Texas: The red state Democrats continuously dream of turning blue, but keep falling short
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz says that his re-election bid next year for a third term representing Texas is “going to be a firefight.”
There’s already a large field of Democrats gunning to win their party’s nomination and face off with the conservative firebrand in 2024.
Cruz, who narrowly defeated then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke in a hard-fought 2018 Senate battle, likes to tout that after former President Donald Trump, “there is no Republican in the country that Democrats hate more than me.”
The senator told Fox News earlier this year that it’s “something I wear as a badge of honor. There is no Republican that they would like to beat more than me.”
Cruz was dramatically outraised in that 2018 showdown by O’Rourke, and history appears to be repeating itself. Rep. Colin Allred, the most prominent of the Democrats running to take on Cruz, topped the senator by nearly $2 million during the April-June second quarter of 2023 fundraising.
But Democrats worry that electoral history may also repeat itself next year in Texas, a longtime red state that’s become more competitive in recent years but where Republicans keep prevailing at the ballot box.
“It’s probably not ruby red, but it’s still a red state,” Cal Jillson, a well-known professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, told Fox News.
Democrats dominated elections in Texas from the post-Civil War period through the 1970s, but the Lone Star State started shifting to the right in 1980. Having a Bush — the late President George H.W. Bush and his son, former President George W. Bush — on the statewide ballot in every election but one from 1980 through 2004 helped turn Texas red.
The Democrats last carried the state in a presidential election in 1976; haven’t won a Senate contest in the state since 1988; and 1990 was the last time they enjoyed victory in a gubernatorial showdown.
But some high-profile elections have become more competitive in recent years. Besides Cruz’s close call in 2018, then-President Trump carried Texas by just 5.5 points in 2020, the smallest margin of victory for a GOP presidential candidate in the state in nearly a quarter-century.
It wasn’t as close last November, as conservative GOP Gov. Greg Abbott easily won re-election to a third term, topping O’Rourke by nearly 11 points. And Republicans also won the other six statewide contests by comfortable margins.
Jillson says the most interesting political shift in Texas isn’t the color of the state but the shading of the GOP electorate.
“The Republican primary electorate is no longer dominated as it was during the George W. Bush years by business-friendly conservatives who will sort of restrain themselves in order not to offend corporate America,” he highlighted. “Now the Republican primary electorate is dominated by social conservatives and populists. It feels much rawer in terms of campaigning, policy and governance. The Republicans controlling the state today are less constrained and more energetically social conservatives than in the past.”
Another storyline in the Lone Star State is the political battle for Hispanic voters. In South Texas, Democrats last November held on to two of three heavily Latino districts aggressively targeted by Latina Republican candidates.
Jillson noted that Republicans “captured some male Hispanic voters in the Rio Grande Valley” along the southern border with Mexico in recent years, but added “that does not carry over to the urban areas of the state where most Hispanics live.”
But while Republicans came up short of their goal of flipping Latino voters along the southern part of the state, the overall results in Texas once again dashed Democrats’ dreams of turning the state blue.