Democrats have been “on the verge” of winning statewide in Texas for several election cycles. “Democrats have fantasized about turning Texas blue for a long time. And Hillary Clinton sees a slight opportunity to do that,” NPR reported in October 2016. “Some recent polls show the race between Clinton and Donald Trump there in single digits. A new ad from the Clinton campaign running in Texas touts her endorsement from the Dallas Morning News, which hasn’t picked a Democrat for president in more than 70 years.”

Clinton did better than President Barack Obama, who lost by nearly 16 points in 2012; she still lost by nine points. Beto O’Rourke came even closer in his 2018 race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), losing by less than three points. Joe Biden lost by less than six in 2020.

Democratic hopes that demography would deliver Texas have not been wrong, but perhaps just premature. The 2020 congressional races suggested that while the fight for Hispanic votes remains competitive, the sprawling suburbs around major Texas cities are increasingly moderate.

But Republicans now seem poised to accomplish what Democrats have not been able to do: The GOP has alienated sufficient numbers of voters outside their hardcore base to put the state in play in 2022 in gubernatorial and congressional contests and beyond.

A new Quinnipiac poll suggests Republicans’ radicalism has put them at odds with a majority of Texas voters. In the wake of the Texas law offering bounties to “turn in” those seeking an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest, the poll reports that 77 percent of state residents say abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest, including 66 percent of Republicans. Some 72 percent of Texans do not want the law enforced, and 60 percent want to keep Roe v. Wade in place.

Even on a quintessentially Texan issue such as guns, voters are not in sync with MAGA politicians. The pollsters found: “Roughly two-thirds (67 percent) of voters, including 58 percent of gun owners, say allowing anyone 21 years of age or older to carry handguns without a license or training makes Texas less safe, while 26 percent say it makes Texas safer. Half of voters (50 percent) say it’s too easy to carry a handgun in Texas, while 44 percent say it’s about right, and 4 percent say it’s too difficult.”

And when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, Texas voters are much closer to President Biden than to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott:

Adults in Texas think 47 - 38 percent that Governor Abbott is hurting rather than helping efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Texas, with 15 percent not offering an opinion.
More than 6 in 10 Texans (64 - 26 percent) think the recent rise in COVID-19 deaths in Texas was preventable. ... A majority of Texans (63 - 29 percent) think it’s a bad idea that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing school districts that are requiring masks for students.
A majority of Texans say 60 - 35 percent that they support requiring students, teachers, and staff to wear masks in schools. ...
About two-thirds of Texans (64 percent) think local officials should be able to require masks in indoor public spaces if they believe it's necessary, while 31 percent do not.
More than half of Texans (53 - 41 percent) support requiring everyone to wear masks while in indoor public spaces.
A majority of Texans (60 percent) say they consider the issue of wearing masks to be primarily about public health, while 33 percent say they consider the issue of wearing masks to be about personal freedom.

Like the rest of Americans, most Texans support vaccine mandates for health-care workers (57 percent to 36 percent) and for teachers (54 percent to 40 percent). When it comes to businesses requiring a vaccine (without a testing alternative), opinion is evenly divided, with 45 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed (a statistical tie).

Abbott’s polling numbers have crashed in the aftermath of his attempt to blame migrants crossing the border illegally for the rise in covid-19 infections, passage of the abortion bounty law and his signature attempt to impose new barriers to voting.

It’s in this political environment that Matthew Dowd, a former senior adviser to President George W. Bush who has backed a slew of notable Texas Democrats, has emerged as a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. His announcement video conveys his values-oriented approach to politics:

Dowd is betting that Texans want something other than pandering to the MAGA base. “The Texas Republican politicians are completely out of step with Texas values like integrity and community and no longer govern with common sense, common decency or for the common good," he told me on Saturday. “They put their ‘me’ over our ‘we.’ ”

At a time when Texas Republicans are neglecting the health of residents, pitting neighbor against neighbor and launching an assault on democracy based on the “big lie” of a stolen election, Dowd will test whether a former Republican (who cannot be written off as a left-winger) can break through where other Texas Democrats have failed. If he can, Dowd may encourage other disaffected Republicans to run as Democrats in conservative states. They may be well suited to repudiate a Republican Party whose extremism, cruelty, authoritarianism and deceit are anything but conservative.