Do Democrats have a chance to win in Texas?

Right now, Texas is a “lean Republican” state, giving Democrats opportunities, with the right mix of candidates and funding.

By Shelly BrisbinDecember 7, 2023 2:37 pm,

Political prognosticators don’t give Joe Biden much chance of winning Texas’ 40 electoral votes in 2024. But Texas Democrats continue to hope that the much-anticipated “blue wave” will eventually arrive in the state, leading to more Democratic victories.

Demographic changes in the state, along with success by Democrats at the local level in large counties, gives them encouragement.

Texas Monthly’s Alexandra Samuels told Texas Standard that even Republicans say Democrats could eventually achieve more success in the state. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Your story begins with Vice President Kamala Harris making a visit to Houston recently. What brought her to Texas?

Alexandra Samuels: The event was billed as a community conversation hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and it was one of the latest stops in the caucuses on the road series of events across the country meant to get out word about how Democrats, and more specifically, the Biden administration, are working to help the Hispanic community.

Well, so what did she have to say, and did she move the crowd?

Good question. You know, a lot of it was a lot of platitudes that we maybe expect of Democrats to hear, you know. The crowd did seem excited to see her. But I think the problem is that it’s been so hard for so many decades to get Democrats in Texas energized and out to the ballots when it’s time to vote and when it really matters.

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Texas Democrats have been expected to do better in statewide races for a long time. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid against Ted Cruz is perhaps one of the more memorable moments in the minds of many. Is it just a matter of time for Democrats, especially given demographic change, or is something else holding them back?

So one thing that Steve Munisteri – and he’s the former chairman of the state GOP – told me that really stuck out is that Texas is a lean Republican state; it’s not a solidly Republican one.

And that means if everything is equal – if both parties have equally matched candidates, equally matched expenditures, they’re in a relatively equal environment and have equal turnout machine – then yes, Republicans would be favored to win at the statewide level by about 5-6 points.

But a lot of things are holding Democrats back currently. I mean, turning out Democrats, as I mentioned earlier, has never been an easy feat. Between last year’s primaries and midterms, markedly fewer Democrats registered to vote than had done so between 2018’s primary and midterm races.

But a second issue for Democrats running statewide is that in order to win, they have to earn the support of voters who identify as conservative on issues like immigration, oil and gas, and policing. And on some of these issues, certain Democrats’ stances, such as support for the Green New Deal, for instance, has put them out of sorts with the voting populace.

And on others like policing, I think the GOP has successfully convinced many voters that Democrats favor more extreme positions than they do. 2020 was a great example of this. President Biden was painted as supporting defunding the police, a position of course, not embraced by a majority of Texas voters – but it was also one that Biden disavowed.

Now, let’s talk a little bit more about that national nexus, because it could be argued that if the national party is focused mostly on the presidential sweepstakes, well, what about Democratic groups around the country, including here in Texas? I guess the real question is, do national Democrats take chances of local Democrats seriously enough to actually spend money here?

So when it comes to like lower-down like House races and Senate races, I haven’t seen a targeted investment from the national party so far. As I mentioned in the piece, neither Biden nor Harris have announced more trips to Texas, at least not yet.

Investing here obviously comes with costs, but national Democratic-aligned groups are ready to invest in Texas, at least in the Senate race and a few congressional races. So the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, for instance, hasn’t given a specific figure, but did announce earlier this year that Texas is one of 10 Senate races it plans to get involved in.

And, you know, in the 15th Congressional District, that will be a big race. It’s near the Texas-Mexico border. That seat is currently held by a Republican. But in April, the U.S. House Democratic campaign arm announced that it would focus efforts on the district as part of the party’s larger plan to reclaim control of the lower chamber of Congress.

What about 2024? Could that be a tipping point for Democrats as they see it?

Yeah, 2024 is very unlikely. Democrats are unlikely to close the gap entirely next year, but some GOP political operatives think that Democrats could succeed perhaps as soon as 2028 or 2032 if they make the right investments in money, organization and candidate recruitment – and of course, develop policy positions that attract swing voters without alienating the party’s base of more liberal urban voters.

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