John McCain's widow Cindy endorses Joe Biden, including TV Ad

Dave McNeely

Could Texas turn Blue?

Texas Democrats have hoped to break Republicans' unbroken string since 1998 of winning every statewide elected office.

In 2020, with Republican President Donald Trump's foibles, lies, and impulsive and erratic behavior – especially in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic -- some Republicans worry they may have to quit taking statewide general election sweeps for granted.

The Democratic presidential ticket of former Vice-President Joe Biden and California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris is spending several million on TV ads in Texas before the election.

It's the first significant financial effort in Texas in decades by a Democratic presidential campaign. The last Democratic presidential candidate to carry Texas was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Biden was 5 points behind Trump in a recent Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll, but tied in other polls.

If Biden wins Texas, its 38 electoral votes would kill President Trump's try for a second term.

A big reason Democrats haven't competed significantly at the presidential level in Texas has a lot to do with the Bush dynasty. Beginning in 1980, George H. W. Bush, and then son George W. Bush, were on a presidential ticket every election year through 2004, except 1996.

(George H.W., vice president, 1980 and 1984; president, 1988 and 1992. George W., president, 2000 and 2004. In 1996, Democrat Bill Clinton lost to Republican Bob Dole in Texas, though not nationally.)

The Bush situation wasn't the only reason, but was a big one in why Democratic presidential campaigns didn't invest much in Texas.

With the absence of the Democratic presidential campaign locomotive that pulls the rest of the ticket in down-ballot offices, and no statewide incumbents to generate money, the party shriveled.

This year seems different. The party seems resolved to grow new grassroots. The activity is noticeable.

That's partly because demographic changes, particularly in major urban areas, are moving in a Democratic direction in cities like Houston and Dallas.

Also, the Democratic National Committee, particularly since organizational advocate Tom Perez became chairman in 2017, has pumped significantly more money, personnel, and effort at the organizational level in Texas.

Efforts increased to recruit candidates to seek local offices – city councils, constables, state representatives, and even school and community college boards – to build bench strength, seasoning people to move up to other offices.

Former state Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor in 2014 against 12-year Republican Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, lost by 20 points. But the other Democrats running for statewide office suffered similar landslides.

But Davis said she saw in 2016 that a growing number of Democrats running for down-ballot offices were beginning to make some headway, including winning four Texas House seats away from Republicans.

Then in 2018, El Paso Democratic U. S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke made his upstart run to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

O'Rourke wound up attracting an enormous amount of grassroots money, and lost to Cruz by just 2.6 percent. He said the number of other Democrats seeking down-ballot offices helped provide a lot of energy and get-out-the-vote effort to his own.

Democrats running for the Texas House of Representatives in 2018 had a net gain of 12 seats from Republicans. And O'Rourke led Cruz in nine other House districts that Republicans won.

A net pickup of nine seats is exactly the number needed for the Democrats – currently outnumbered by Republicans 83-67 in the House – to win control.

O'Rourke has set electing enough members to take over the House as his goal for 2020.

Hundreds of volunteers who helped his 2018 Senate race, and later his abortive effort for the presidential nomination, have formed a group called "Powered By People," aimed at taking over the House.

It is attracting still more volunteers, to make at least 1 million phone calls or texts to encourage prospective Democratic voters to be sure and vote.

Some top Democratic House members, including House Democratic Caucus chairman Chris Turner and long-time Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, have also been raising money to help the campaigns of other Democratic House members and candidates.

Former Sen. Davis, since her gubernatorial run, in 2020 is challenging freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, in a long-held Republican District 21, stretching from Austin to San Antonio, plus six counties to the west.

Democratic strength and financial support is growing, Davis has raised and is spending several million dollars in Texas, and running a dead-even race.

She won endorsements from the San Antonio Express-News and the Austin American-Statesman.

Democrats have targeted 13 congressional districts, including 11 currently held by Republicans.

Soon, we'll see if Texas politics becomes Blue-er, or just its Democrats.

Contact Dave McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail.com.