What To Watch For as Texas 2020 Gets Underway

An early voting station on the Southern Methodist University campus.
An early voting station on the Southern Methodist University campus. Meredith Lawrence
If it seems like just yesterday that the Iowa Democratic Party was making a mockery of their caucus' treasured first-in-the-nation status thanks to their inability to count votes or name a winner — it isn't. But it's close. Things are just getting started and, already, Texans are about to get their chance to vote.

Early voting across Dallas County and the rest of Texas begins Feb. 18 and concludes Feb. 28, four days before the Lone Star State's official primary date on Super Tuesday, March 3.

Here's what you need to know and what you should keep an eye on:

The Basics

As long as you registered to vote before Feb. 3, you are free to cast a ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primaries at any voting location in your county of residence. In Dallas County, that flexibility carries over to Election Day, thanks to the county's decision to move from precincts to election centers in 2019.

There is no party registration in Texas, so any voter can cast a ballot in the primary of his or her choosing, with an important caveat: If you vote in the first round of the Republican primary, you can't vote in the Democratic runoff and vice versa.

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Can Texas save Joe Biden?
Office of United States Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware)

What’s at Stake

In North Texas, the biggest 2020 races are all on the Democratic side. Because of its position early in the process, Texas' presidential primary is important for front-runners Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, who are looking to build on their good results in Iowa and New Hampshire, and as a potential last chance for moderates like Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar.

The biggest thing for presidential candidates in Texas isn't necessarily winning the primary outright, according to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. In order to pick up a significant portion of Texas' 228 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention, candidates must pick up more than 15% of the primary vote. That will keep them in play.

"After Super Tuesday, the metric everybody's going to be looking at is 'Where are the candidates in terms of delegates?'" Jones says. "You can fit New Hampshire and Iowa's population in Houston."

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, has leveraged millions in ad buys and multiple visits to Texas into poll numbers in the low to mid teens. Bloomberg was polling at 10% in the most recent poll of Texas by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas. If he finishes at 16%, his efforts in the state will have been fruitful. If he finishes at 14%, they will have been for nothing.

How About Down-Ballot?

The most significant down-ballot race is the multiway squabble for Texas' Democratic Senate nomination and challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Former Air Force helicopter pilot and congressional candidate MJ Hegar has the most money and name recognition in a field that also includes Dallas state Sen. Royce West, Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards, activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez and former Houston U.S. Rep. Chris Bell.

Hegar should finish first, according to Jones, but there's no telling who will join her in the runoff.

"You have four or five candidates who could realistically finish in that second position with around 15% of the vote," Jones says.

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Bernie Sanders may not be the right Democrat for Texas.
Melissa Hennings

What Does All This Mean for the Texas House?

The most important thing to watch in Texas' 2020 general election is the fate of the Texas House. Because of their strong performance in Texas' cities and inner suburbs in the 2018 midterms, Texas Democrats believe they have a shot to win control of the chamber.

While there are several interesting Texas House primary fights set to be decided this spring — Dallas' House District 108, specifically, is a race to watch — it's also important to watch who takes the lead in the presidential race.

If Democrats support a moderate nationally, according to Jones, it could portend good things for Texas Democrats in November. If Sanders consolidates his lead and becomes the nominee, it could be a disaster for the Texas party.

"All those things that Republicans like to claim Democrats are, often when they aren't, Bernie Sanders is," Jones says. "He does want to take your guns. He does want to take your health insurance. He does want to destroy the fossil fuel industry. He does want to tax your church. You name it, he wants to do it."
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young