Texas-Sized Opportunities, Part 1

Aug 15, 2019
11:07 AM
Originally published at Latino Decisions

By Albert Morales

Republican Congressman Will Hurd’s announced retirement sent shock waves from his home state of Texas all the way to Washington. Three more Texas Republicans have since announced their retirements, bringing to four the number of Lone Star state House Republicans hanging up their spurs.

Hurd’s announcement comes at the very moment the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee plants its battle flag in what it’s now calling “Texodus.” The DCCC hopes to flip as many as nine additional seats in Texas. The spate of retiring incumbents who won narrowly in 2018 puts Texas squarely at the center of the two parties’ fight for control of the U.S. House.

Furthermore, the GOP-controlled Texas state legislature is suddenly quite competitive. In fact, Democrats are only nine seats shy of taking back the lower chamber. There, the Democratic minority claims 16 seats are within reach of flipping. And polls show that U.S. Senator John Cornyn may be in trouble, too.

Suddenly, everything in Texas seems in play. Not since Karl Rove orchestrated the most consequential political takeover in state history more than two decades ago has Texas been so up-for-grabs.

To make better sense of the Texas political landscape, let’s look at Latino Decisions’ recent polling in the state and what it might mean for U.S. House races. (We will cover the Cornyn Senate race and the Texas state legislature in future posts.)

Latinos Remain Engaged, Motivated and Wary of a Hostile GOP

Latino registered voters are motivated to vote in their state’s presidential primary. Based on a June poll conducted for UnidosUS by Latino Decisions, a combined 69 percent of Latinos indicated they are either “almost certain” (48 percent) or “probably will” (21 percent) vote in next year’s Texas presidential primary. This number is significant, given that historically this number is closer to 50 percent.

Our findings point to a repeat of the 2018 midterms, when Latinos turned out on general election day at presidential cycle levels never seen before among Latino voters. Complicating matters for the GOP, 75 percent of Latinos agree that the 2020 presidential election is more important than 2016.

Moreover, findings from Latino Decisions’ recent Univision poll also show that 42 percent of Latinos nationally now view the GOP as openly hostile toward them—a number that will be tough to reverse before November 2020. According to the survey results, 45 percent of Latinos said the Republican words and actions on immigration mean they will never consider voting for them again.

Latinos’ worries about immigration and hostility toward immigrants should be especially sharp in Texas, according the recent UnidosUS survey results. Sixty-eight percent of Texas Latinos express frustration with how “President Trump and his allies treat immigrants and Latinos,” and 58 percent of say Washington politicians ignore them and “take Latinos like me for granted.”

2020 House Races

The U.S. House should be the Lone Star state’s most interesting battleground. Last week, Rep. Kenny Marchant (TX-24) joined Hurd (TX-23), Mike Conaway, (TX-11) and Pete Olson (TX-22) in announcing his retirement. “While it’s not that unusual for some lawmakers to hit the exits in any given election cycle, the ‘Texodus’ label proffered these days by opportunistic Democrats may have some warrant,” writes Tom Benning, Washington Bureau Chief for the Dallas Morning News.

The chart below depicts the potential of 749,475 Latino voters in nine key House districts in Texas—three of which are now open seats because of the GOP retirements. Most electoral forecasters have re-classified these districts as toss-up or even “lean Democratic.”

Notice that in all seven of the GOP-held districts, the potential Latino votes easily exceed the 2018 Democratic margins of defeat. Sure, not every unregistered or registered-but-nonvoting Latino in Texas will vote Democratic. But the ratio of potential new Latino voters to 2018 Republican margin of victory ranges from lows of about 3-to-1 in TX-2 and 4-to-1 in TX-10, to roughly 10-to-1 in both TX-21 and TX-31. Somewhere in between fall Olson’s TX-22 and Marchant’s TX-24.

And then there’s the whopper —Hurd’s TX-23, home to last weeks’ tragic domestic terrorism attack in El Paso— which contains 217,629 potential new Latino voters in a district Hurd won by just 926 votes last year. Although Hurd has been a notable defector from Republican orthodoxy on immigration, and a frequent critic of President Trump’s immigration policies, he realized he was destined for defeat in 2020.

The Latino Surge in Texas

Clearly, under-mobilized Texas Latinos wield significant power to tip House races. That’s just the House: The potential impact of the estimated 3.7 million Texas Latinos who will be eligible to vote in 2020 is hardly limited to the U.S. House districts. We will examine their broader impact in upcoming posts in this series.