Blexas: A Ticking Time Bomb for the GOP Or Democratic Pipe Dream?
Is Texas on the verge of turning blue?
Texas has been seen as the quintessential ruby-red Republican state for decades - and for good reason too.
Democrats have not won a statewide election there since 1994 as the Republican Revolution unfolded. You have to go back even further to 1976 to find the last time Texas voted for a Democratic presidential candidate. That came with Jimmy Carter’s slim 3.2% victory in the Lone Star State. Add the legacies of presidents H. W. & Dubya Bush, conservative Cancún connoisseur/headline grabber Ted Cruz, and a notably heavy gun culture into the mix and yeah, Texas seems like quite the GOP hotspot to the average Joe.
However, our current age of Trumpian politics changed the state’s landscape. With right-wing populism now a deeply ingrained part of the modern Republican Party, we're seeing as a result a massive shift in voting patterns that has clearly impacted Texas.
While a deeper dive into these political trends and tales of organizer woes reveal some very real long-term problem spots for the state’s Democratic Party, what’s even more apparent is the political realignment of a state that may soon no longer bleed its usual red in statewide elections by the end of this decade. We may see a blue Texas, or Blexas, become a reality sooner rather than later.
The GOP simply cannot expect consistent double digit victories anymore when it comes to Texas’ statewide races - especially in polarized races like for president, senator, and governor. The past two presidential elections indicate that the party shouldn't come to expect even victories alone in the coming few election cycles.
(Cross-checking the data with official results, Wikipedia provides an accurate data chart as seen above to demonstrate this recent political shift statewide in Texas.)
Everything is bigger in Texas - including its population. The 2020 United States Census found that Texas gained 4 million people from 2010 to 2020, the largest raw number of any state. This immense growth was driven mainly by suburbs, which the Census found were the fastest growing areas in the state. Suburbanites are a crucial voting bloc for the Democratic Party as they seek to build upon recent electoral gains with these voters (including in Texas). As these suburban areas grow, the strength of the Texas Republican Party shrinks.
Williamson County acts as a poster child for this suburban exponential growth and political wind change. Its county seat, Georgetown, remained the fastest growing city in America by percent change in 2022. It grew a whopping 14.4% in just that single year alone. Just 30 miles away from Austin (that’s practically nothing for Texas), the town presents a prototypical American suburb close-ish to a major city with its own small (albeit charming) downtown area.
I mean, just look at it.
Plain and simple, it’s pure (*Rihanna voice*) suburbia.
And how has Williamson County fared politically amid its population boom?
(Cross-checking the data with official results, Wikipedia provides an accurate data chart as seen above to demonstrate this recent political shift in Williamson County.)
A Democratic tidal shift. No big shock to me, frankly.
And there are just so many of these types of places in Texas that showcase this suburban shift, both large and small. We have Denton County near the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
(Cross-checking the data with official results, Wikipedia provides an accurate data chart as seen above to demonstrate this recent political shift in Denton County.)
We have Bexar County containing San Antonio and its nearby suburban communities.
(Cross-checking the data with official results, Wikipedia provides an accurate data chart as seen above to demonstrate this recent political shift in Bexar County.)
We have Fort Bend County near Houston.
(Cross-checking the data with official results, Wikipedia provides an accurate data chart as seen above to demonstrate this recent political shift in Fort Bend County.)
As the Democrats continue a nationwide collapse with rural voters, the state party may take this trade-off in stride given Texas’ current demographic iteration. From 2001 to 2021, the urban population increased by 44.08% compared to just a 9.82% rural population growth in the same period. To put this in perspective, 89.35% of Texas’ total population growth in that time came from urban (and what I’d classify as suburban) areas.
If I was a Texas Democrat looking at these trends, I’d be fairly excited for the political odds of the near future. Just put in the outreach work and then wait for the clock to run out for Republicans, right?
Is all hope lost long-term for the Texas GOP? Is a Democratic takeover of the state just inevitable due to this national suburban shift and statewide population trends?
Of course not.
