If Wendy Davis Couldn't Turn Texas Blue, I Don't Think Hillary Clinton Can. Yet.
In Texas, being blue can gives you the blues. Growing up, my parents and I went to holiday functions with a collection of family friends — a gathering which they jokingly called the Secret Society of East Texas Democrats. And at times, it didn't feel like a joke. The 20 or so people at the annual fête were the first adults I heard openly speak about liberal politics as if it wasn't some nasty form of cancer. Seemingly, 2016 could be the year when the group could move into the open. In a historic move, three of the highest-circulation newspapers in Texas endorsed Hillary Clinton (a Democrat!) for president. But as any Texas Democrat knows, you shouldn't get your hopes up about the consistently red state turning anytime soon.
I cast my first vote for president for Barack Obama in 2008. I voted for him again in 2012, and I voted in this year's Democratic primary. Like my parents, I am a Texas Democrat. But in both of those presidential elections, Obama's Republican opponent handily secured Texas' 38 electoral votes. In fact, the Lone Star State hasn't gone blue since it elected Jimmy Carter in 1976 (possibly due to Gerald Ford's tamale faux pas, but that's another story), and hasn't had a Democrat in the governor's mansion for more than 20 years. It's safe to say that it's not exactly a political battleground.
The three biggest Texas newspapers to back Clinton in the 2016 election so far — The Dallas Morning News, The San Antonio Express-News and The Houston Chronicle — have similarly fallen in line for Republican candidates in the past. The San Antonio Express-News broke a 36-year Republican streak when it backed Barack Obama in 2012. Since 1960, The Houston Chronicle has only endorsed two Democrats for president: Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 2016. And with its endorsement of Clinton, The Dallas Morning News went blue for the first time since 1944.
As unprecedented as the support from these three heavy-hitting papers is for Clinton, it's not wholly surprising in context. The polls show that the state isn't exactly the Republican stronghold that it usually is. According to the Real Clear Politics average, Mitt Romney had 15.8-percent lead in 2012, and John McCain came in with a 11.8 points over Obama. Trump, however, has been in the 6-7-point range over Clinton.
So should Texas Democrats, having long been lost in the carmine shadow cast by the majority of the state's voters, suddenly hold out hope that Texans are with her? Hold your horses, y'all.
Texas' biggest hope to turn blue has been Hispanic voters. According to the Pew Research Center, Texas has the second-largest Hispanic population in the United States. There are 10.4 million Hispanic people in Texas, which accounts for 39 percent of the total population of the state. Not to mention that Texas has the second-largest population of eligible Hispanic voters in the U.S., behind California.
Hispanic voters, as you might have heard, aren't exactly Team Trump. In a September poll of 3,700 registered Hispanic voters by America's Voice, Trump captured only 19 percent of the vote, with only 15 percent sure that they would vote for him. In the same poll, when narrowed down to Hispanic Republicans, Trump got 76 percent of the support, compared to Clinton's whopping 93 percent with Hispanic Democrats.
Those number should be reassuring for Clinton and Texas Democrats, but they are also misleading. Texas has a problem turning out minority voters. As Jake Flanagin at Quartz noted, Texas historically has a minority voter turnout that's a few points lower than that of similar states, and is especially low with Hispanics. "And there’s not significant upward trend there that we would see driving a big change in 2016," James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, told Flanagin.
In the Quartz piece, Henson also noted that the "very high negatives" for both Clinton and Trump would likely drive voters toward partisan politics in the 2016 election. In other words, they would stick with the party that they usually vote for. For Texas, that means Republican. Wayne Thorburn's 2014 book Red State laid out the reasons Texas swings (and will continue to swing) Republican. These included fast-growing suburbs (64.7 percent of voters in their 2010 election for governor went to Republican Rick Perry), steadfast GOP voters in small towns (15 of the 18 seats of small towns in the Texas House of Representatives went red), and the growing but underwhelming liberalism in Texas' major cities (52.3 percent blue in Texas' 2010 governor election).
The giant suburbs and the present-but-tepid blue voters in metropolitan areas could indicate why, despite the newspaper endorsements from Texas' largest cities, we shouldn't assume that Clinton has locked down Texas. Even if the papers correctly predict the cities' voter turnout, it isn't a reliable indicator for the rest of the state.
But one of the biggest red flags for me amidst the optimism for Clinton is that Texas Democrats have seen this before, on a smaller scale and in pink tennis shoes. Coming off of a successful but ultimately fruitless filibuster of Texas' omnibus abortion bill, then-State-Senator Wendy Davis launched her 2014 campaign for Texas governor. I was excited. I donated enough money to her campaign to receive a Wendy Davis for Governor shirt, which I wore proudly. Thinkpieces were written again and again about how Davis could finally turn Texas blue, fueled by the newly founded Battleground Texas, designed to carry out such a task. There was something refreshing in the fact that a progressive woman was running for statewide office with ample financial backing and national recognition. Texas Democrats, for once, had hope.
Those hopes were ultimately dashed, if not completely eviscerated, by the 2014 gubernatorial election results. Then-Attorney-General Greg Abbott beat Davis by a more than 20-point spread, which was notable even in a Texas election. That, of course, was due to myriad factors from a messy Davis campaign, but the most salient point for me came from Thorburn, this time writing for Politico:
Money and media attention came from Hollywood, Manhattan and Washington from those who hoped to see Davis bring Texas into their vision of the 21st Century. But as Davis gained more popularity in liberal circles around the country, back home she became viewed, even among the state’s liberals, as unrepresentative of traditional Texas values and perspectives.
To wit, I was not one of the liberals doubting Davis' Lone Star values. But in my view, it is illustrative of how important it is to sell Texas voters on what value the candidates will add to the state. Davis failed to communicate that point, and in a presidential election which, as Henson pointed out, could ultimately drive voters to their predestined camps, Clinton hasn't made a great pitch as to why she would be good for the state specifically. It's certainly not helping that the last time Clinton appeared at a public rally in Texas was for two fundraising events in July. She has one more stop (another fundraising event) this month, but that's it.
All that to say that Clinton isn't making active appeals to Texans. And without those, in my opinion, her chances in Texas look bleak. Turning a red state blue takes a lot of work, and even if the stats look good for her, Clinton hasn't put in the work to prove herself to Texans.