It’s way too early to pay any attention to state polling, but there are a few general principles to discuss here.
President Joe Biden announced his reelection bid on Tuesday, setting up a potential rematch with former President Donald Trump — two candidates most Texas voters have said should not run again.
Biden’s pitch, made in a 3-minute video, seemed tailored to a Texas audience as the president focused on a slew of issues Republicans in the state have prioritized, including outlawing abortion, restricting LGBTQ rights and banning books.
“Around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take those bedrock freedoms away,” Biden said in his announcement video. “Cutting Social Security that you’ve paid for your entire life while cutting taxes for the very wealthy, dictating what health care decisions women can make, banning books, and telling people who they can love — all while making it more difficult for you to be able to vote.”
“The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom, more rights or fewer,” he said.
But the president heads into 2024 with a lot of ground to make up with Texas voters, 43 percent of whom had a very unfavorable view of Biden in the latest polling by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
And former President Donald Trump, who has dominated polling in the GOP primary, is just as unpopular in Texas, with 42 percent saying he is very unfavorable.
Sixty one percent of Texas voters, meanwhile, said Biden should not run, while 58 percent said the same of Trump, according to the poll, which was released in February.
Still, Biden fared better in Texas in 2020 than any Democratic presidential candidate in years, losing the state to Trump by just 6 percentage points.
Biden likely got a boost in 2020 from independent voters who had a very negative view of Trump. They now have a worse impression of Biden, with 54 percent of independents seeing him as very unfavorable, compared to 42 percent who said the same of Trump.
While few think Biden will actually win the state in 2024, whether or not he can improve on his past performance largely depends on who else is on the top of the ticket, said Joshua Blank, research director at the Texas Politics Project.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who narrowly won reelection over Democrat Beto O’Rourke in 2018 and faces a 46-percent disapproval rate in the state, is also seeking reelection. His campaign could have an impact, depending on the quality of the Democratic candidate challenging Cruz, who would likely be the primary focus of Democratic effort in Texas, Blank said.
“I think a fair case could be made that GOP congressional and Texas legislative candidates might perform better with someone besides Trump and Cruz leading the ticket,” Blank said. “Biden might find Texas a greater challenge facing a GOP candidate other than Trump who doesn’t carry the same baggage as the former president — and someone who he hasn’t already beaten, at least nationally.”
I don’t take the “shouldn’t run again” numbers too seriously, for either candidate. Biden’s overall popularity among Dems is high, and I feel confident that when the choice becomes “Biden or Trump”, he’ll have no trouble getting Dems in line. I mostly think the same for Trump, though he has much bigger potential pitfalls in front of him, nearly all of which will be faced in a courtroom. Biden’s main areas of concern are his age, the potential that he could backslide on issues Dems care about, and not being seen as putting up enough of a fight against Republican malfeasance and creeping authoritarianism. He’s striking the right notes for now, and as long as he stays on that path I feel pretty good about what’s ahead.
A big unanswered question for me is how the abortion issue will play in Texas in 2024. While its largely positive-for-Dems effect in 2022 in other states is well known, it really wasn’t tested as an issue here. The 2022 election was much more about the grid and (in the wake of Uvalde) guns. I don’t have any criticism of that – those were super salient issues, ones on which the Republicans should have been plenty vulnerable – but they didn’t work as we would have liked them to work. The scenario I hope for, both from the Biden campaign and from the campaign of the Democratic nominee for Senate, whether Roland Gutierrez (not yet confirmed, for what it’s worth) or Colin Allred or someone else, is basically a promise to restore Roe v Wade, with extra language to head off the more recent attempts to curtail abortion access (in other words, codify what was in the Hellerstedt decision) and a ban on bounty hunter civil suits. This also requires winning back the House and having enough Senators willing to nuke the filibuster, but you have to start by setting the stakes, and doing this sure does make flipping the Ted Cruz seat that much more of a prize.
Will this work? I mean, we have over 30 years of results to suggest that the odds are against it, but it would give plenty of people – including, I would think, independents and the kind of Republicans that have been pretty reliably crossing over in some number of races since 2016 – a reason to turn out and support Dems at the top of the ticket. It would be nice to have everyone pulling in the same direction, and who knows, it might mean some real national investment in these races. Like I said, we’ll remain the underdogs, but it’s at least a coherent vision. That’s better than what we’ve usually had.