This is mostly hype, a case of Cruz trying to steer the absurd Democratic expectations about Texas to his own ends by scaring donors into kicking in, but he’s not talking complete nonsense. And since Texas holds its primaries today, it’s worth paying some attention to it.
If things go sideways this fall, could Texas turn blue? Conceivably, says Cruz. Probably not, say I.
But neither one of us is saying “no chance.”
TC: Look, I think this is a volatile election. I think it could go a lot of directions. In one scenario, the economy is booming, we have a lot of conservatives show up. We could have a terrific election in November. We could win five, six, seven Senate seats. We could have a large functioning majority in the Senate. The flip side, if conservatives are complacent, we know that the left is going to show up. The extreme left, they’re angry. They’re filled with rage. They hate the President. And mark my words, we are going to see historic turnout from the extreme left in November, which means if conservatives stay home, we have the potential, we could lose both houses of Congress. We could end up with a Speaker Pelosi and a Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. In Texas, if conservatives stay home, if we rest on our laurels, we could see Texas turn blue. We could see every statewide official in the state becoming a Democrat. Now that’s long been a Democrat pipe dream. I don’t believe it’s going to happen. But the best way to make sure it doesn’t happen is for conservatives to show up. And I’ll tell you, Hugh, one of the reasons is if we lose both houses, the day Speaker Pelosi…
HH: Oh, Senator…
TC: …is the day the House begins impeachment.
Every election cycle brings a dreary spate of “Is this the year Latinos turn Texas blue?” pieces, and every year turns out not to be The Year. Why should this year be any different? Well…
1. Democratic turnout in early primary voting is up massively over 2014. Republican turnout’s up too from four years ago, by 15 percent, but among Democrats it’s increased 105 percent. No typo. It’s literally more than double what it was then. In fact, for the first time in 10 years, more Democrats voted early in Texas than Republicans did. And for the first time in 25 years, Democrats fielded a candidate for all 36 congressional races, another indicator of optimism within the party. “Enthusiasm gap should be major warning for GOP,” notes Dave Wasserman. Primary turnout tonight will be closely watched, needless to say.
2. Cruz’s likely challenger this fall, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, raised nearly three times as much as Cruz did in the first 45 days of 2018. O’Rourke’s been on an endless barnstorming tour of the state too, visiting more than 220 of its 254 counties so far. One of his big obstacles against Cruz is name recognition. With a big enough war chest and enough time on the trail, he can do something about that.
3. Trump’s not very popular in Texas. A much-touted Gallup poll a few weeks ago had him at a shocking 39 percent approval in the state. That was a poll of adults, though, not of likely voters, and polls of adults tend to trend more Democratic. But Democrats have always acknowledged that the key to turning Texas blue is converting more adults there, particularly Latino adults, into registered voters. That’s their task this year and the hype about turnout will help them with that by giving unregistered liberals hope. Besides, a more recent poll of Texas voters also found Trump’s job approval underwhelming at just 46/46. Is that a blip? Don’t be so sure: Whereas Mitt Romney won Texas by 16 points in 2012, Trump won by just nine in 2016. Hillary Clinton pulled 600,000 more votes in her race than Obama did in his. Texas isn’t the beating heart of MAGA Nation.
4. Cruz ain’t all that popular either. The same February poll that had Trump at 46 percent approval in the state had Cruz at 40/42. On the PredictIt betting site today, he’s at 70 percent odds to retain his seat this fall — a strong favorite but not insuperable. Personal likability has never been his chief political asset but there may also be lingering hard feelings among Trump fans over his 2016 “vote your conscience” convention speech. If a united right comes out in support of him, and it probably will, he’ll be very difficult to beat. If some Trumpers stay home despite POTUS having endorsed Cruz just recently, things might get dicey.
All of that said, though, he’s still almost certain to win. Elections analyst Harry Enten puts his odds somewhere around 85 percent, which seems plausible. What little early polling there is favors Cruz by double digits, he’ll have no trouble raising big money if he needs it, he has the advantage of incumbency, and the special election turnout nationally so far this year looks more like 2012 than 2016 — which is good news for Democrats everywhere *except* Texas, Enten notes. The reason Cruz is sounding alarms about O’Rourke and Texas potentially turning blue now, I think, is because he sees the risk posed by momentum: If Democrats blow the roof off in turnout tonight, especially by comparison to Republicans, the “Texas in play!” headlines could become a self-fulfilling prophesy. National donors will be tempted to pour money in, O’Rourke will get plenty of free media, and Texas’s Democratic voters will start to pay attention to the possibility that this really is The Year. That means registration drives and more donations. Suddenly the chance of an upset is somewhat less of a longshot than it was before. Best to extinguish this flame before it really starts to burn. We’ll know tonight how it turned out.