Fresh on the heels of news that two red states, Georgia and Iowa, are dead heats in the presidential election comes another indication that Joe Biden is taking the fight to states that are typically considered safe for Republicans. This time the alarm bells are ringing in Texas, a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976.
The extent of Republican concerns for the Lone Star State is shown by a Politico report that Texas is among several battleground states that received million dollar cash infusions from the Republican National Committee. The $1.3 million payment is the largest-ever grant from the RNC to the Texas State GOP.
Underscoring the problem is a new poll from the Tyson Group that shows President Trump trailing Joe Biden by a 44-48 margin with five percent undecided. The poll also found that Trump’s approval in the state was underwater by four points at 45 percent.
Senator John Cornyn is also struggling in his re-election bid. At 35 percent approval, Cornyn holds a two-point lead over MJ Hegar, his Democratic challenger, with 11 percent undecided.
As with the Georgia and Iowa polls, the new Texas poll is not an outlier. FiveThirtyEight‘s list of state polls shows a race that has tightened dramatically since the beginning of August when Trump had a seven-point advantage in a YouGov survey. The polling average now shows the president with a lead of less than one point.
Texas is generally considered to be one of the reddest of the red states, but recent elections there have told a different story. Notably, Ted Cruz won a very narrow victory against Beto O’Rourke in 2018 by less than three points. That year Republicans lost two congressional seats in Texas as well as 12 seats in the Texas House and two in the state Senate.
But those statistics don’t tell the whole story. That same year, Gov. Gregg Abbott was re-elected in a 13-point landslide. The real story in Texas goes deeper than just assuming that Democrats are making across-the-board gains.
As any Texan will tell you, Texas is unique. The state makes up about seven percent of the land area of the United States and about 8.6 percent of the US population. Texas contains tiny frontier towns and huge urban metropolises as well as a long international border with Mexico.
Even though the perception of Texas as a conservative bastion, Texas’s major cities are deep blue as is much of the border area (which undercuts the Republican theories about illegal immigrant crime waves). In fact, political patterns in Texas resemble those in the nation at large. Sparsely populated rural areas tend red while the cities and the border go blue. In the age of Trump, suburbs are increasingly trending Democrat as well, which helps to account for the loss of Republican seats in 2018.
One area where Texas is different is in its racial demographics. Hispanics make up 40 percent of the population of Texas. In 2018, about 70 percent of Texas Hispanic voters supported O’Rourke in the senatorial election. This is a significant increase from the 63 percent that voted for Obama in 2008 or the 61 percent that voted Clinton in 2016. An obvious conclusion is that Trump’s racial rhetoric has pushed more Hispanics toward the Democrats.
On the other side of the scale are the Texas transplants, many of whom immigrated to the state from blue states such as California. A CNN exit poll from 2018 found that Texas natives preferred Beto O’Rourke while newcomers supported Ted Cruz. This new blood likely saved Cruz’s seat.
In 2016, Donald Trump won the state by nine points, which seems respectable until you look at Texas’s electoral history. Mitt Romney’s margin of victory in 2012 was 16 points and John McCain won the state by 12 points. Native son George W. Bush took Texas by an astounding 23 points in 2004.
The lesson here may be that good Republican candidates do well in Texas while weak candidates have a hard time. And by most measures, Donald Trump is a historically weak incumbent who is struggling, not only in Texas but in a growing number of red states.
Even though Trump will likely eke out a victory in the Lone Star State, a close race has other bad implications for the GOP. Money being spent by Republicans to shore up Texas cannot be spent in other battleground states, and, as I pointed out this morning, Biden already has a cash advantage over the Trump campaign. A close race also means that Republicans may lose additional congressional seats this year even if Trump carries the state.
“If Trump barely wins Texas, we lose Texas-22, Texas-24 and possibly Texas-21,” a Texas Republican consultant told Politico. “Democrats probably take the state House in that scenario, too.”
Such a scenario would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
The worst-case scenario would be that the hemorrhaging continues and that President Trump loses Texas on November 3. Without the 38 Lone Star electoral votes, Trump would lose even if no other states flipped from the 2016 results. Realistically, however, if Texas is lost, most of the other battlegrounds will be turning blue as well.
Republicans have little choice but to pour resources into Texas to defend a must-win state. That necessity will thin their assets in other battleground states and make it even harder for Donald Trump to overcome Joe Biden’s ubiquitous advantage in the closing days of the campaign.
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