President Donald Trump was defiant in the face of an impeachment probe Thursday as he sought to convert the threat to his presidency into a weapon on the campaign trail. He held a rally in Minneapolis on Thursday night. (Oct 11) AP, AP
IRVING, Texas – In the political heart of Texas, a state Republicans have dominated for decades, Democrats say they are gaining ground – and one of the reasons for that transformationis flying into Dallas-Fort Worth on Thursday.
His name is Donald Trump.
While Trump’s policies on immigration, trade and the economy remain popular in Republican-leaning Texas, Democrats say the president’s actions are helping them build a base of their own among Hispanics, city dwellers, and college-education professionals in the Lone Star State.
“The political atmosphere for Democrats in Texas is better than it has been for decades,” said Matt Angle, founder of a Democratic strategic communications firm called the Lone Star Project.
Trump is still favored to carry Texas in the 2020 election – he won it by nine percentage points in 2016 – but members of both parties said Democrats are in a position to make it more of a challenge.
And while Texas Democrats haven’t won a statewide race since 1994, they nearly captured a Senate seat last year and are closing the gap in legislative and congressional elections.
“It’s fair to say the state is more competitive than it has been, and the threat is real,” said Texas-based Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak, though he added: “I do not think it will be in play in the presidential race.”
Trump aides could not be more confident about Texas, noting that the state has seen increases in job creation and energy production since Trump took office. “We take nothing for granted,” said campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh, “but have high confidence of victory in Texas.”
Trump and Texas
Trump isn’t visiting Texas on Thursday because he’s worried about losing the state. From Texarkana to El Paso, the state is a giant ATM for presidential candidates in both parties, and Trump begins his day Thursday with fundraisers in Fort Worth.
Trump then heads to nearby Johnson County, where he will help cut the ribbon at a new Louis Vuitton leather manufacturing workshop, an appearance designed to highlight his emphasis on jobs as a campaign issue.
The big event is a Thursday evening rally at the downtown sports arena in Dallas.
As in rallies last week in Minnesota and Louisiana, Trump will look to buck up his base as he faces numerous challenges back in Washington, D.C. – most notably an impeachment inquiry led by House Democrats.
Trump and aides predicted that a backlash against impeachment will help Trump. “Texans appreciate people who are straight shooters,” Murtaugh said, “and they don’t like it when people change the rules after they lose.”
Democrats dream of a Blue Texas
Democrats and some political scientists have talked about it for years: An emerging “Blue Texas,” the color that television news networks use to identify states that go Democratic in presidential elections.
Proponents cite major demographic shifts in one of the nation’s fastest growing states. Much of that growth is in Hispanic communities and the big city areas of Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio; Democrats said many of these new Texas residents are voting with them.
“All of our new voters are going Democratic by a ratio of 5-to-1,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of a political organization called Progress Texas.
Trump is a trigger for many of these voters, according to state Democrats. His efforts to crack down on immigration are alienating Hispanic voters; his aggressive style, including attacks on allies and lawmakers of color, turn off many suburbanites, particularly women.
“Trump is a huge liability for the Republican Party,” said Brittany Switzer, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. One result, she said, is “we see a huge coalition and we’re looking to build that coalition.”
Republicans said the demographic argument is overstated. There are many conservative Hispanic people, they said, and GOP candidates in Texas can get a fair share of their votes; same with the growing suburbs.
Speaking for the Trump campaign, Murtaugh described the idea of “Blue Texas” as “one of the great myths we hear about every election cycle, but it never comes true.” He said he hopes Democrats spend money in Texas “because that’s cash they won’t be able to spend defending other states like Minnesota.”
Still, there is Republican concern that manifested itself in a high-profile Senate race just last year.
Ballad of Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz
O’Rourke, a former House member, did not defeat the first-term incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz – but he came as close to winning as any Texas-wide Democratic candidate has in a quarter-century.
While Cruz won 50.9% to 48.3%, some analysts said the race foreshadowed the emerging and more politically competitive Texas. O’Rourke raised around $80 million and activated hundreds of thousands of new voters, particularly in the growing urban areas.
O’Rourke certainly sees it as a sign of the future. In seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, he claims he could carry Texas and its 38 electoral votes, foreclosing Trump’s hopes to victory nationwide.
After Trump announced his rally in Dallas, O’Rourke scheduled a counter-rally Thursday evening in nearby Grand Prairie. In his invitation to supporters, O’Rourke said “we will not be defined by this president’s fear, his hate, or the differences between us that he tries to exploit.”
Cruz also sees a changing Texas. In September, he told a group of reporters that suburban voters, particularly women, are “moving left,” and “that’s turning states with big suburban populations – states like Texas, states like Georgia, states like Arizona – much more purple.”
Referring to fellow Republicans, Cruz said: “If we lose Texas, it’s game over.”
Whither Republican Texas?
Texas Republicans say they don’t see a Democratic state anytime soon. Some called 2018 an anomaly, in part because Cruz was relatively unpopular among other Republicans. GOP members noted that the incumbent governor, Greg Abbott, won his reelection easily.
O’Rourke’s fundraising would be hard for a presidential candidate to duplicate, they said. It’s questionable as to whether the Democrats would be willing to spend that kind of money on a presidential race in Texas, and might to want to spread it to more competitive states.
Said Mackowiak: “2018 was a very weird year in Texas.”
Trump made a late-campaign stop in Houston to stump for Cruz, and later took credit for his victory. Some analysts wonder if the hot-button president didn’t cost Cruz some votes, but it’s impossible to say for sure.
As for 2020, Texas Republicans noted that Trump did win by 9 percentage points in 2016, and a reversal of that size is hard to imagine.
Steve Munisteri, a former GOP state chairman in Texas, said it all boils down to numbers.
Generally, in recent elections, statewide Republican candidates get around 4.5 million votes, he said; Democrat candidates have a base of around 4 million.
Given the state’s growth, Munisteri’s new target is 5.5 million voters. And, as usual, it will boil down to whichever party can turn out that many votes.
“If the Republicans don’t get out their vote, and the Democrats do turn out their vote, the Democrats can win a statewide race,” he said.
It doesn’t look like the Alamo for either party; Munisteri said getting out all those new voters in future elections is more like another battle.
“It’s going to be like the western front in World War I,” Munisteri said. “Trench warfare.”
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