As we head into what appears to be another potentially wrenching presidential election season, there are serious questions for Texas, where we’re seeing divisions within the GOP and Democrats increasingly frustrated with the agenda of Republican lawmakers – from Gov. Greg Abbott on down.
What does it all add up to for the coming year in politics in Texas?
Rebecca Deen, a professor of political science and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Arlington, and Álvaro Corral, professor of political science at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, joined Texas Standard to discuss. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Let’s begin with a big statewide race folks will be watching most certainly this year: the race for U.S. Senate. Ted Cruz is up for reelection after his tight victory over Beto O’Rourke back in 2018. Rebecca Deen, who seem to be the top challengers this year for that Senate race?
Rebecca Deen: Well, it’s going to be U.S. House Representative Colin Allred from up here in North Texas. He has raised the most money of the field so far, about $10.6 million, and he’s got a good deal of that cash on hand. And then right behind him would be State Sen. Roland Gutierrez out of San Antonio.
Who you think has the name recognition advantage there?
Deen: Well, I think it’s regional. I mean, I think that probably Allred… He got some statewide press when he upset the incumbent, Pete Sessions, for that seat back in 2018. But, you know, Gutierrez has that Central Texas/South Texas support.
Very interesting. But I want to shift to you, Álvaro Corral… A Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race in Texas since 1994, I believe. Do you have any reason to think that this year will be any different?
Álvaro Corral: You’re right. It’s, I think, pretty easy for Democrats to get pretty dour about the near 30-year losing streak. But I would say that there are a couple of things that may be giving them a bit of hope.
You know, I’ve long said that if Democrats want to get an upset victory, there needs to be sort of a perfect storm of factors. And they actually have potentially a few of those things working in their favor.
One, Democrats need high turnout. And having a Senate race that coincides with the presidential election races is just on average, I think, positive for Democrats who may be able to capitalize on some energy if they have it. You know, going after one of the weaker GOP senators who by far is Ted Cruz – he’s the most polarizing, has high negatives, so potentially a little bit more vulnerable. Obviously, he’s coming off of a sort of 2018 battle that made him sweat.
And three, which is that sort of X factor issue, which may be abortion. The post-Dobbs decision here in Texas is only now, I think, starting to trickle down to voters. And that may be, again, the sort of X factor that could drive enthusiasm among Democrats who are kind of starved for it with with an incumbent, you know, in President Biden, who maybe isn’t doing all that well in the polls. That may be something that they can rely on.
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I want to ask you about that, Rebecca, because, you know, you think about how Texas has been in the news for its strict abortion laws – effective abortion ban, really. What do you think of the idea that women who might have previously voted Republican or perhaps didn’t vote in elections past might help Democrats this year in Texas?
Deen: Well, you know, I think Professor Corral is exactly right. In order for Democrats to do well statewide, they have to increase the enthusiasm. They have to get strong mobilization. They’re not getting that with President Biden nationally. He’s got an enthusiasm gap. So I think potentially that issue of abortion – that’s not only in the news, but so salient for women – might be that factor.
Additionally, sort of suburban Republicans that we’ve watched swing back and forth – women Republicans that we’ve watched them back and forth – probably are not enamored of President Trump, who is likely to win the GOP nomination again. So I think there’s a possibility here.
A number of Republicans running for U.S. House seats has significantly increased compared to the last election cycle. What do you think’s contributing to the rise in challengers and how might that more crowded field affect candidates strategy in upcoming elections? What do you think?
Corral: Yeah, so I mean, in political science we kind of have a bit of a truism, that candidates are strategic, that, you know, they’re pretty good at reading the political winds. And, you know, Republicans are probably sort of wetting their chops in an otherwise sort of weak year potentially for Democrats.
Can they capitalize on a sort of weak top-of-the-ticket and will that help them down ballot? And again, I think something that we’re going to talk about in a little bit – the sort of fissures around the Texas GOP – that’s something that lots of candidates may be looking to exploit. “Can I be in the good graces of Gov, Abbott? Can I be in the good graces of Paxton? Can I capitalize on a small issue here and there that can give me the advantage in a crowded field?”
So I think that may be something that’s driving that kind of rise of the GOP candidates.
You know, I notice that several of these open seats are in North Texas. The House seat Democrat Collin Allred is leaving to run for Senate, then you have the retirement of Republicans Kay Granger and Michael Burgess. Professor Deen, do you think that their seats are going to be safe within their party or not so much?
Deen: Oh, I think they are solidly safe. Districts in the last cycle already won with over 65% of the vote. And with Granger and Burgess, they were redistricted to be even more solidly. So if you think about the DFW area and the little spokes shooting out from that, the Granger district has all of Parker County and then the Burgess district goes almost all the way to Bridgeport, west of the area.