Democrats once wrote off Texas as a guaranteed victory for Republican presidential candidates, but in 2020, Democratic party activists sense an opportunity to snatch victory from the GOP for the first time in more than four decades.
Joe Biden currently maintains a substantial lead over President Trump nationwide, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.
Among likely voters, 54% back Biden and 42% Trump. Biden has held a lead in every CNN poll on the matchup since 2019, and he has held a statistically significant advantage in every high-quality national poll since the spring.
Although the election will ultimately be decided by the statewide results, which drive the Electoral College, Biden’s lead nationally is wider than any presidential candidate has held in more than two decades in the final days of the campaign.
With 38 Electoral College votes at stake – the second-highest number in the country – Democratic success in Texas would all but eliminate a path to victory for President Donald Trump.
“The only thing Republicans have to do, typically, to win an election in Texas is to win their primary and avoid getting hit by a bus by election day,” said Harold Cook, a political analyst and a veteran of Democratic Party campaigns in Texas. “But Trump has damaged the Republican brand such that it has made it competitive in a general election.”
Jimmy Carter was the last Democratic presidential candidate to win in Texas, in 1976. In 1994, Bob Bullock was re-elected Lieutenant Governor, the last year Democrats won in state-wide elections.
Over years of Republican dominance, Democrats largely avoided pouring resources into the state and the party’s power continued to shrink. For Democrats, Texas became something of a forgotten state, much like California for Republicans.
Just four years ago, the thought of Democrats pouring precious campaign resources into a state like Texas would have seemed ludicrous. Trump walloped Hillary Clinton by nine percentage points.
Trump’s win, however, was by the smallest margin of victory for Republicans in Texas since 1996, a possible sign that more Texans could be open to hearing a Democratic pitch. This year the Republican National Committee sent the Texas state party $1.3 million in support funds for the election, a sign that Republicans in the state could need extra help.
Texas Republicans, however, are skeptical Democrats can bring in enough votes to overcome years of support for the GOP. Rick Perry, Texas’s longest-serving governor and Trump’s former Secretary of Energy, pointed to the lack of Democratic victories in recent elections as evidence that Democratic hopes for success in the state are overblown.
But the Texas population is changing quickly. Between 2018 and 2019, more people moved to Texas from other regions than any other state. The population grew by 367,215 during this time, swelling to 29 million people. Most migrants arrived from California, according to estimates from the Texas Realtors’ Association.
As the number of Texans grows and the demographic makeup becomes increasingly younger and less white, the Lone Star State is looking within reach for Democrats, whose success has depended on high turnout from a diverse coalition of ages and ethnic backgrounds.
While Trump has worked to fire up his base, he has done little to bring in new voters, particularly minorities and women, groups that are gaining in political power in rapidly changing Texas.
“It’s the combination of the Biden-Harris ticket, the demographic changes, but above all: Donald John Trump. He’s a terrible fit for Texas Republicans, and they were slow to realise that,” said Richard Murray, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. “Texas doesn’t have many older whites that didn’t go to college. Our working force here is now largely minorities, particularly Hispanic. What worked elsewhere – just blowing off Latinos, immigrants – is a disaster in Texas.”
Like battleground states around the country, the presidential race in Texas will likely be won or lost in the suburbs of the state’s largest cities. These areas have seen massive growth in numbers of non-white voters, as well as a population boom from people moving from other states.
Latino voters, in particular, could help swing the vote this year, experts said. A poll conducted in September by the University of Houston and Univision found that 66 percent of Texas Latino voters planned or were inclined to vote for Biden, compared to 25 percent for Trump. Perhaps more consequentially, the survey measured an incredibly high level of enthusiasm from these voters, with nine out of 10 responders saying they “are certain” to vote in 2020.
“We have not seen numbers that high for several election cycles. Those are impressive and possibly historic numbers. This is definitely a year where the Latino vote in Texas will be significant in potentially shaping the state politically,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist and host of a podcast centred around Texas called Party Politics. “Latino voters are not a monolith. But what we’re finding is the slow trend is towards them supporting Democrats.”
Texas is already shaping up to see record voting turnout. By the end of the first day of early voting, more than 900,000 Texans cast ballots either in person or by mail, a record. By the end of the first week, more than four million people had voted, according to the Texas secretary of state. As of today, nearly 17 million Texans are registered to vote, an increase of 1.85 million from four years ago. The state does not register voters by party, so it can be difficult to decipher how many of those registered are likely to swing either way.