Why Democrats See Texas-Sized Opportunities Part 2

There are an estimated 1.7 million registered Latinos in Texas who did not vote in 2018

By Alberto Morales

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AUSTIN Texas (Texas Insider Report) As the focus on Texas as a battleground state intensifies the two questions increasingly on the minds of Lone Star State Voters are these: Which John Cornyn will they see during the 2020 Election Cycle? And is he electorally vulnerable?

In Part 2 of our Texas Series we look at recent polling data to better understand Senator Cornyns viability both in the primary and in the general assuming he survives a primary challenge that is.

We look specifically at his political weaknesses and at the internal challenges he faces within his own party. Being known and running as a Republican moderate does not help Senator Cornyn in the Party of Trump.

Cornyn realizes he also needs a significant slice of the Latino vote to get re-elected. Cheering for a border wall and having to defend every immigration-related tweet from the president threatens his re-election.

Finally we provide snapshot of the Latino electorate in Texas what it looked like in 2018 and what it may look like a year from now. A special emphasis is placed on the roughly 400000 Latinos who will turn 18 before Election Day 2020. They were children when Donald Trump descended from the escalator announcing his candidacy telling the world their parents were rapists and criminals.

Trump was their introduction into politics.

Cornyns Polling Woes

Lets start with the big picture: Poll data shows Cornyn is in trouble. Cornyn has struggled to keep his support levels above the traditionally safe threshold of 50. According to a February Quinnipiac survey of Texas voters he is less popular than Ted Cruz who won narrowly two years ago during a midterm cycle when turnout is lower than in presidential cycles.

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A more recent Texas Tribune Poll from June shows Cornyn with an abysmal 37 approval rating with 34 disapproving. For comparative purposes that net 3 approval figure is lower among Texans than for both Trump and Cruz (8 each). Although Cornyns approval numbers have improved slightly in the past few years his approval remains net -12 among Texas independents.

Cornyns fellow Republicans recognize his vulnerability which is why Cornyn may face a credible challenge for the GOP nomination next year. So far perennial candidate Dwayne Stovall and the more credible Mark Yancey a former owner of the WNBAs Dallas Wings have filed to run in the GOP primary. I cant help but harken back to then-Lt. Governor David Dewhursts loss in the 2012 GOP primary to Ted Cruz.

While it remains to be seen how much traction any of these candidates gain a challenge from a well-funded businessman like Yancey would force Cornyn to spend precious resources needed for the general election. With two GOP opponents now formally challenging him Cornyn may be forced to participate in GOP primary debates. If theres a silver lining for Cornyn its that his intra-party opposition may be divided across multiple challengers.

Cornyns Fate & Texas Latinos

In a tight two-way contest between Cornyn and one of the two challengers mentioned above Latinos in Texas could affect the outcome of the 2020 Texas Senate primary. And if Democrats can nominate a formidable candidate to take on Cornyn in the general election a big if" Latinos will absolutely influence the outcome.

Consider the chart below from a recent Latino Decisions analysis of Texas voting returns. It shows the sharp increase in potential Latino votes in the Lone Star State.

First notice that Latino turnout spiked from just under 1.1 million in 2014 midterm to nearly 1.9 million in the 2018 midterms. Texas played a very big role in delivering the highest midterm turnout rates nationally since 1914.

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Its the latent power of the untapped Latino vote however that holds the real potential to influence statewide outcomes.

  • In 2018 there were an estimated 1.7 million registered Latinos in Texas who did not vote and another 2 million who are eligible but unregistered.
  • In addition to these 3.7 million combined untapped voters nearly 400000 Latinos aged 17-18 will be eligible to vote for the first time in 2020.

Unregistered voters are toughest to mobilize to both register and then vote. But if a significant slice of previously registered or previously age-ineligible Latinos who didnt or couldnt vote in 2018 show up for the 2020 presidential cycle these Latinos could influence not only Texas electoral vote but the Senate outcome too. (Not to mention a number of the hotly-contested House races the subject of my previous Texas-themed post.)

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With Beto ORourke repeatedly refusing to abandon his presidential bid and return home to face Cornyn the Democrats may turn to M.J. Hegar a veteran who fought in Afghanistan and who lost narrowly to Republican incumbent John Carter in the 2018 TX-31 House race. There are also currently three other Latinos in the Democratic primary. With none of them having much or any name recognition its easy to see how they split the Latino vote.

For years the rap on Texas was its lack of a Democratic bench. But with rising stars like Democratic House members Veronica Escobar (TX-16) Lizzie Fletcher (TX-7) and Sylvia Garcia (TX-29) each of whom could mount a serious challenge if they ran anything is possible.

Cornyn enjoys a number of benefits. Hes an incumbent who will benefit from Trumps support among hard-core Republicans. But Trumps Texas fortunes have sunk since 2016: He trailed Joe Biden narrowly in the same recent Dallas Morning News Poll that showed Cornyns low 37 approval rating.

That means Cornyn in 2020 will be forced to perform a Texas Two-Step. He will first have to fully embrace Donald Trump to win the primary. Doing so however will force him to backtrack or dance around the immigration issue in the general or suffer damage among voters outside Trumps base especially the growing ranks of Texas Latinos.

  • For Part 1 in this Texas-Sized Opportunities series click here.
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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.

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