Ever since Republicans flipped the Texas statehouse in their favor in 2003, Democrats have been trying to flip it back. But now, as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up, and Bernie Sanders polls high in Texas, his popularity might make it harder for them to do so.
Renuka Rayasam, an Austin-based reporter for Politico, says that could be because Sanders might be too liberal. Sanders, who talks about nationalizing health care and the energy industry, could “spook” moderate voters from voting for down-ballot Democrats, and thwart Democrats’ effort to take back the House. She says Texas Democrats are trying to convince Republicans in some districts to vote for them, and Sanders’ message might not help.
“Democratic veteran operatives in the state … [say] this is a red state; it’s a conservative state. It’s not a battleground state, it’s not a swing state,” Rayasam says. “Their theory is that the way to get people to vote for a Democrat in this cycle is to sort of convince them we’re the best steward of the statehouse.”
On the other hand, Rayasam says some argue Sanders could actually help Texas Democrats by energizing voters who might be intrigued by such a progressive political figure, someone outside the norm.
“It’s absolutely true that veterans could have this wrong,” Rayasam. “[But] they’re looking at these districts and looking at those voters, and trying to say, ‘What is it going to take to get those voters to come out and vote for a Democrat for state rep?’”
State races matter more than ever in 2020 because those elected will help decide new congressional districts.
“Democrats want a seat at that table, and if they control the statehouse, they have a lot more control over how those districts get drawn and who’s going to be the voter base for the next 10 years,” Rayasam says.
For their part, Republicans are labeling all of the Democratic presidential candidates, including Sanders, as “Socialists,” she says, in an effort to dissuade their constituents from voting Democratic.
“They feel like all the folks at the top of the ticket are going to be too left for Texas,” she says.
Written by Caroline Covington.
A previous version of the audio for this story incorrectly stated that Republicans took control of the statehouse in the 1990s. The GOP achieved a majority in the 2002 election.