Republicans have long idealized Texas as a deep-red frontier state, home to rural conservatives who love President Donald Trump. But political turbulence in the sprawling suburbs and fast-growing cities are turning the Lone Star State into a possible 2020 battleground.
“The president’s reelection campaign needs to take Texas seriously,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in an interview. He added that while he remains optimistic about the GOP’s chances, it is “by no means a given” that Trump will carry Texas – and win its 38 electoral votes – next year or that Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, will be reelected.
For a state that once elevated the Bush family and was forged into a Republican stronghold by Karl Rove, it is an increasingly uncertain time. Changing demographics and a wave of liberal activism have given new hope to Democrats, who have not won a statewide elected office since 1994 or Texas’ presidential vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Recent Republican congressional retirements have stoked party concerns, particularly the surprising Thursday announcement by a rising star, Rep. Will Hurd, that he would not seek reelection in his highly competitive district, which stretches east from El Paso along the Mexican border.
Days earlier, Rep. K. Michael Conaway, a powerful former committee chairman from West Texas, announced that he would not run again, as did Rep. Pete Olson, who narrowly won his seat in 2018. Two years earlier, Olson carried his suburban, Houston-area district by 19 percentage points.
Hurd, the lone black Republican in the House, said Trump’s incendiary rhetoric on immigration amid a humanitarian crisis at the border has left him and other Texas Republicans unsettled about the GOP’s future with minority voters.
“When you look at trends, the two largest growing groups of voters are Latinos and young people,” Hurd, 41, said in an interview. “We know what the broader trends are happening there.”
The number of Latinos in Texas has grown by 1.9 million since the 2000 Census, accounting for more than half of the state’s growth. In Hurd’s district, 70% of residents are Latinos.
Hurd’s exit is part of a wider GOP problem – dwindling diversity in the party’s congressional ranks. The House has a record number of women, but 89 of those 102 seats are held by female Democrats. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., announced last week that she would not seek reelection, making her the second of the House GOP’s 13 women in six weeks to retire ahead of 2020.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who lost last year’s Senate race against Cruz by a razor-thin margin, argued at Tuesday’s presidential debate that Democrats “have a chance to beat Donald Trump in Texas” by “traveling to every county, not writing anybody off.”
A Quinnipiac poll released in June found that 48% of Texans approved of Trump’s job performance while 49% said they disapproved. That poll also found that Trump is effectively tied in Texas with several of the top contenders in the Democratic race.
Beyond the strong turnout for O’Rourke last year, Democrats point to other 2018 contests as evidence of an upswing, including two U.S. House seats that flipped from red to blue and more than a dozen state legislative gains.
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