Trump’s numbers are down, COVID-19 cases are up, and divided Texas Republicans are losing touch with their state. For Democrats it’s worth the gamble.
by Dan Carney
Democrats find themselves in a place they did not expect to be, debating how much time and money to put into this year’s races in Texas.
Meanwhile, Air Force combat veteran M.J. Hegar raised more than $1 million in the week after she won the Democratic Senate nomination in a July 14 runoff.
These developments have sent party regulars into a kind of dreamland while prompting armchair handicappers to feverishly pore over their polling data.
Naysayers, of course, point out that Texas would be hugely expensive, that Biden doesn’t need it and that Democrats have a bounty of Senate races in their sights — most of which look more winnable than Hegar’s. As someone who grew up in Dallas, worked for The Houston Post in the ’90s and have long been fascinated by the state, my 2 cents would come in the form of three words to Democrats: Go for it.
Bet on Biden and better House maps
A win by Biden or Hegar would be a massive gut punch to the GOP. What’s more, even if they came up short thanks to the conservative slant of the state’s less urban parts, they would help bring out Democratic voters in the high-growth suburbs. That, in turn, just might allow Democrats to claim the biggest prize in Texas this year: a majority in the state House of Representatives.
Texas has one of the most gerrymandered congressional maps in the country, drawn by the legislature in 2011 for the exclusive benefit of Republicans. Houston’s political map looks like a snake orgy. In the Austin area, as many as a million progressive voters have been effectively disenfranchised by divvying them up among five Republican districts that spread far into the conservative countryside.
Texas also presents a flashing green light for continued dirty deeds when districts are drawn anew next year. Unlike a number of other states, it has not elected a Democratic governor or approved an anti-gerrymandering ballot measure. Nor has its Supreme Court stepped in to redraw maps.
If Democrats were to eke out a narrow majority in the state House, they’d break the GOP stranglehold and rob Republicans of a large gerrymandering wellspring. That would cause serious soul searching among Republicans.
What got me thinking about this was a visit I paid to Dallas last year, the first in several years after decades of pilgrimages when my parents were still alive.
What you can’t help but notice is that Dallas County, Tarrant County and especially the communities to the north in Collin and Denton Counties, are growing like wildfire. You find yourself getting to buildings that weren’t there a few years before on roads that weren’t there, either. A cityscape once committed to memory now seems unrecognizable.
Texans, of course, know their booms. During the 1970s oil bonanza, I remember being awed by a development known as Las Colinas, an edge-city skyline that rose mirage-like from the North Texas grasslands in a thicket of cranes. (Today, Las Colinas, where I stayed on my visit, is just one of many nodes in a vast urban web that seemingly goes on forever, though I am reliably told it ends somewhere before the Oklahoma state line.)
The recent growth is different. In the 1970s and 1980s, new Dallas professionals were largely white and mostly from East Texas and adjoining states. They were cosmopolitan and ambitious, but still fundamentally Southern. The professionals who’ve been coming to Dallas in recent decades are a much more diverse lot.
One sign of the shift: In 2018, suburban Dallas voters ousted veteran Republican Rep. Pete Sessions in favor of Colin Allred, a Black lawyer, former NFL player and former Obama administration aide, in a congressional district that’s home to George and Laura Bush, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The late H. Ross Perot lived there, too.
To the extent that they voted Republican before, many recent arrivals are reconsidering now in the time of Trump and COVID-19. When you start adding them to the area’s large Latino and African American populations, you can see why Democratic eyes are growing large.
Odds are improving for Democrats
The scene in the state’s other big cities is pretty much the same. Greater Houston and San Antonio are actually growing slightly faster than Dallas. And Austin, which Republicans deride as a liberal Gomorrah, is the fastest growing major urban center in the country.
talking of sending its sickest patients home to die.
Republicans, meanwhile, are at war with themselves over how quickly to reopen, or reclose, businesses.
Republicans also appear to be going in the opposite direction as their state’s demographics. Last month, they had to answer for racist social media posts from local party officials. And this month, they ousted their chairman in favor of a conservative firebrand relatively new to the state and unproven at much besides drawing attention to himself.
This should convince Democrats that Texas is worth gambling on. It’s a strategic move of immense implications, a once-in-a-decade opportunity. And it is staring them in the face.
Dan Carney is an editorial writer at USA TODAY. Follow him on Twitter: @dancarney301