The Democrats just can’t quit counting on Texas. Election after election, they’ve surveyed the Giant and its growing Hispanic population and imagined electoral manna. America’s second most populous state remains stubbornly, implacably Republican.
The state legislature is dominated by the GOP. So, too, the state’s congressional delegation. Donald Trump bested Hillary Clinton by nine points there in 2016. Two years earlier, the Democrats thought they had a real shot at the governorship with a campaign in support of abortion for all, but Wendy Davis lost by 20 points. No Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas for a quarter century.
Democrats have nevertheless persuaded themselves they have another real shot at winning a U.S. Senate seat there this November. They hope to knock out the incumbent Republican, Ted Cruz, a long time bete noir of the left, and equally disdained in some precincts of the right.
Their nominee is Rep. Robert Francis O’Rourke of El Paso. Despite apparently not possessing an ounce of Latino heritage, he styles himself as “Beto.” That’s no doubt good enough for Elizabeth Warren and her fascination with unlikely genetics. The irony, of course, is that it’s the Republicans who are running a bona fide Latino. The father of Sen. Cruz was the real thing, a Hispanic emigre from Cuba.
Beto O’Rourke is running as a full-throated liberal, unlike some other Red State Democrats, who go to great lengths to obscure their ideology. He backs single-payer health care, gun control, decriminalization of marijuana and taxpayer funded abortions.
On border security, a big issue in Mexico-adjacent Texas, Mr. O’Rourke’s position is hard to pin down. He’s opposed to President Trump’s wall. But as became clear in a debate between the two candidates in San Antonio this week, he won’t commit to any serious policies to secure the border, although his hometown of El Paso is one of America’s safest cities thanks in part to the wall that separates it from Juarez, Mexico, the crime-ridden city just across the border. He instead stresses his support for legalizing the so-called Dreamers, illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. He spoke a little Spanish at the debate, but it’s not clear how fluent in Spanish the senator may be. He says he wishes his command of the language were better.
Mr. O’Rourke, thanks to his good looks and Obamaesque-charisma, has achieved quite a national profile for himself. National media outlets have written an endless succession of flattering profiles, each vying to set a record for Kennedy comparisons. Money has poured in from everywhere. Mr. O’Rourke pulled in $38.1 million in the third quarter, an astonishing figure. Sen. Cruz, for his part, managed to raise “only” $12 million over the same period. Mr. O’Rourke, apparently dispensing with the humdrum responsibilities of serving in Congress, has campaigned relentlessly. He’s visited all 254 Texas counties, a mean feat in a sprawling state. He drew more than 50,000 people to an Austin rally earlier this month.
For all that, Texas is still Texas. Not one poll of the race has shown Mr. O’Rourke with a lead. The last three polls taken show Mr. Cruz leading by seven, eight and nine points, respectively. There’s speculation that Rep. O’Rourke has his eye on something a bit bigger than a mere seat in the U.S. Senate.
The race has been fought largely but not exclusively on policy issues. The Cruz strategy has been to simply remind Texans that they don’t agree with Beto O’Rourke on a number of issues. And he’s right: The majority of Texans tend to be conservative on issues like guns, immigration and energy policy. Mr. O’Rourke simply is not in step with the voters he’s trying to win over. Sen. Cruz further reminds Texans that if Democrats win a majority in the Senate there’s likely to be an attempt to impeach President Trump.
James Henson, a professor at the University of Texas, suggests in the newsletter Marketwatch that “Democrats and credulous reporters see ‘blue waves,’ a significant uptick in Democratic turnout.” They see destiny in demographics, believing that the increase in the Latino share of the Texas population ensures a Democratic resurgence. The latest numbers suggest that probably won’t happen.
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