For starters, the state still has by far the largest rural population in the country. The Census defines a rural area to be a municipality with less than 5,000 people and less than 2,000 housing units. 1,140 areas in Texas fit this mold as they house around 4.2 million rural residents.
This aforementioned rural collapse among Democrats allows the GOP to have its own stubborn firewall to stymie the bleed of votes and keep the GOP in power. And as these numbers continue to fall in rural areas like the “Red Wall” of West Texas, local journalists argue that the Texas Democratic Party outright abandons the area, leaving down-ballot candidates and organizers the tall task of voter outreach as the GOP blankets the airwaves.
And unfortunately for Democrats, their suburban gains have not been consistent enough across the state to bring Texas into full swing state status either. In a 2022 midterm that was mostly a disappointment for the GOP, Texas proved to be a bright-ish spot as the Republican Party narrowly increased their majorities in the state’s legislature. This came amid the party rebounding in some suburban counties that had previously shifted more Democratic.
And in a more unexpected case of losing ground, the Lower Rio Grande Valley (or RGV) has acted as a recent barrier for those seeking to flip Texas statewide. Overseeing the southernmost tip of the Texas-Mexico border, this region has been traditionally a Democratic stronghold. Starr County is a prime example of this worrisome shift towards Republicans. The Democratic Party’s modern federal peak in the county came when Barack Obama won the region by an eye-popping 70.2% in 2012 while simultaneously losing the state by a little under 15.8%.
(A labeled map of the RGV according to the RGV Partnership.)
As these aforementioned Democratic headwinds in the suburbs continue, RGV has experienced a remarkable backslide that has occurred only recently. The 2020 presidential election saw Biden only winning the 96.1% Latino county by around 5.3% in a 27.1% freefall from the presidential last election. Remember - this came as Biden only lost the state as a whole by less than 5.6%. Quite the discrepancy, there.
(Cross-checking the data with official results, Wikipedia provides an accurate data chart as seen above to demonstrate this recent political shift in Starr County.)
Although Starr County and the RGV as a whole only represent a tiny fraction of the gargantuan total statewide vote in Texas, many believe that the results of this heavily Latino region is indicative of a serious backslide away from Hispanic voters’ historical support of the Democratic Party. Whatever the reason, this regional shift appears representative of a phenomenon observed across the country. And with 28% of the Texan electorate consisting of Hispanic voters, a long-term voting shift further towards the Republican Party would mitigate much of this Democratic progress made in the state. Democrats need to reverse these sudden trends and fast.
The Texas Republican Party also, for all of its many many flaws, is still somewhat competent at the helm of the ship.
Many of its leaders also recognize the Democratic suburban shift that’s occurring and are working to stave off any further gains. Ted Cruz, of all people, even provided an intellectually honest look into the current political trends of the state. Houston is even going to host the 2028 Republican National Convention after successfully vying for the coveted slot.
Save for the usual intermittent scandals and the headache that is Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state GOP clearly isn’t totally asleep at the wheel. Many like Governor Abbott have simply orchestrated a right-wing agenda more “quietly” and haven't fully gone the DeSantis route of turning every issue into a polarizing national PR stunt for media fodder (and a doomed presidential run).
Compare Texas to Arizona, a state that has turned into a complete disaster for the GOP. A 2018 breakthrough midterm Senate win by then-Democrat (don’t get me started…) Kyrsten Sinema soon opened the doors to what can only be described as a series of own-goals from the state GOP as far-right whack jobs took total control of the party from top to bottom.
Primary voters nominated inexperienced, deeply polarizing far-right statewide candidates like Kari Lake and Blake Masters who constantly and brazenly spout election denialism and incredibly divisive rhetoric towards even crucial factions of their own party in the general election. This led to the one-time party of McCain suffering a series of high-profile statewide losses in 2022. State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, who that same year “ran a quiet, traditional Republican race focused on financial policies,” is now currently the highest ranking statewide office holder in Arizona. The party will need her help to balance their campaign budget, too, as they suffer cataclysmic fundraising numbers in the run-up to 2024.
