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Texas' Tipping Point?

[ Posted Thursday, June 24th, 2010 – 19:03 UTC ]

Is Texas about to reach a tipping point from a solid red Republican state to a bright blue Democratic one? Well, probably not, but it's an interesting concept to kick around on a Thursday (when I am, admittedly, behind schedule), so here goes.

I've toyed with this concept before, which a quick search of my site sadly does not easily identify (this is my explanation for not posting a link in this sentence; see previous "I am... behind schedule" comment). Texas is, demographically, an interesting place (to say the least). Following the "everything's bigger in Texas" theory, Texas conservatives are really, really conservative. This was before the Tea Partiers made it hip among wider conservatism to be so, it should be pointed out. After all, Ron Paul himself (pause for really, really conservative folks to genuflect...) is from Texas. Conservative politicians in Texas flirt with such radical notions as secession from the Union (in this day and age), and it actually does not hurt them among their base, it instead gains them support. In other words, the red parts of Texas are truly red-blooded-red (if that's not too much redundancy for you).

But Texas is changing. Actually, that's not true. Texas' demographic ratios are changing, but this change has always been a part of Texas, since before it even was a state. Texas is on Mexico's border (and... say it softly... used to be part of Mexico). Meaning it has a high percentage of Latinos in its population. Relative to the rest of the country, it always has. But what's changing is the Latino voters' view of Republicans. And how many Latino voters there are there, and how many of them are motivated to get out and vote.

This was pointed out by Robert Creamer recently, over at the Huffington Post, which is what inspired me to write today. Creamer focuses on the upcoming governor's race in the state, and a recent poll. Here's the meat of his article, which is well worth reading in full:

The passage of the Arizona "papers, please" anti-immigration law has forced Republican politicians around the country into a political box canyon that does not offer an easy escape. For fear of offending the emergent Tea Party -- and other anti-immigrant zealots in their own base -- they are precipitating a massive realignment of Latino voters nationwide.

According to data released by Public Policy Polling (PPP), Texas Governor Rick Perry has lost his early lead over Democratic challenger Bill White and the race is now tied. The movement from a previous PPP poll in February comes entirely from Hispanic voters. PPP reports that:

"With white voters Perry led 54-36 then and leads 55-35 now. With black voters White led 81-12 then and 70-7 now. But with Hispanics Perry has gone from leading 53-41 to trailing 55-21... there is no doubt the (Arizona) immigration bill is popular nationally. But if it causes Hispanics to change their voting behavior without a parallel shift among whites then it's going to end up playing to Democratic advantage this fall."

The punditry sometimes forgets that in politics intensity is often just as important as poll percentages. For many Hispanic voters, the Arizona immigration law is an insult. It is an attack on their very identity. And it is certainly a litmus test that tells a Hispanic voter whether or not a political candidate is on their side -- the critical threshold test of voter decision making.

PPP, though, is a Democratic polling operation. From the other side, however, Rasmussen released a poll five days earlier showing Perry up on White by eight points, 48-40. But, for the sake of some lazy Thursday rampant speculation, we're going to assume that PPP and Creamer are correct, and that White actually has a decent shot of winning.

Now, having a Democratic governor in Texas would be considered a major win for Democrats. From the summary of the polling data released by PPP:

"Bill White has the potential to give Democrats their biggest bright spot on what will probably overall be a bad election night in November," said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. "A win in the Texas Governor race would be huge for the party and instantaneously make White one of the most prominent Democrats in the country."

Not only would it be a bright spot in November, but it would also be of enormous benefit to Democrats on the national stage, because Texas' next governor will oversee the constitutionally-mandated redistricting -- where most political observers predict Texas is going to pick up a few more seats in the House of Representatives, due to population growth relative to all the other states.

This is where, for me, it gets a little interesting. Because of what it all could mean for the 2012 presidential election.

The seven biggest states (electorally-speaking) are, in order: California (55 electoral votes), Texas (34), New York (31), Florida (27), Pennsylvania (21), Illinois (21), and Ohio (20). These are all 2008 values for electoral votes, I should point out, which will be somewhat shuffled by the redistricting -- but not by a whole lot.

