Hillary Clinton is leading every potential republican candidate in Texas polling data. Julian Castro is the fastest rising politician in Texas. And Wendy Davis is finding meaningful support for her run as Texas governor. What do all three have in common? They’re democrats who are making headway in the largest “red state” in the nation. It’s enough to ask the question of whether they’ll collectively be able to claim to have turned Texas into a blue state by the time 2016 is said and done – something which hasn’t been the case in decades. But several factors are working in their favor.
Texas has been so firmly thought of as a republican stronghold that few young voters are even aware that the state’s electoral votes went to Jimmy Carter in 1976, or that the state had a democratic governor as recently as 1990. Texas is a red state in the sense that roughly three fifths of its voters have tended to lean republican in recent years. For instance in the 2012 Presidential election Mitt Romney got 57% of the popular vote in the Longhorn State while Barack Obama received 41%. But as little as a ten percent shift would reverse that advantage and flip all the state’s electoral votes entirely to the democratic side.
The republican party has three reasons to fear losing support in Texas. The first is that the party’s anti-immigration reform stance has cost it support among Hispanic voters, even as the Hispanic population in Texas is growing as a percentage of the state’s total population. Romney fared very poorly with Hispanic voters in 2012, and while it wasn’t enough to cost him Texas, the shift will be more significant by 2016. The second is that Texas has served as a hotbed for the republican party’s push into Tea Party extremism. The rise and swift fall of Ted Cruz, who has become a national joke, may convince some moderate voters to distance themselves from the GOP. And the third is that Hillary Clinton has such broad mainstream support that she’ll fare better with Texas moderates than Obama did. If Hillary names San Antonio hero Julian Castro as her running mate, she improves her chances of winning Texas even more.
Wendy Davis is another story. Various polls show her behind in the 2014 polls for governor by double digits, and while she has plenty of time to turn that around by November, she still has to be considered the underdog. But even if she loses, her campaign – which is heavily base on protecting women’s personal and medical rights – will serve to underscore the republican party’s increasing problem with women voters. That in turn will serve to make it easier for Hillary Clinton to campaign in Texas on those same issues.
Texas should ultimately be a tight Presidential race in 2016. Even if Clinton wins in an electoral blowout nationwide, she’ll have to overcome a significant conservative undercurrent which has gripped the state for decades, even as that conservatism has produced one failure after another. If eight failed years of George W. Bush was President wasn’t enough to convince a majority of Texans to vote for the other party in either of the two subsequent Presidential elections, it’s fair to conclude that some Texas conservatives will simply never give up their republican allegiance. But as those conservatives become a smaller percentage of the overall Texas population, the state may end up turning blue by the narrowest of margins.