Given that carrying the state is highly unlikely, what else is there to aim for this year?
So will Democrats make a presidential play for Texas or not?
Presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton stoked the issue last month by saying she could win the Lone Star State. Texas Republicans responded with ridicule, pointing to their party’s longstanding dominance at the state level.
And on Tuesday, some key Democrats took a more measured approach.
“We’re not a battleground state,” said Garry Mauro, a former state land commissioner who’s a top leader in Clinton’s Texas campaign. “You won’t see the Democratic Party or Hillary Clinton spend a hundred million dollars in Texas.”
But, Mauro and others said, the bellicose talk of GOP nominee Donald Trump has presented Texas Democrats with opening – if they are willing to seize it.
“We’re going to have to do it ourselves,” interjected Jacob Limon, the Texas director for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
So does that include a real Democratic push this fall in Texas, where Democrats haven’t won statewide since 1994? Mauro insisted that Trump’s comments about minorities – and the state’s demographic mix – could make it difficult for him to carry Texas.
Crystal Perkins, the Texas Democratic Party’s executive director, didn’t disagree. But she also made sure to point to the future.
“We’re thinking about 2018 and 2020,” she said. “We have big priorities in Texas.”
I certainly agree with that last sentence, and the more we can tie Donald Trump to the state leadership, the better. Regardless of anything else, the main goal here should be to increase turnout over 2012, ideally over 2008. The conditions are right to bring a bunch of new voters to the polls, and then maybe – just maybe – a few of them will be persuaded to come out again in two years’ time. It’s nice to think, isn’t it? The first step needs to be taken before that can happen, and that’s voting this year. What’s a good number to set as a goal? I’ll let a Republican make a suggestion.
The last time a Democratic presidential candidate lost to a Republican by only single digits in Texas was the 1996 Bill Clinton-Bob Dole race, and Ross Perot that year got nearly 7 percent of the vote.
“It’s hard for me to see how Hillary breaks a 45 percent ceiling,” said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak. “I would tend to respect Garry Mauro’s expert opinion about Texas a hell of a lot more than I would respect Hillary’s.”
Forty-five percent may sound daunting – you can count on your fingers the number of Dems who have reached that level since 2002 – but it’s not that far off. Obama got 43.68% in 2008, after all. To reach 45% would mean Hillary Clinton would need to collect 3.8 million votes if the total number of Republican and others remains the same – in other words, a 500,000 vote increase (15%) on 2012’s mark of 3.3 million. If Clinton can steal votes from Trump, or if he has the effect of depressing Republican turnout, then fewer votes are needed. Clinton would have to reach 3.6 million if total turnout remains at 8 million as it was 2012. That’s a 300,000 vote increase, or 9% higher than it was in 2012. I wouldn’t suggest that either of these targets will be easy to hit, but they’re hardly insurmountable.
The prize for this is twofold. One, an overall increase in turnout means an increase in places where it will swing elections, like Harris County, maybe Fort Bend County, CD23, the attainable competitive legislative districts, et cetera. Beyond that is the change of narrative that will come if Texas is not a double-digit win for the Rs as it has been and as they are confident it will continue to be. Even a nine-point gap will make people think “hey, that’s not THAT much”. If we want to get to the point where it does seem reasonable for a Presidential campaign to pump a few million bucks into the state, that’s the cover charge. Is this likely? It would be nice to know that there’s a plan in place with the strategy and resources to achieve it – I’ll say again, for whatever it’s worth, this was the original idea behind Battleground Texas – rather than just point to the Trump dumpster fire and hope it’s enough to move the needle. Is it doable? I certainly believe so. In the meantime, and until we finally get some polling for the state, let’s keep up the pressure on Trump’s local lackeys. In addition everything else, that’s fun.