In December, Ted Cruz turned his narrow win against Beto O’Rourke into a punch line, joking at a black-tie dinner that O’Rourke’s candidacy was “meant to teach me humility.” For Republican strategists in Texas, however, Democrats’ sudden resurgence in the state in 2018 midterms is no cause for mirth—and could be a red flag for Donald Trump in 2020. As Hive contributor David M. Drucker reportedfor the Washington Examiner, the Texas G.O.P. is looking at the numbers and beginning to sweat. “We are talking to everyone,” James Dickey, Texas’s party chairman, fretted. “The challenges we face in Texas are very real.”
Republicans have long taken Texas’s 38 electoral college votes for granted, diverting national resources to swing states like Ohio or Florida. The state hasn’t gone blue since 1976, when Jimmy Carter was on the ballot. Now, however, several factors are working against the G.O.P. in Texas, and could be enough to push the state over the edge. One is demographic change, which is slowly making Texas more urban and more diverse. Another is the growth of Texas’s white suburban population, which tends to vote less Republican than the state’s shrinking rural population. Last November, O’Rourke won suburban women by 55 percent to 44 percent. (While Cruz won rural men by 59 percent to 41 percent, his support dropped by 10 points in the suburbs.) “Trump is still in White House, which means the dynamic is going to be very similar,” a veteran Republican operative told Drucker. “The white, upper-class suburban voters are not pro-Trump at all.”
Perhaps most decisive is the extensive progressive grassroots infrastructure that sprung up in the state during the last midterm cycle, resulting in key Democratic wins in the state’s 32nd and 7th districts. The G.O.P.’s ground game in Texas is comparatively minimal, to the point that the state’s wealthy Republican donors often fund races elsewhere. (In 2013, for instance, fracking billionaires Farris and Dan Wilks dropped $10 million in Montana to influence the state legislature, whereas they spent millions to defend their own turf in 2018.) “Because of what happened organically on the Democrat side, Republicans in Texas have a large organizational gap that exists,” Texas veteran operative Chris Homan told Drucker. “In 2018, we simply did not have the kind of people and activists at the scale the Democrats enjoyed. This is a significant advantage the Democrats have going into this cycle.”
Already, Democrats are poised to take advantage of this weakness. On Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled its list of target districts for 2020. Six of the target seats are in Texas—more than any other state on the list. They include the 10th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 31st districts, all of which are suburban areas outside of major cities (San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, and Austin).
The unrest could spell trouble for the president, whose popularity has spooked Republicans: according to a University of Texas poll, just 36 percent of Texans approved strongly of Trump, while 40 percent disapproved strongly. Even if Trump kept every state he won in 2016—a relatively unlikely scenario given recent numbers in states like Wisconsin—he would still almost certainly lose if Texas went blue.
Of course, some of the conditions that led to Democratic victories in 2018 won’t exist in 2020. O’Rourke’s prodigious fund-raising talents allowed him to help his fellow Democrats in competitive districts, but he may not be able to repeat that feat, especially as a presidential candidate. And Trump, for all his negatives, is still more personable than Cruz, who’s so loathed that White House jack-of-all-trades Mick Mulvaney told Republican donors Cruz’s “unlikeability” could cost them the Senate race. But for Dickey and Senator John Cornyn, who’s keeping the White House abreast of potential red flags, the stakes are too high to take the state’s legacy for granted. As Cornyn told donors, “If Texas turns back to a Democratic state, which it used to be, then we’ll never elect another Republican [president] in my lifetime.”
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