Micah Cohen, writing for FiveThirtyEight, looks at how Texas Democrats are faring:

Yet, for all the talk of a politically competitive state, the Republican grip on Texas has never loosened.

...All 29 statewide elective offices are held by Republicans, and Texas Democrats have been left with a series of if-onlys. If only the local party were better organized. If only national Democrats invested more money in the state. If only we could get a charismatic Hispanic candidate on the ballot. And, the most fundamental “if only” of them all: if only Hispanic turnout were stronger.
It's possible that Texas could go blue in a presidential election before the state offices turn over.


This is solid analysis and a nice change of pace from those turning-Texas-blue stories that boil down to "Lots of Hispanics, end of." I'd like to add a few thoughts about the role that national Democrats could play in Texas.

As Cohen notes, national Democrats have been reluctant to put many resources into Texas, given how red the state is. That's probably sensible, insofar as other states are more likely to swing, although it leaves downballot Democrats feeling forlorn.

It's possible, however, that Texas could turn blue at the presidential level before Democrats start winning statewide.

In the first place, the state has some history of ticket-splitting. When it was a one-party Democratic state, Texas backed Republicans Herbert Hoover (1928) and Dwight Eisenhower (1952 and 1956) for president. In 1972, Texas went for Nixon. The state's political realignment was beginning at that point; John Connally, the popular former governor, had become the head of Democrats for Nixon and campaigned on his behalf. But Democrats were still firmly in control of Texas, as evidenced by the fact in 1972 they kept hold of the governor's office despite the fact that their two heavyweight candidates for the post--the incumbent governor and the incumbent lieutenant-governor--lost the primary in the wake of the Sharpstown scandal. (In 1968, incidentally, Texas was one of only 13 states--and the only state in the south, the west, or the southwest--to back Hubert Humphrey over Nixon, suggesting a talent for idiosyncracy.)

Most of Texas's presidential votes, of course, were for the more conservative candidate, which isn't exactly good news for today's national Democrats. In some of the cases, however, Texas's electoral votes were secured by overt tactics. In 1952, for example, Eisenhower was endorsed by Texas's Democratic governor, Allan Shivers, after promising to recognize the state's claims to control its offshore waters for nine miles--a promise that Adlai Stevenson declined to offer. In 1960 Nixon might have carried the state, if not for the fact that Kennedy had picked Lyndon Johnson as his running-mate, largely for that reason.

Since 1980, Texas has always backed the Republican for president. Of course, for six of those nine elections, the Republican ticket had a Texan (George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush) on it, and Democrats, for the most part, weren't bothering to contest it. In 1996, the Clinton-Dole year, Texas was mostly a Republican state and Dole won it--but only by 5%. That same year, by contrast, Phil Gramm was re-elected to the Senate by an 11% margin.

There's a logical reason that Texans would cross over at the presidential level rather than the state one. In a one-party state, the second party isn't usually that strong. When Texas was Democratic, the Republicans were thin on candidates; the opposite is true today. Even when good candidates emerge from the opposition party, the deck may be stacked against them, because the majority party has so much power, and the incentive to preserve it. This happened in 1957, when Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson worked furiously to help Ralph Yarborough win a special election for the Senate--Yarborough was an outright liberal, and there was a Republican candidate who seemed much closer to the Texas mainstream. At the national level, however, there are two parties, both of which routinely produce credible candidates.

Depending on who's on the Democratic ticket, in other words, and whether he or she campaigns in Texas, there's a chance that Democrats could pick up Texas's electoral votes before they realize their hopes for statewide office. Not in 2012, obviously. Neither candidate has spent much time or money here, so the state's electoral votes will go to Romney by default. But in subsequent cycles, if Texas is tacking back towards the center (demographics!), the first sign of change could come at the top of the ticket.

 
 
Manny Fernandez's profile of San Antonio mayor Julián Castro hits a lot of the usual (correct) notes but includes one massive whaaaaaa?:

San Antonio has become a kind of Berkeley of the Southwest, a progressive, economically vibrant and Democratic-leaning city of 1.3 million in Republican-dominated Texas.

This got a lot of spit-takes from Texans on Twitter last night, because San Antonio is nothing like Berkeley. San Antonio is about ten times more populous, about twenty times bigger physically (more sprawing, I mean), vastly less affluent (the median household income in SATX is about $20k less than it is in Berkeley)--but at the same time, arguably more economically vibrant (6.6% unemployment in May 2012, compared to 8.6% in Berkeley). San Antonio is also more centrist than Berkeley. It has a progressive tradition; Castro's parents are a part of it, both having been community organizers. But that's often been offset by the city's more conservative constituencies: active-duty military, military retirees, business Republicans, socially conservative Hispanic voters. So these days the city produces young Democratic stars like Castro and his twin brother Joaquin, who is expected to win his congressional race this year, but also establishment Republicans like Joe Straus, the speaker of the Texas House--all of whom are quite moderate.

With all of that said, Fernandez's broader point is true.  Castro's forthcoming DNC keynote will cast a new spotlight on the unexpected progressive aspects of San Antonio. Bike-sharing, downtown revitalization, sustainable energy initiatives, multimodal transit...it's all there, and in some respects San Antonio is even ahead of overtly progressive Austin, which is a kind of a--well, nevermind.

But what's striking about the changes in San Antonio is precisely that they're happening in a city that's not like Berkeley, or Austin, or Portland, or any of the others that you would expect to get out in front on issues like this. This is not a self-consciously progressive city; the barriers aren't just political but economic, because San Antonio isn't a rich city.

The approach, then, has been pragmatic rather than idealistic. The need for public support is ineradicable; many of the infrastructure investments have been directly authorized by voters via bond initiatives. Castro's current cause--universal pre-school--would be funded by a small increase in the sales tax, which is, of course, regressive; Castro's reasoning is that it's worth it because everyone benefits from universal pre-k, and voters will weigh in in November. At the same time, little happens in Texas without the business community's involvement, and the private sector has also taken a prominent role in San Antonio's shift. The cloud computing company Rackspace already made a big impression on the metro area by putting its new headquarters in a formerly derelict mall, and now its CEO, Graham Weston, is talking up his plans for a philanthrocapitalist urban renewal program.

This is, in general, the way that Texas cities make progress. Houston's ongoing greening initiative similarly relies on buy-in from both the public and private sectors. And it suggests that San Antonio's approach is actually a challenge to Berkeley's, rather than an echo. A city doesn't need to be progressive to make progressive changes, if the changes reflect good common sense. Some of San Antonio's strategies wouldn't work elsewhere; a city with less projected growth, for example, should be more wary of major bond initiatives. But San Antonio's pragmatism could make it a useful role model for other cities.