Why Democrats See Texas-Sized Opportunities in Texas PART 3A

The only state among the 30 Trump carried that he could not afford to lose was... Texas.

By Alberto Morales

AUSTIN Texas (Texas Insider Report)  Winning those 38 Texas Electoral Votes allows us not only to defeat Donald Trump in November of 2020 it forever changes the electoral landscape in the United States" former Texas Congressman and 2020 presidential candidate Beto ORourke said recently.

Latinos attract less attention than they otherwise merit in American politics because almost half of Latinos live in the two biggest states neither of which is a Presidential Swing State: comfortably blue California and reliably red Texas.

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In the first half of this third two-part post in my series about Texas politics and the Latino vote I examine the power of Texas in presidential politics by raising two simple questions: 

  1. What if Latinos help turn Texas from a reliably red state to a purple state?
  2. And to what degree would this alter the calculus of presidential elections and heighten the attention paid to and electoral clout wielded by Latino voters?

Given that a statewide poll taken five weeks ago showed Joe Biden leading Donald Trump in Texas by two points a purple Texas in 2020 is far more likely than it was when the Bush family lorded over the state.

Simply put a competitive Texas radically alters the two-party fight to assemble winning presidential coalitions.

Pivotal if Purple

In order to see how a purple no less a blue Texas will change where and among which voters presidential candidates will compete in this first post I examine how pivotal Texas has been to the GOP coalition.

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Republicans George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016 won narrow Electoral College victories despite losing the popular vote. For both GOP nominees capturing the largest red-state electoral prize (Texas) was necessary to breach the 270-elector winning threshold.

Bush was never in real jeopardy in his home state of course. The point is that neither he nor any other alternative GOP nominee who in 2000 duplicated Bushs razor-thin total of 271 electors would have been able to lose any state no less Texas and its then-32 electoral votes and still win the White House. Although Bush won the popular vote four years later the 286 electors he assembled for his 2004 re-elect again necessitated holding Texas.

Now fast-forward 16 years. Because Trumps electoral margin was bigger often overlooked is how much more pivotal Texas was to his 2016 victory.

Technically Trump received only 304 electors (not the oft-cited 306) because two Republican electors refused to cast their votes for him. (Oddly both electors were Texans.)

For the sake of argument however lets use the full complement of 538 electoral votes of which Hillary Clinton won 232. Shift Texas 38 electors from Trump to Clinton and she reaches 270 exactly enough to win. Unlike in 2000 where every red state victory mattered to Bush the only state among the 30 Trump carried that he could not afford to lose was Texas.

How crucial are Texas 38 electors for Trump again in 2020?

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In fact with the exception of the combined 38 electors from PA and OH he can even afford to lose any other pair of these four swing states… so long as he holds Texas. A red Texas provides Trump a buffer to lose a couple Rust Belt battlegrounds and still win.

Most prognosticators point to Rust Belt states Pennsylvania (20 electors) Ohio (18) Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) as crucial 2020 battlegrounds. Of these if the 2016 map otherwise holds constant Trump can lose any of these states and still win.

Failure to hold Texas however is alone enough to sink Trumps re-election in an otherwise identical 2016 map. Thats how pivotal Texas is to the GOP coalition.

Texas Already More Competitive Than California

By contrast the Democrats depend less on their biggest blue-state prize of California.

In their four combined Democratic wins Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could have lost CA and still amassed 270 electors. This is true despite the fact that Californias bounty 54 electors in the 1990s 55 this decade is half-again as large as Texas.

Bottom line: The biggest red state means more to Republican presidential candidates than the biggest blue state does to Democrats.

The kicker for Democrats is that Texas is already much closer to turning purple than California is. A variety of factors contribute to the increasing two-party competitiveness of Texas including the rising urbanization and suburbanization of this formerly rural state and its growing Latino population share.

While it took California Democrats over a decade to turn the state blue following the passage of Prop. 187 Latinos were not being gunned down at the local Wal-Mart simply because of their ethnicity.

Something big is happening in Texas. In the second part of this post I examine how Latinos are contributing to the purpling of the Lone Star State.

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Albert Morales is Senior Political Director at Latino Decisions. His years of experience working as a senior official with the Democratic National Committee spans three different DNC Chairs and one stint with the Democratic Governors Association. He tweets from @al_morales.

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