Thursday, Texas Democratic Party officials were featured on Pod Save America, a progressive political podcast. The show’s co-host opened with a familiar question: Is this the year Texas turns blue?
Manny Garcia, the party’s executive director, answered without hesitating.
“Hell yes,” he said.
He would say that naturally, and 2020 isn't the first election year that has seen Texas Democrats optimistic that this year is really it, the year that Democrats win a statewide vote. Garcia further explained why he's so postive in an interview with the Dallas Observer on Friday.
“It’s because of the people,” he said. “It’s because Texans are demanding change, and they’ve had enough.”
Democratic leaders say that President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic will cause the state’s Republicans to jump ship. Some political experts, however, believe that Texas’ red roots run too deep.
The last time Texans voted for a Democratic presidential candidate was in 1976. But this election is different, said Cliff Walker, TDP's deputy executive director.
“Texas is a jump ball at the presidential level,” Walker told Pod Save America.
Rebecca Deen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington, said that turning the state blue has long been a sort of “unfulfilled promise.”
Regardless, the state’s Democratic Party has learned from its losses, Deen said. Now, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has a stronger chance of winning than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, she said.
“Biden is pretty innocuous, but that’s good, right?” Deen said. “He’s sort of projecting calm, grown-up professionalism, and that doesn’t turn off the kind of voters who might consider voting for Democrats down ballot.”
In July, a poll conducted by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler placed Biden 5 points ahead of Trump in Texas. That month, Forbes put him in the lead by 1 point.
Last week, though, an NPR political reporter wrote that the state’s Republicans still retain an advantage.
But Trump’s approval rating in Texas has never been stellar, Garcia said. In 2016, he came within single digits of losing in the state, the first Republican candidate to do so in 20 years.
Trump’s handling of the pandemic will only further sour Texans’ opinions of him, Garcia said.
“Texans have always disliked Trump,” he said. “Meanwhile in Joe Biden, there has been a clear, empathetic care for people.”
In 2018, Beto O’Rourke came within 3 percentage points of beating Ted Cruz for his U.S. Senate seat. Many Texas Democrats saw it as a sign that a sea change was imminent.
Now, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s is up for reelection, and former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar plans on accomplishing what O’Rourke couldn’t: becoming the state’s first Democratic senator since 1993.
Last week, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced it was boosting Hegar’s campaign by at least $1 million, according to the Texas Tribune. That’s an indication that the national Democratic Party has faith in her, Deen said.
Still, Hegar’s chances of winning are slim, she said.
“Let me put it this way: I will be very surprised if Sen. Cornyn loses,” Deen said. “I would be surprised, but not dumbstruck, if the president loses Texas.”
In Texas, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is also targeting seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the Texas Tribune. Its executive director said in a recent interview that she’s optimistic about the prospects.
Money is integral to getting votes in high-profile political races, Deen said. It can buy increased media presence and a larger staff to direct an effective campaign.
In June, the Texas Democratic Party broke fundraising records after it accrued nearly $2 million in donations during its weeklong virtual convention, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Walker told the Observer that Democrats have another thing going for them: Around 1,000 people move to Texas each day, he said, most of whom are not Republicans. An increasing number of young people of color are also becoming politically active, he said.
“There’s no delicate way to put this, but Republican voters are a little older and Democratic voters are a little younger,” Walker said. “So day by day, the electorate as a whole transitions into more Democratic-leaning.”
Certain traditional canvassing methods have been abandoned as a result of the pandemic, but Walker said the state’s Democrats are poised to meet the moment.
Texas Democrats can now check online if they’re registered to vote. If not, then they can fill out a form to receive a prefilled registration application in the mail, complete with an addressed and stamped envelope, Walker said. From there, all they have to do is review, sign and mail.
Many pundits insist that Texas’ blood still runs red, but Garcia said he believes that traditional conservative ideologies no longer command an increasingly diverse state.
“Texas is fundamentally changed,” Garcia said. “There are a whole hell of a lot of Democrats — more of us than there are them.”
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