These seven states, with the sole exception of Texas, voted for Barack Obama last time around. So what if Texas reaches the tipping point and becomes a blue state? This would create a virtual mountain for any Republican candidate to climb, since if all seven of the most-populous states went Democratic, they would start with 209 out of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win. Which may be insurmountable for any Republican candidate, since (other than Texas) the largest states to go for McCain last time around were: Georgia (15), Tennessee (11), Missouri (11), and Arizona (10).

Of course, this is assuming quite a bit (see previous "rampant speculation" comment). In reality, the only states which would likely be a "lock" for Democrats would be California and New York (and Illinois, assuming Barack Obama is renominated). Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio would really be "tossup states" or -- at the best -- "leaning Democratic."

But still, it would be an enormous advantage for a Democratic candidate if Texas were truly in play. Looking at the 2008 electoral map, it's easy to see that while a lot of states with lots of land area are colored red, when you read the electoral numbers they contain, they don't add up to a whole lot of votes. While the blue states have a pretty deep "bench" of medium-sized electoral states, which are all a "lock" for Democrats (Washington, Oregon, Maryland, and Massachusetts, to name but a few).

In fact, without Texas -- and even spotting Republicans such large states as Florida and Pennsylvania -- it becomes painfully hard for Republicans to put together a winning 270-vote hand. While it becomes easier and easier to see a path to victory for Democrats, even just starting with California, Texas, and New York (with a whopping 120 votes between them). Add Florida, and the Democrats are up to 147.

I realize (which is why I keep bringing it up) that this is making a whole lot of chowder from a single clam -- one decent poll (in which the Democrat has merely tied his opponent) doesn't mean Perry's going to lose. And even if White did win, it certainly doesn't mean Texas is a lock for Obama in 2012. Consider it all merely late-Thursday daydreaming, if you will.

But if the trend PPP has identified does hold up -- and if Texas Latinos move firmly into the Democratic camp (as happened in California after some immigrant-baiting in the 1990s by Republicans), then the state could conceivably slip from the Republicans' grasp for an entire generation.

I've said all along that the current fervor among Republicans to use illegal immigration as a political "hot button" issue may indeed result in some short-term gains for the party. But the long-term damage to Republicans may be far worse. And perhaps, just perhaps, we are starting to see that play out in the Lone Star State, if it truly is approaching a tipping point. Either way, it will be a race to keep an eye on this year.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


5 Comments on “Texas' Tipping Point?”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    Since we're on a speculation gone crazy binge here :D and since Latinos were mentioned as a voting bloc....

    ... I am curious as to your thoughts regarding the rumors of Amnesty By Executive Order that have been put out.

    1. Can it really happen?

    2. SHOULD it happen?

    3. What would be the pros and cons for the Administration and the country?

    I (of course) have my own thoughts, but wanted to hear ya'alls take...


  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Haven't heard a thing about it. Provide some details, and I'll tell you what I think, how's that for a bargain?



  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Fair enough..

    Rumors are flying that the White House intends to grant amnesty to illegals via an executive order rather than going thru Congress.

    Rather than give you a cherry-picking of selected news sites, I'll just link you the google page.

    Predictably most of the sites are right-wing sites decrying this. And, in the interests of full disclosure, I DID read a headline that the White House has denied the rumor, but did not have time to read the entire article.

    MY personal belief is that the White House WAS considering it, let the rumor out of the bag to gauge reaction and then back-tracked from it as fast as possible when they got said reaction..


  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    My take is that this is the product of someone else's fevered imagination, either that or a very early start to the political silly season, which usually happens in August.

    Seriously, this would never happen in a million years. At least not from the Obama White House. When have they EVER shown the slightest inclination to do something this radical, I ask you? I mean, it'd probably be legal (Carter issued a blanket draft dodger pardon, for instance), but it ain't gonna happen, trust me.


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Up late again, eh? :D My day started about 2 hours ago.. :D

    Anyways, glad to hear it.

    It sure was being given plenty of press, but as I said, most of it from the Right.

    But I disagree that something this "radical" couldn't come from the Obama White House.

    This would probably be the ONE thing that Dems could do to actually INCREASE their majorities in Congress.

    Imagine all those new and excited voters overwhelmingly supporting the party that gave them a free ride.

    No, I definitely see that the Administration could do something so cynically self-serving.

    Like I said, my guess is they ran it up the flag pole to see if it could be slipped past the American people.

    But, glad to hear it's just nothing but a conspiracy theory from the radical Right.

    Or is it??? :D

    "Dad, stop saying things that way."
    -Lisa Simpson



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