For a few election cycles now, Democrats have been vowing to put the largest, most important red state, Texas, in play. President Trump won the state by a not-very-close 9 points. Then again, Mitt Romney won it by about 16 points in 2012. Democrats still insist that as the state becomes more affluent, more diverse and more urban, it will tip Democratic. In 2016, Harris County — the most populous county in the state — went Democratic: “Ending a streak of thin electoral margins, Harris County — the biggest battleground in ruby red Texas with a population larger than 25 other states — turned solidly blue … with the largest presidential margin of victory in more than a decade. The blue wave was apparent up and down the ballot on a banner night for the county’s Democrats.” (If this sounds familiar, remember we just came through the Georgia 6th District’s special election, in which an atypical, wealthy and educated red district gave Democrat Jon Ossoff a stunning plurality of 48 percent.)
Last year, the Pew Research Center reported: “The Hispanic population in Texas is the second largest in the nation. About 10.4 million Hispanics reside in Texas, 18.8% of all Hispanics in the United States. . . . Some 28% of Texas eligible voters are Hispanic, the second largest Hispanic statewide eligible voter share nationally.” One reason Hispanics do not turn out in as high numbers as white voters has to do with age. “Latino eligible voters are younger than white, black and Asian eligible voters in Texas. Some 32% of Latinos are ages 18 to 29, compared with 19% of white eligible voters, 26% of black eligible voters and 21% of Asian eligible voters.” As voters age, they tend to become more regular voters, which suggests that just as the Hispanic population is growing, the turnout among Hispanic voters will rise as they age.
While the Texas congressmen in deep-red districts have little to worry about, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and congressmen such as Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), who barely won in a district that went for Hillary Clinton, may face unusually stiff competition in 2018. A few political tremors rumbled through the state recently.
First, last month a federal appeals court found that “Texas intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters in drawing its 2011 congressional map, the majority found in a 2-1 ruling … More specifically: Three of the state’s 36 districts violate either the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.” Hurd’s district was one of those found to have been unconstitutionally gerrymandered.
Separate court decisions struck down the state House and Senate map and invalidated the state voter-ID law. The Associated Press explained:
For Texas, the stockpiling losses carry the risk of a court punishing the state by demanding approval before changing voting laws. The process, known as “preclearance,” was formerly required of Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. But the court kept in place the chance that states could again fall under federal oversight if intentional discrimination is found.
Minority rights groups and Democrats could press a three-judge panel in San Antonio over that possibility at a court hearing later this month in San Antonio, when they’re also expected to demand new state and congressional maps for the 2018 elections.
These are huge victories for civil rights groups and in turn could boost Democratic participation in 2018.
In addition to the legal battles, polling released this week presented some head-turning results. The Texas Lyceum Poll found: “Texans believe that immigration is the number one issue facing the state and the nation, but a plurality of Texas adults (62 percent) also say that immigration helps the U.S. more than it hurts. The younger the respondent, the more positively they view immigration.” Moreover, “Most Texas adults continue to oppose (61 percent) President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the U.S.- Mexico border, and most don’t want him to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Many support traditional immigration reform proposals, even a pathway to citizenship if significant restrictions are put in place.” Remarkably, 63 percent support “allowing illegal immigrants living in the U.S. the opportunity to become citizens after a long waiting period if they pay taxes and a penalty, pass a criminal background check, and learn English.” Even on the hot-button issues of “sanctuary cities,” voters are split (45 percent approve, 49 percent do not) on whether local officials must “automatically turn [someone here illegally] over to federal immigration enforcement officers.”
That’s not the response one might expect from deep-red Texas or from a state that elected anti-immigration hawks such as Trump and Cruz. Well, Texans don’t much like either of those pols:
Senator Cruz is tied with Congressman [Beto] O’Rourke, who entered the contest last month, at 30 percent each. However, 37 percent of registered Texas voters say they haven’t thought about the race yet. Congressman [Joaquin] Castro fairs slightly better against the incumbent Senator, with 35 percent of Texas adults saying they support him over Ted Cruz at 31 percent.
By a margin of 54 percent to 42 percent, Texans disapprove of the job Trump is doing. As is true elsewhere, subgroups of voters view him in starkly different terms. (“85 percent of Republicans give the President positive marks compared to 86 percent of Democrats who disapprove of his job performance. Same goes for young Texans. . . . 73 percent of 18-29 year olds are not enthused with the President’s job performance along with 61 percent of Hispanics. Meantime, he is viewed positively by 60 percent of Whites.”)
And finally, Texans are generally pro-NAFTA. “Overall, 43 percent of Texas adults say that NAFTA has been good for the Texas economy, 24 percent say that it has been bad, and 33 percent offered no opinion. The topline results tracked closely to when we previously asked this question in 2009, when an equal share, 43 percent said that NAFTA had been good for the Texas economy, 28 percent said that it had been bad, and 29 percent had no opinion.”
In sum, if Democrats can keep up their level of enthusiasm, turn out their base and run against Trump and his anti-immigrant and anti-trade policies (which hurt Texas residents), Cruz and a few incumbent GOP congressmen may have their hands full. Cruz, in particular, who has opportunistically been all over the map on support for Trump and on immigration — and failed to deliver much in the way of concrete results for his constituents — might actually be an inviting target for Democrats. We should underscore the pollster’s warning that polling “conducted this far in advance of an actual election are, at best, useful in gauging the potential weaknesses of incumbents seeking re-election … [And] the substantial percentage of undecided respondents — coupled with the conservative, pro-Republican proclivities of the Texas electorate in recent years — suggest a cautious interpretation.” (Cruz will also have a boatload of cash.)
Nevertheless, the notion that Republicans would have to work hard to hold seats in Texas tells you that something is changing. If right-wing immigrant-bashing and protectionism don’t work in the Lone Star State, Republicans might need to reconsider their philosophy.