It’s been 20 years since the last time a Democrat came close to winning Texas, but if a new 50-state survey released Monday by The Washington Post can be believed, Hillary Clinton has a narrow lead over Donald Trump.
Conducted by Survey Monkey, the data included 74,000 respondents and used internet rather that live phone calls to contact potential voters just before the Labor Day weekend. While many were quick to dismiss the survey findings, based on collection methodologies, there may well be a bona fide political opening for Democrats—if not now, in cycles to come—and Trump may have unwittingly handed them the keys.
Should Republicans lose (or even loosen) their grip on Texas, it would prove disastrous for them nationally with impacts likely to extend over generations.
At issue: Supreme Court and federal judicial nominations, a U.S. Senate majority and, by extension, immigration policy and voting rights. Protected by intra-state gerrymandering, House and state legislative seats are far less susceptible to the trend that could be triggered by the Trump candidacy. Although, any resulting rising tide of wins by Democrats at the federal or state level, legislative or judicial, could be enough to accelerate the roll-back and drown voter suppression laws. Then too, it could also open a window for citizenship—and thus access to the ballot box— for undocumented immigrants, something GOP-controlled legislatures around the country and in Washington have fought to stave off.
For the Republican nominee, winning the Lone Star State should be as sweet and effortless as a Dirk Nowitzki three-point jump shot. However, the survey shows “an unprecedented deficit” for Trump “among college-educated white voters” and that he is “struggling in places Republicans have won consistently.” Specifically, the real estate developer may have to fight battles thought to be already won in deep red states, in the South and Southwest— like Arizona, Georgia and, yes, Texas.
As other polls have demonstrated, Arizona and Georgia may well be in question. Several notable GOP leaders from both states, including Sens. John McCain and Johnny Isakson, have proffered lukewarm endorsements to the party nominee. But, Texas may prove a harder—and some say impossible—nut to crack.
In 2012, Mitt Romney won Texas by 16 points, besting Barack Obama by more than 1.2 million votes. Today, a combination of seismic demographic shifts among non-white voters and his own lackluster campaign infrastructure may be the reasons for Trump’s weak showing there. Furthermore, his tense relationships with Texas state party leaders—including primary opponent Sen. Ted Cruz—likely created wounds that won’t soon heal.
One simply cannot question the sanity of a candidate’s wife or accuse his father of being in league with a presidential assassin and then later expect his full-throated endorsement. As a consequence, a win for Trump in Texas will look more like a tough buzzer-beating, hook shot over an aggressive man-to-man defense than a slam dunk through a clear lane.
Perhaps more tellingly, even before state-by-state polling started in earnest, when asked about which states might be in in play, Clinton pointed south to Texas.
“If black and Latino voters come out and vote, we could win Texas,” the former Secretary of State explained in an interview with New York Magazine. It was a curious assertion, to be sure, one roundly dismissed by political strategists from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters.
The real problem is this: For Democrats, even with Trump’s inherent weaknesses, a real venture into Texas is far too costly at this juncture. Anything spent in Texas cannot be spent anywhere else— including the 13 more conventional battleground states.
Betting the house on Texas now would be a big gamble and one campaign advisers have at least publicly resisted. With a landmass of over 268,000 square miles and an estimated population that nears 30 million, building a workable campaign infrastructure of paid staff and volunteers would cost several million. Add to that a budget for media air time in four of the top 50 media markets in the country and the price tag easily tops $20 million. Despite publicly touting a 50-state strategy, Clinton supporters—including Texas attorney Garry Mauro—have also downplayed any growing expectations.
“We’re not a battleground state,” the former four-term Land Commissioner said at the state party press conference last June. “You’re not going to see the Democratic Party or Hillary Clinton spending $100 million in Texas to make us a battleground state.”
And he should know. Mauro, whose career in Texas politics spans four decades and who lost his own bid for Texas governor in 1998, first met the Clintons in 1972. Sen. George McGovern was the Democratic nominee for president when Bill and Hillary Clinton showed up to help register young black and Hispanic voters. Mauro would go on to run Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 presidential races in Texas. He later signed up to do that same for Hillary in the 2008 primary.
But, back in 1996, Bill Clinton—who nearly beat Sen. Bob Dole in the Lone Star State—had three things working for him: former Gov. Ann Richards, a wily billionaire from Bowie County—H. Ross Perot—who snagged almost 7 percent and, well, Bob Dole.
In Trump, Hillary may have found a more cantankerous version of Dole. That is, if Dole knew nothing at all about public policy, governing or the legislative process. However, there is no one like Ann Richards on the scene, and—for better or worse—no self-funded independent candidate has yet matched the likes of Perot. And, most importantly, there was a statewide Democratic organization back then. Today, Clinton is helping to build it anew.
She may not, however, be building it for herself.
Investments this year will be limited to keeping voters engaged and mobilized for elections to come. Quite frankly, Trump’s foibles have opened doors for Democrats to talk to center-right suburbanites and still others who are new to the process. Being present is half the battle and that’s the real goal of Clinton’s 50-state strategy: Seed the landscape and build organization for down ballot and future races.
Clinton doesn’t need to win Texas to set that ball in motion.