In twenty years, much of the West has turned blue. Why hasn’t Texas done that?

(Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

In twenty years, much of the West has turned blue. Why hasn’t Texas done that?

Election 2024

Mark Z. Barabak

Dec. 7, 2023

Over the past twenty years, the West has been politically transformed.

The former Republican stronghold has become a Democratic bastion, dramatically changing the battle for the White House as Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon joined California and Washington in the ranks of solid blue states.

Arizona and Nevada, once reliably red, have become two of the country’s top presidential battlegrounds.

But Texas hasn’t budged.

In 2020, Joe Biden lost the state by 5 percentage points. It was the best performance by a Democratic presidential candidate in nearly a quarter century. But that achievement now seems more like a highlight than a foundation on which to build.

“You just don’t see Democrats finding the resources or the power to really challenge Republicans,” said Jim Henson, head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

I’ve spent much of this year traveling up the West Coast, through the southwestern desert and into the Rocky Mountains for a series, “The New West,” examining the region’s political makeover.

The reasons for the change vary from state to state.

In Oregon, an economic makeover was critical. In New Mexico, increased urbanization helped bring about this shift. In California and Nevada, respectively, President Clinton and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have worked diligently to reshape the states’ political DNA.

But there are similarities across the region. Among them: suburbs that went from red to blue. Republican state parties that have turned sharply to the right and become increasingly Trumpy. A fast-growing and more influential Latino electorate.

All of these factors exist in Texas, which, like Democratic California and New Mexico, is now a majority-minority state. Yet it remains republican.

Why is that?

Size for example.

Texas spans two time zones and more than 150,000 square miles. (That’s more than half the size of California, the second-largest state by land mass.) Reaching its 30 million residents requires advertising in 20 media markets, including some of the most expensive in the country.

That makes it harder to replicate the success Democrats have enjoyed in places like Arizona (population 7 million) and Nevada (population 3 million), where the majority of voters are in or around Phoenix and Las Vegas, respectively.

“It’s all a bit concentrated and layered” in those states, said James Aldrete, an Austin-based Democratic strategist who has worked on campaigns throughout the Southwest. He pointed out that clustering of voters makes it much cheaper and easier than in Texas to achieve “multi-touch” outreach through TV advertising, social media, phone banking and door-knocking.

Texas’ fast-growing Latino electorate also hasn’t benefited Democrats in the way it has

in other states such as

California, Arizona and Colorado. That’s partly because Latinos or Hispanics, as many in Texas prefer

to be mentioned

are generally more conservative, politically and culturally, in Texas than in other states.

(There are many theories as to why, some dating back to the flight of middle-class Mexicans after the country’s revolution

in the early 20th century,

others relate to religiosity or the large number of Latinos employed in law enforcement or the oil and gas industry.)

Mike Baselice, a Republican pollster in Austin, has worked extensively in Texas and California. Surveying Latino voters ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, he found that 40% in Texas described themselves as conservative, compared to 28% in California. Just over 3 in 10 Texas Hispanics identified themselves as liberal, compared to just over 4 in 10 Latinos in California.

“Anglos and mixed-race voters in Texas are also more conservative and less liberal than Anglos and mixed-race voters in California,” Baselice said.

Another key difference in Texas: Republicans have a long history of actively courting Hispanic voters, winning over a third or sometimes significantly more of that electorate.

“It’s common,” said Karl Rove, who helped build the Republican Party in Texas and twice elected the state’s former governor, George W. Bush, to the White House. “Unlike California, true [Proposition 187] the Republican Party was seen as something of an adversary to the Hispanic community. “That’s never happened here.”

(For their part, Democrats insist that this will change if, as expected, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signs a tough new law allowing Texas police to arrest people for illegally crossing the border into Mexico and giving judges the power to order undocumented immigrants to leave the country.)

But perhaps the biggest reason Democrats have failed to swing Texas is the simplest: Republicans’ overwhelming strength and Democrats’ continued losing streak have kept party donors, candidates and political strategists from investing enormous amounts of time and money. invest resources that would be needed to change the state. in a presidential battlefield.

And because Democrats have failed to make that substantial investment, they continue to lose.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that has tormented a generation of Democrats, who have grown old and gray waiting for the Lone Star State to become competitive again. The last time a Democratic presidential candidate narrowly won Texas was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter was a 52-year-old political upstart. He recently turned 99.

Garry Mauro was executive director of the Texas Democratic Party in 1980 when Carter fought Ronald Reagan to win a second term. When Reagan pulled off a ten-point lead in Texas, the Democrats pulled the plug and began their history of leaving the state.

(Carter lost by 14.)

“This is not a new discussion for me,” said Mauro, who served four terms as Texas land commissioner when Democrats were able to win statewide office in 1999. “We have harvested the seeds we sowed long ago. .”

Still, Democrats remain hopeful. (Heck, that’s the only way to stay a Democrat in Texas.)

Lisa Turner is state director of the Lone Star Project, a political action committee that promotes Democratic candidates and causes. She sees a combination of trend lines: a rising black population, shrinking rural communities, growing suburbs and the Republican Party’s restrictive stance on abortion and other social issues, putting Texas in the same competitive direction as Nevada and Arizona.

“They’re attacking liberty… and freedoms that are part of the psyche of our state,” Turner said. “Republicans try to tell you where to live, how to live, what to read, if you can have children, when you can have children.”

Still, it seems unlikely that 2024 will bring about a drastic change in democratic fortunes.

In the past twenty years, the West may well have become a citizen

the party’s Democrats

politically promised land. But in Texas they still wander the desert.


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