One of the clearest indications of the weakness of Donald Trump’s candidacy is how far he has lagged behind past Republican nominees in red states. There is Arizona, where Hillary Clinton is currently making a real play, as well as Utah — where Mormons have reacted with revulsion to his campaign.
Perhaps most striking is the close race in reliably red Texas, where no Democrat has won the presidential race since 1976.
Democrats have long eyed the staunchly conservative state with swiftly changing demographics as a future battleground. The fact that Clinton is only behind Trump by single digits here is stoking excitement that Texas could shift from a solid red state to a purple one much earlier than anyone thought. A University of Houston poll recently showed Trump with 41%, to Clinton’s 38% in a four-way race.
“I think this is the year Texas could have gone blue,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a political action committee aligned with Democrats. “But you don’t win a state like Texas unless there’s a real, aggressive and engaged campaign to win it.”
Still, many here believe Clinton could draw a greater share of the vote than even Obama did in 2008, when he won nearly 44% of the vote to Republican nominee John McCain’s 55.5%.
Looking to appear on offense, the Clinton campaign placed a six-figure ad buy in Texas this month highlighting the endorsement of her campaign by the Dallas Morning News — the first time the paper backed a Democrat since 1940. But the low-dollar investment in an exorbitantly expensive state was largely a symbolic gesture.
A strong Clinton showing on Nov. 8 “could reinforce the argument that Texas doesn’t have to wait for demographics,” Angle said. “One of the biggest myths about Texas is that Democrats always get stomped on here.” The reality, he said, “is just that we seldom have the resources to compete statewide.”
Democrats who want to see the national party invest more heavily in this state are eager to see what the Trump effect will be in the 23rd Congressional District, a swing district stretching from the San Antonio suburbs to El Paso that is more than 70% Hispanic.
Freshman Rep. Will Hurd is in a fierce race to defend his seat against former congressman Pete Gallego. Democrats believe that reclaiming that district would show that if they put resources behind a strong Democratic candidate, they can win.
James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, is wary of reading too much into this year’s statewide poll numbers as signs of a seismic shift in Texas. In interviews here, many Republican voters said they simply loathed both Trump and Clinton — and were particularly offended by Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants.
“I would have voted Republican… Normally this is a Republican state, but Trump has pretty much said a lot of things to piss everybody off,” said Jerry Carrasco, a 45-year-old independent from San Antonio, who voted for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
“He sounds racist to everybody. He has to realize that we’re all immigrants — I mean if you’re not Native American — you’re not a true American. He forgot that,” said Carrasco, whose family immigrated to Texas from Mexico in the 1800s. “If he’s going to run for president, he needs to be more respectful. He sounds like an idiot at times.”