Abe Hamadeh (left), Kari Lake (center), and Blake Masters (right) all ran far-right, controversial campaigns and lost their campaigns for statewide office in Arizona in 2022.
In this modern day of political insanity, satisfying uneasy voters who would, pre-Trump, traditionally vote Republican is frankly a low bar to clear. Many general election voters are practically begging for the chance to vote for Republicans again in places like Arizona but can’t stomach the choices they’ve been given by MAGA-led primary voters.
The Texas GOP hasn’t fully crumbled beneath this threshold, yet. However, folks like the statewide Republican Convention attendees are pushing them deeper into the sand with deeply divisive (and dare I say, batshit insane) proposals added towards the party’s official platform that may soon translate into deeply unpopular candidates when these statewide seats become open.
Democratic organizers in Texas also find themselves frustrated within the state’s disheveled party apparatus.
“The state party is understaffed and underfunded” claimed one organizer who wished to remain anonymous. “No one has invested in Texas because [The Democratic Party] hasn’t proved it can win.”
This sentiment is backed by historical political spending in the state. 2020 saw the Biden campaign spending a historic $6.1 million on TV ads in Texas, with allies giving an extra million to reach $7.1 million in total spending in favor of Biden on TV ad spending in Texas. This was the largest buy in Texas from a Democratic presidential nominee in decades. And yet, this investment is a drop in the bucket for both Biden and his allies (who spent more than $600 million on TV ads in 2020, including $154.1 million in Florida alone) as well as in the incredibly expansive Texan TV market (20 different markets!).
And even the assistance received isn’t always the most helpful.
“The data is very shitty” an anonymous organizer put plainly. “[The Democratic Party] thought they were going to win a statewide race by 8 that they lost.”
This flawed data is compounded by an alleged lack of substantive talent behind the scenes. For every successful candidate, there is usually a vast team of successful staff members behind them. And yet, these organizers argue this apparatus is just not there.
“The talent pool issue is a big one,” claimed an organizer. “Too many people who aren’t trained are taking up roles they aren’t prepared for.”
Ultimately, for a state party clearly making strides with the electorate and having trends (mostly) on their side, organizers are still incredibly frustrated as the state remains perpetually in the lean Republican territory. For a supposedly up-and-coming swing state, party leaders surely aren’t acting like it’s headed that way behind the scenes, argue these organizers.
Blexas likely remains an aspirational dream for the Democratic Party - for now. I don’t expect Texas to elect a Democrat statewide this November. However, through a more focused, strategic investment by party officials both within the state and nationwide, we could very well see a Democrat winning a statewide vote by the end of the decade.
And the state would be well worth the investment, nationally. With an almost perpetually tough Senate map, Democrats must look to reach states turning toward the party like Texas as they fight to keep Senate seats in states that are turning away like Ohio. Remember: last time Senator Cruz was up for reelection, Rep. Beto O’Rourke turned a long-shot bid into an incredibly close 2.6% loss
And in terms of the presidential election, Blexas would become an absolute gamechanger. The 9th closest state in the nation, if you made every state that was closer a toss-up and gave Texas to the Democratic Party, this would be the electoral college result.
(Thank you to 270toWin for this wonderful interactive map that helps project presidential outcomes.)
Democrats could win any of these states with closer results along with Texas and that would secure the presidency. That’s it. Of course, state politics aren’t exactly isolated nor immune to national trends. I’m sure if Democrats are winning Texas presidentially, they’re likely already winning Arizona and a few (if not most) of these other states, too. But what this really demonstrates is the sheer political power Texas would hold if it were to be fully competitive or even blue.
It would be a complete, unmitigated disaster for the GOP and honestly isn’t a far-fetched proposition for the future. 2028 and 2032 will come faster than you think and there’s 2 more midterms within these presidential election years, too. If GOP operatives don’t take the prospect of Blexas as a serious threat to their national operation, they may be feeling awfully blue themselves in the not-so-distant future.
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