Translation: Jesse Tomlinson
When Beto O'Rourke almost won the Senate seat of Republican Ted Cruz in Texas in 2018, it fanned the flames for 2020 being the possible date to turn the red state blue. The last Democrat to win Texas was former president Jimmy Carter 43 years ago. But now, polls are suggesting this could change next year.
The alarm bells are already ringing for Republican senator John Cornyn who will head into the 2020 election with only 37% approval at the state level. "The tectonic plates under Texas shifted in 2018," the senator warned his party colleagues a few months ago, trying to light a fire under them. "If Texas turns blue we won't elect another Republican president in my lifetime."
One recent poll carried out by the University of Texas at Austin revealed that Donald Trump is lagging behind Joe Biden (41%-37%), Beto O'Rourke (43%-37%), and even leftist Bernie Sanders (42%-38%).
LPO talked to Joshua Blank, Research Director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. He pointed out that the Democrats "are in a better position electorally than they have been at any point in recent memory.
One of the most alarming signs for Republicans is that in the course of a few weeks four Republican members of Congress announced they would not seek reelection in 2020. At least three of these seats will turn Democrat.
"[Republicans] are definitely worried," said Blank. "We've already seen a number of Republican incumbents retire in Texas. That may be a reflection of the national environment and the expectation that they will be in the minority in the House of Representatives again after the 2020 election. It may be a reflection of their perception of their chances in their own districts," the specialist explained.
One thing is certain - in a state with such a dominant Latino population, being at the mercy of Donald Trump's statements is a serious threat to Republicans. "Whether they're afraid of the preference of Hispanic voters, or the possibility that the head of their party [Trump] is going to counter-mobilize Hispanic voters against them, I think that fear is real," Blank stressed.
One of the most surprising results of recent polls is Beto O'Rourke's position as the point man in Texas, something that doesn't surprise Blank. "Beto has an advantage in Texas of being extremely well known and really one of the only modern Democratic candidates in the state to run a competitive, high-quality campaign," he explained.
"In a Democratic primary that still has roughly 20 candidates in it, those candidates who are well known to the electorate start with an advantage over those who must introduce themselves to the voters. In Texas Beto O'Rourke is as well-known or more well-known than any of the other Democratic candidates".
That being said, the progressive candidates' numbers are not as positive in the conservative state. In several recent polls, Warren and Sanders are ahead of Biden in some studies nationally but still continue to trail Trump in Texas.
For Blank, the centrist versus progressive issue is still murky, "because Texas hasn't been very competitive and because Democrats haven't taken it terribly seriously, I think one of the questions is whether a candidate like Warren or Sanders would make Texas more competitive, or whether it would be more competitive with a moderate candidate like Biden or Kamala Harris," he pointed out. "There are theories of the case that would point in either direction."
2022 will most likely be the year the Latino population overtakes its Anglo-Saxon counterpart in Texas. As Democratic candidate to the Senate Cristina Tzintzún Ramírez noted in an interview with LPO, "in 2020 there will be 400,000 more Latinos of voting age."
The numbers suggest that in Texas, the Latino vote is divided 60% Democrat and 40% Republican. According to Blank, the problem is that, "what's tending to mark Latino politics in Texas is low engagement and low voting." But the circumstances are changing.
"Having said that, both sides tend to oversimplify the Latino vote," the specialist explained. "Democrats paint Latinos as overwhelmingly supportive of Democratic candidates and policies, and Republicans tend to highlight a Hispanic attachment to conservative values through religion as something to indicate that Latinos are Republican voters. The reality is that they are somewhere in the middle. In all our polling we tend to find that amongst registered Latinos, between 30 and 40 percent of that population support Republican candidates, Republican policies, and for all intents and purposes look like Republicans."
In some polls, even Biden is trailing Beto in Texas
With this 60-40 split, the Republicans have maintained their dominance in Texas. But the tides could turn from one moment to the next. "If that margin starts to creep up for Democrats and get closer to 65 or 70 percent then it becomes a lot more difficult for Republicans to assume electoral victories," the analyst pointed out.
One factor that analysts are paying more attention to is the number of Latinos coming out to vote. "In this election cycle, I would expect their share of the electorate to increase by a significant degree over the last presidential election cycle. That would only make it more competitive."
The Donald Trump era has given Democrats more ammunition than ever before in terms of reaching the Latino electorate, but how effective their efforts have been is still something that remains to be seen. "It's not as simple as Republicans being politically incorrect in the way they talk about immigration. It's more complicated than that, it definitely involves increasing the rate of Hispanic participation, but I would say all indications are Democratic candidates see opportunities in mobilizing Hispanic voters to their cause," concluded Blank.
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