Hillary Clinton joined Twitter this week and set in motion speculation about her possibly running for President in 2016 — and further fueled the possibility that Texas might just be ready to go blue. Could Texas, where Democrats did not exactly go out of their way to gain any of the state’s 38 electoral votes in 2012, be truly poised to be a battleground state?
Many point to “revolutionary demographic trends” in Texas as a major factor in the state again voting — as it did until the past 36 years — Democrat. As Richard Parker wrote in the New York Times, Texas was “reliably Democratic for more than a century, from Reconstruction through the Lyndon B. Johnson years.” Ann Richards, a Democrat, was Texas’ governor from 1991-1995; she was defeated for re-election by George W. Bush. Richards’ own predecessor in office, Bill Clements, was the first Republican governor of Texas since Reconstruction.
The primary reason that many cite for Texas going blue is the reality of demographics. Currently, 50.2 percent of the state’s 4.9 million public school children are Hispanic; last year, that figure was 49 percent. Indeed, two out of every three public school children in Texas as Hispanic, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Also, two mayors in two different cities, Mike Rawlings in Dallas and Annise Parker in Houston, have made real efforts to address sexual assault and domestic violence. Rawlings has devoted himself to campaigning against domestic violence via rallies and by calling on law enforcement to do more. Parker and the Houston Police Department have devoted millions to eliminate a long standing and notorious problem, a backlog of untested rape kits.
These changes at the regional level are in contrast to what Texas’ politicians have been up to. At a time when so many of Texas’ public school students are Hispanic, the state is cutting funding for public education, citing a budget shortfall of up to $27 billion. These cuts would be on top of already-existing problems in Texas’ education system. Steve Murdock, a former U.S. Census Bureau director and past state demographer, points out that, if Texas does nothing to change things, “the average Texas household in 2040 would be at least $6,500 poorer than it was in 2000 and about 30 percent of workers will not have a high-school diploma.”
Republicans are certainly aware that change is afoot in Texas. “No less an authority than Karl Rove is known to have been worrying about the political future of Texas for years,” says The Hill. The GOP is at work hiring 24 “minority outreach” staffers and has more than put its support behind Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. But, as Parker notes, this could be another sign of the Republicans not quite realizing what they need to do. Rubio and Cruz are both Cuban-American; while non-Hispanics may not make much of this, it “significantly diminishes their appeal to Texas’ Latinos, who are primarily of Mexican heritage.”
Democrats more than have their work cut out for them to turn Texas just a bit purple. The Hispanic vote they are counting on is “not monolithically Democratic, nationally or in Texas,” Parker emphasizes. 40 percent of Texas Hispanics helped to re-elected George W. Bush in 2004. Rick Perry received almost 40 percent of the Hispanic vote statewide in 2010. In addition, the Democrats need to build up their political infrastructure throughout the U.S.’s second-most populous state.
University of Texas political scientist Daron Shaw points out that economic themes, such as education and entrepreneurship, could be key to pulling in Hispanic votes. A recent poll indeed found that the state’s Hispanic and Black voters listed the economy and jobs as their top issues, in contrast to white voters who listed immigration and border security as their top concerns.
Democrats need to take note of these different concerns, especially with a view to what Texas’ population will look like in the not too distant future. While there are currently 9.5 million Hispanics in Texas, about 38 percent of the state’s population, by 2020, Hispanics will make up the majority of Texas’ population. By 2030, their numbers will surpass those of the state’s white population.
In the race to turn Texas blue, Democrats need to focus not just on Texas’ changing demographics but also on registering and educating Hispanic voters and seeking out and training more Latino/a candidates. They have their work cut out for them — but it can’t be denied that prospect of a changing Texas more than has its appeal.