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.

 


Comments

Dave
09/26/2012 10:06

It's arguable that Nixon would have carried Texas in 1960 but for questionable activities of the Texas Democratic Party political machine, though my educated guess is that vote fraud did occur but that the votes impacted were less than Kennedy's 46,000 vote margin of victory in Texas.

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