White House wonders: Is Texas in play next year?

If you’re wondering why yesterday’s amnesty pander was held in El Paso instead of, say, Arizona, wonder no longer. Rest assured, this is a crazy idea but more so because of the vagaries of the next election than in the abstract. Last year, according to Gallup, Obama’s approval rating in Texas was 44.8 percent, just two points lower than the national average. At the height of Bush fatigue and Hopenchange fever in 2008, self-identified Democrats actually outnumbered Republicans; a year later, during his honeymoon period, Obama’s approval was above the water line at 51.9 percent. In fact, in a PPP poll of the state taken in January, Obama was crushed by Huckabee in a hypothetical head to head but finished seven points behind Romney and just five points behind Gingrich. In theory, if Latino voters broke overwhelmingly for him and turned out in droves, the state would be in play.

But then, that’s also what they thought in 2008, isn’t it?

The state’s population is about 35 percent Hispanic, almost identical to California’s proportion. The voting-age population in Texas is growing faster than almost anywhere else in the U.S. — with an estimated 1.2 million eligible minority voters, most of them Spanish speakers, added to the state’s population between 2008 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Those trends have been emerging for a decade, but Democrats have, by and large, been unable to capitalize on them, owing to the state’s geography and abysmal voter registration and turnout patterns among Latinos…

Sixty-three percent of Latino voters in Texas backed Obama in 2008, a solid but unspectacular showing that he must improve upon for any chance in the state. Moreover, Latino turnout in Texas lagged behind rates in neighboring states and was only half the rate among white Texans, who backed McCain 3 to 1…

[Karl] Rove doesn’t deny that times are changing fast — since 2002, 80 percent of newly eligible Texas voters have been minorities, most of them Latino. But he points to gains that Hispanic Republicans made last year in state legislative and judicial races — the number of Hispanic Republicans in the Texas House jumped from zero to five — and a series of perceived insults Obama has served the state: a refusal to issue disaster declarations for recent wildfires and droughts, health care reform and the decision to deprive Houston of a decommissioned space shuttle as a tourist destination.

“I hope they do spend all of their money and time on Texas so they can divert it from Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico and Michigan,” said Rove.

So why is this a fantasy? Because, realistically, the next campaign will be tight enough in terms of electoral votes and fundraising that The One won’t have the time or money to spend on a longshot like Texas. It’ll cost him $25 million at least to compete there, which isn’t a huge number given the size of his war chest but will seem unjustifiable if the GOP nominee is threatening in must-have states like Pennsylvania or Ohio. The only reason he’d dump cash like that into Texas is if he had a considerable fundraising advantage and could afford to burn some money in hopes of scaring Republicans into depleting their own smaller treasury to defend the state. And even in that case, isn’t the money better spent in … Pennsylvania and Ohio? If he’s seriously competing for Texas next year, it can mean only one of two things. Either the economy’s come roaring back and his reelection is all but assured, in which case Democrats might use the opportunity to reach out to states otherwise deemed unwinnable in hopes of encouraging voters (specifically, Latino voters) there in 2016. Or the economy’s stalled and his approval rating has cratered, in which case he’ll be desperate and looking for a huge cache of electoral votes to offset the swing states he’s going to lose. The latter seems more probable than the former, in which case, how probably is it that the state that would deliver him from defeat would be Texas? As I say, a crazy idea.

For your listening pleasure, here’s Rick Perry hammering The One on immigration today on Laura Ingraham’s show. As for whether Texas is in play come 2016, that seems likelier. Save us, Marco Rubio, you’re our only hope!