Texas has been a Republican stronghold in presidential races for the last 40 years. But Donald Trump has led Hillary Clinton by only single digit margins in recent polls. A look at why and what’s possible in Texas for Democrats in and after the November election.
Highlights of the interview with Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune:
Why Trump isn’t doing as well as past Republicans: “In Texas, most of the Republicans were for someone else earlier in the race – a lot of Cruz supporters, a lot of Perry supporters. Ideologically, Donald Trump isn’t their kind of Republican. He’s their nominee, but they’re looking at him and saying ‘I’m just uncomfortable with that.”
Even before the Access Hollywood tape and his comments about women? “There was still some disquiet before. That just crystallized it. You know the tendency is if the nominee wasn’t your candidate, you kind of grumble your way into the convention – the Bernie Sanders into the Democratic convention. But people generally come home: Democrats go to Democrats, Republicans go to Republicans. It hasn’t happened with Trumps as it normally does. You’ve still got some Republicans out there who aren’t sure they’re going to vote for him."
Is Hillary Clinton TV and online ad buy in Texas a sign of confidence or a chance she could win the state? “I think it’s her elbowing him (Trump) in the ribs. Part of it is telling your supporters ‘I’m paying attention to you.’ And part of it is getting Texas Democrats jazzed up a little bit. The Democrats haven’t won a presidential election in Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976. They’ve only had two single digit elections in the nine elections that followed that one.”
So could a single digit margin loss in Texas be a victory of sorts for Clinton? “Sure. And it’s the kind of thing that someone running as a Democrat in Texas in 2018 or 2020 could take to donors and say “If you get the thing set up right, the voters are there. They’ve been slumbering for a long, long time. It’s been since 1994 that a Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas.”
Does Trump have any effect down ballot? “I think people are worried about that. There four or five races in the Dallas area where Texas House members – Ken Sheets, Cindy Burkett, Linda Koop and Rodney Anderson, all Republicans – who should be legitimately worried about a negative coattail effect. There’s a Congressional race in a giant district that goes from San Antonio to El Paso and takes in most of the Texas border. And both of those guys are trying to make sure all of the voters know who the presidential candidate is. Hurd is saying ‘That’s Pete Gallego and he’s with Hillary.’ And Gallego’s doing the same thing, ‘Will Hurd and he’s with Trump.’ We’ll see how that plays out.”
Is anyone aligning themselves with or distancing themselves from Trump? “Well in that one, Hurd is saying he’s distanced himself from Trump, especially after the Access Hollywood tape came out. You know it’s hard enough when you’re running for office just to control things that are going on in your own race. And then you introduce this outside force that could blow through all your plans. You know, how Trump goes is how I go, and I think a lot of those folks are nervous.”
Any coattail effect for Hillary Clinton down ballot? “I think she would ordinarily in Texas be a negative. She has the disadvantage of being the second most unpopular candidate in modern polling history running against the first most. So ordinarily, it’s a negative. And that’s why you see some Republicans saying ‘Yeah, but my opponent’s with Hillary.” That’s still pretty powerful.”
Finally, could Texas go blue or is it a case of candidate some people don’t like? “You know that’s going to be the question after the election: Are we going to look at this and say that was an anomaly or the table has shifted. If the Democrats do particularly well in this election - better than they normally do, whether they win or not – they get a list of people who voted and they go into 2018 with a list of people who voted for Democrats in the closest year yet and we see what they can do with it. That would be the first sign of a ground shift if there is one, but you almost have to wait until 2018 to see if they did anything with it.