Texas & Arizona: Not Even Hispanics Will Turn 'Em Democrat Blue Anytime Soon: Lawrence

Posted: Apr 22 2014

It's a favorite Democratic fantasy:  capture the Republican citadel -- Texas, with 38 electoral votes -- and lock up the White House for generations to come.  Some take the dream a step further:conquer Arizona, and the entire West will be “ours.”

Not Gonna Happen
But it’s unlikely to happen, for a host of reasons. And it’s highly debatable whether Democrats should try to run up the score in the electoral college, rather than simply consolidating their gains in battleground states like Ohio and Florida, and “Purple” states like Virginia, which are legitimately trending “Blue.”

What’s all the fuss about? 
Ah, the People Factor
Demographics, of course. Texas is being flooded with job-seekers from other parts of the country who aren’t as conservative as many long-time Texas residents. In addition, the state’s Latino population is rapidly growing, and with Republicans lurching right and seemingly so hostile to immigrants, more of them may be tilting Democratic. Finally, some female voters – inspired, in part, by rising stars like state senator Wendy Davis -- are starting to speak out on hot button issues like abortion and “choice.”

But it doesn’t add up to a sea change in the Texas electorate – not any time soon.
Why Not Blue?
Remember: Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in Texas since 1994, and President Barack Obama won just 41 percent of the vote in 2012. The last Democrat Texans favored for the presidency was Jimmy Carter way back in 1976. Hispanics in Texas are also more moderate politically than Hispanics elsewhere, and abortion is still a hugely divisive issue that might end up alienating as many voters as it attracts – including religious Latinos.
Caution on Turning Texas “Blue”
In fact, even “Battleground Texas,” the Democratic group that’s begun organizing a grassroots campaign to turn Texas “Blue,” has cautioned against expecting rapid progress. It sent two political operatives to the state last January but says it won’t make much headway on the ground unless it receives a lot more funding from the national party.

    Arizona Texas
                %               %
         
2004  Bush (R) 55   61
   Kerry (D) 44   38
         
2008  McCain (R) 54   56
   Obama (D) 45   44
         
2012  Romney (R) 54   57
   Obama (D) 45   41
         
Net Democratic Gain  2004-2012              2   7

Arizona: Galvanizing Anglo-American Voters
Arizona seems even further out of the Democrats’ reach. In contrast to Texas, President Obama did no better there in 2008 and 2012 than John Kerry did in 2004. It’s true that harsh anti-immigrant policies pursued by Republicans in Arizona have alienated the state’s Latinos, but those same policies have galvanized White/Anglo voters, whose turn out-ratios are much higher. And how much leverage do Latinos in Arizona really have? As in Texas, they’re less than a fifth of the state’s electorate. Unless they swing wildly toward one party, and the race is exceedingly close, their votes, while important, are rarely decisive.
Texas: Low Voter Turn-Out Issues; Yet Hoping…
Low voter turn-out is likely to remain a critical issue, especially in Texas, where the rates for Hispanics are especially disturbing. While nearly 40% of the state’s population, Latinos make up just 18% of the state’s electorate. That’s the same as their share in Arizona, and only slightly higher than the rate in Blue-trending Colorado (14%) and Nevada (17%), where the proportion of the Latino population is much lower.   Battleground Texas is placing its hopes on improving turn-out in Texas dramatically in the coming years, as dynamic Latino candidates like San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and his brother Joaquin, a Texas congressman, begin raising their visibility.
Republicans Second Act
But watch out for the Republicans. They’re stepping up their own recruitment of Latino candidates – and it’s paying off. In the Texas legislature, which the GOP has controlled for years, most of the newly elected Latinos are Republican. And the national GOP has just announced a major new Hispanic outreach effort in 5 Latino-rich states. Texas is a key target.
What’s the Upshot? 
Texas and Arizona are becoming more competitive, but that doesn’t mean either one is about to turn “Purple,” let alone “Blue.”   Democrats should invest but need to avoid the kind of wishful thinking that has sent Republicans on wild goose chases after voters in solid Blue states like Pennsylvania and Minnesota in past years. Traditional battlegrounds like Ohio and Florida are likely to remain up for grabs in the post-Obama era – and Democrats can’t afford to lose either one if they expect to maintain their hold on the presidency.

-Stewart Lawrence
Stewart is an author, policy analyst, and writer for Hispanic.com

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