Now That Beto O’Rourke Won’t Challenge John Cornyn, Texas Is A Less Likely Presidential Swing State In 2020

The director of the Texas Political Project says O’Rourke’s momentum, and ability to boost voter turnout, could have put Texas in play. But as a presidential candidate, he loses those advantages.


By Jill AmentMarch 5, 2019 11:59 am

A recently released University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that if a presidential election were held today, Texans would be closely divided on whether they would vote to re-elect President Donald Trump.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, says Trump and “somebody else” are nearly tied.

“The headline comes out that he’s behind because 49 [percent] said they would re-elect him, 51 [percent] said they wouldn’t,” Henson says. “That’s in the margin of error, but it shows you how controversial Trump is, and how polarized Texas is.”

As for Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke, two Texans who are, respectively, confirmed and likely presidential candidates, Henson says the UT/TT Poll looked at each man’s favorability rating among respondents.

“What we found was a big difference in the familiarity with which Texans view each candidate,” Henson says.

O’Rourke was rated “favorable” by 43 percent of respondents, while 45 percent rated him “unfavorable” – about the same numbers he had earned by the end of his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Castro had a 26-point “favorable” rating, while 32 percent of respondents rated him “unfavorable.” Henson says 42 percent had no opinion.

“This is not all that surprising, given Julián Castro’s political path, but it does suggest that if you have two candidates from Texas going out into the presidential race on the Democratic side, and saying ‘I can bring Texas,’ at least at this point, Beto O’Rourke has the much stronger claim,” Henson says.

Henson says that the possibility of Texas becoming a presidential swing state is greater now than it would have been two years ago. But the possibility would have been even greater had O’Rourke decided to challenge John Cornyn for his Senate seat. 

“It’s probably a little less likely at this moment than it was, say, a couple of months ago when we were thinking that there was a possibility that Beto O’Rourke might actually get back in the race sooner rather than later at the state level, and challenge John Cornyn,” he says.

He says an O’Rourke bid for president is a long shot; he would be one candidate in a large field of other Democratic candidates. Henson says he would have been better off capitalizing on the momentum he gained from his 2018 campaign and run for Senate in 2020.

“It’s more likely than not that he’s gonna wind up not on the ballot in 2020, and then you’ve lost the oomph that you get from an O’Rourke candidacy, which is much more likely to be successful at the Senate level,” Henson says.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.