign chairman, Steve Ministeri, earlier this year. “You need to treat this as a swing state.”
Swing state we are. That’s why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made a handful of Texas races a priority. That’s why the Trump campaign has so far spent more digital ad dollars (nearly $200,000 since March) in Texas than any other state, per Bully Pulpit Interactive:
That’s also why, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the Trump campaign is doubling its communications staff for the Texas region.
You don’t throw resources at a state that you have in the bag.
A new Quinnipiac University poll of Texas voters found similar results to at least three other polls on the 2020 race for the White House. The match up between Trump and any one of the top seven Democratic presidential contenders is too close to call. In Texas.
The results, says Quinnipiac poll’s assistant director, “could spell trouble for President Trump.”
If Texas goes to the blue team, it’s game, set, match. Trump is gone.
Past may be prologue.
Last year’s midterms scared the pants off Texas Republicans. In addition to Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke coming up short by less than 3 points against Ted Cruz (O’Rourke won 500,000 Republican votes, by the way), other statewide candidates performed historically well, losing by less than 5. That’s unheard of in modern Texas history. So is a record number of women and LGBT candidates winning their races. Democrats picked up 12 seats in the Texas House, two in the Senate.
Because of how well Democrats did last year, Republicans have tried to dial back the fire-breathing brand of extreme conservatism during the 180-day legislative session. But that’s like saying you’ll drink 5 beers instead of 6.
They refused to extend Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of Texans, including new mothers. They proposed a draconian Alabama-style abortion bill that didn’t provide exceptions for rape and incest. They proposed a slew of anti-LGBTQ bills. They tried to make it illegal to drive voters to the polls. And the Tarrant County GOP, which includes Ft. Worth, held an internal party vote on expelling a well-respected Muslim member because of his religion. (Yes, that was the only reason.)
Meanwhile, Texas progressives have been building political machinery. The state Democratic Party launched a multi-million dollar war room to defeat Sen. Cornyn next year. Voter registration and engagement efforts by grassroots organizations like Jolt and the Texas Organizing Project have delivered a notable return on the investment. And new initiatives, including the new media company I run, are gearing up ahead of next year.
Amid decades of defeat and degradation, progressives are beginning to win again. The Texas Civil Rights Project and the ACLU of Texas fought like hell to expose and beat back a systematic campaign of voter suppression legislatively (Senate Bill 9) and from a Secretary of State David Whitley who tried to purge thousands of eligible voters. The effort failed, spectacularly. The bill died and Whitley lost his job.
The progressive movement, however, remains small and underfunded given the size of the state and the challenge at hand. The senate race to beat Cornyn, who is also vulnerable and not widely known after more than 30 years of holding elected office in the state, is expected to be $50 million.
The 2020 elections in Texas for president, U.S. Senate, and state house will be the biggest political fight Texans have seen in a generation. This is the time to go all in. We’re here for the taking.
Nix is CEO and executive editor of The Texas Signal.