Deciphering Texas

Beto O’Rourke faces the Texas Voter Polls

(Photo courtesy USA Today)

The first Texas Election 2022 polls are out and these could be markers for what to expect or be surprised by in November, 2022.

Regional dissimilarities and scope in Texas voting

Texas is not one state but four ‘states of mind’ rolled into one geographical ‘state:’ the Valley-San Antonio-Austin-route 35 corridor. (“New-Old Texas”), Houston-urban Texas. (“Newer Texas”), West Texas (west of I-35), and ‘Old South’ Texas (east of I-35).

Beto O’Rourke, taking a page from Eleanor Roosevelt whose visits across America were legendary, visited every county in Texas during his run for the Senate in 2020. Though his whirlwind stopover visits made national headlines, Beto lost to incumbent Ted Cruz by over 200,000 votes.

Caution Gov. Abbott re-election deniers: Cruz, too, had low popularity heading into the election.

The Yawing Middle in Texas

Looking at the percentage numbers, across Texas, a healthy third of sampled Texan voters describe themselves as not aligned with either national party. This is noteworthy as we get closer to the election as this is the most volatile segment in play — the ‘non-aligned.’ And there are regional dissimilarities, so a self-described moderate in ‘Texas-Old-South’ is more likely to vote Republican than a self-described moderate in ‘New-Old’ Texas, who is more likely to vote Democratic or not at all.

The danger in deciphering Texas politically is to overreach and to undervalue, which is both inexcusable and understandable. Texas is big. In sheer land size Texas beats France and ranks 39th in size across all countries. Texas has changed party majority several times in the last fifty years so historical assumptions are cloudy at best. Power in the State House resides primarily with the Commissioners who essentially run the State. The Legislature meets 140 days out of the year, which for a state this size borders on legislative neglect. Two and in some districts three or more languages are spoken on the street. Texas was once a country. Secession is a discussable topic in Texas. And yes, more of Texas is ‘south’ than ‘west.’ Those cowboys we remember from Saturday movie houses of ‘yore were from Hollywood, not Texas.

Is Texas becoming a purple state?

Without gerrymandered districts which are soon to be encrypted, Texas would be a purple state. With gerrymandered districts Texas is decidedly red but a lot happens between election cycles and the same applies to Texas. Enough districts will be in play in 2022 to have forced Abbott’s voter suppression agenda and gerrymandering onto the public sphere. A lot is at stake and the Republicans know it. The race prognosis is close enough that Democrats cannot afford to have Latinos sit out the Governor’s election as they did during the Senate election in 2020. In other words, ‘do not repeat Florida.’

Does Beto have a chance?

Well, not, according to the recent Texas Voter Poll, if Matthew McConnaughey is running.

In the Dallas Morning News UT Tyler poll, Beto trailed Abbott by 5 points in a hypothetical face-off, and Abbot trailed McConnaughey by 9 points.

Has Abbott overreached? And has his negative exposure buried a serious run?

Don’t take the liberals’ well documented disdain of Abbott’s tenure at face value. Any contender to Abbott has a lot of work ahead to convince Texans that ‘you deserve better than Greg Abbott.’ This is less a reflection on Texans than the logistics of organizing a counter offensive in a state larger than France. Beto can raise money which makes him a prime contender. But he will also be taking on a party organization that has been in power for a generation.

Seriously, does Beto have a chance?

At this stage polling behind an incumbent Governor by 5 points is a respectable margin to consider a run for the Governor’s Office. Because the Governor’s office of Texas is — compared to other states — a less hands-on office the incumbent will have less substantively to crow about than one in other states. And yet more his/her opponent can hit on. Not to Beto’s advantage is the perception that… wait, he couldn’t beat Cruz? How the dang’ will he beat Abbott? But Governor races in Texas as in other states are different from Congressional races. Beto’s primary advantage, his call-out to the yawing middle, the ‘non-aligned,’ is that this race is about voting — not about him.

Plan “B”?

Texas is not wont of impressive Democrats to unseat Abbott. Consider Governor-elect Cecile Richards. Consider Governor-elect Julian Castro. But in Texas organization matters, more than name recognition, more than legacy. And the largest grassroots Democratic aligned organization in Texas right now is not the Texas Democratic Party but ‘Don’t Mess With Texas Voters,’ whose primary organizer/fund raiser is Beto O’Rourke. Right now, Beto is Plan “B,” and this is — for him and for the Texas Dems — not where both want to be.

September 24

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