Yesterday, Texas Congressman Kenny Marchant announced his retirement from the House of Representatives at the end of this term. Marchant has represented the state’s 24th congressional district, which includes Dallas, Tarrant and Denton Counties, since 2004. He is the fourth Texas Republican to retire in the last two weeks — an event that’s been dubbed “Texodus.”
The first was Pete Olson of the 22nd District (formerly the home of infamous Republican Congressman Tom DeLay), who threw in the towel on July 25th. Six days later, Texas-11 representative Mike Conaway said he would not seek another term, citing “intense partisanship” in Washington and frustration with being the minority party.
Most significant, however, was Will Hurd’s retirement on August 1st. Once dubbed “The Future of the GOP” by Politico, Hurd represents the majority-Latino 23rd district and is the only black Republican in the House of Representatives. Although he was one of the few Republicans to stand up to Donald Trump, he only won re-election by less than a thousand votes last year and the Cook Political Report has already moved his district into the “lean Democrat” column for 2020.
Eight other Republican representatives have announced they will not run for reelection next year, but it’s the Texas four who portend how things might go down. Their defection is a sign that the Lone Star State might do what has been unthinkable for the last 44 years — vote for a Democrat for President and become a blue state.
Why Texas Got So Red And How It’s Stayed That Way
Following its readmission into the Union during Reconstruction, Texas was a solid blue state¹. Between 1872 and 1968 it only went to the Republican presidential candidate three times: Herbert Hoover in 1928 and Eisenhower’s consecutive landslides in 1952 and 1956. It might have gone red sooner if not for Lyndon Johnson, who won his home state for JFK in 1960 and initiated the country’s electoral realignment with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, carrying Texas but losing five Southern states to the Republicans––states they had not won in more than a century.
Despite Johnson’s unpopularity by 1968, his embattled Vice President Hubert Humphrey would win it by less than 1.5% despite losing the election to Richard Nixon. Nixon would then win Texas in his 1972 landslide, and with the exception of Jimmy Carter in 1976, it has been a red state ever since. The two houses of the Texas legislature has been in the hands of Republicans since 2003, they have not had a Democratic governor since Ann Richards, and no Democrat has won a statewide election there since 1994. How did it get that way?
Much of it has to do with the popularity of Ronald Reagan (who carried the state by double-digit margins in 1980 and 1984), the rise of the Bush family, and the conservative migration to Texas during the 1970s and 80s that gave the Republicans an opening to demonize their opponents and build a solid base of support. It also helped to have Karl Rove, who won multiple elections for Texas Republicans before sending George W. Bush to the White House.
However, there’s another reason Texas has stayed red that may be more significant than any of those: it is the hardest state in which to vote, and voter suppression benefits Republicans. Here are a few ways they have turned voting upside-down:
- Texas allows you to check your registration online, but will not allow you to actually register to vote online.
- Only volunteer deputy registrars (VDRs) can register new voters, and they can only do it in the county they’re licensed in. They then have only five days to turn in new registration forms to their county elections office and personally input all the data into the state’s system themselves, since photocopying and scanning them is illegal.
- Voter ID laws are strict — for example, you can vote with a military, gun or state license, but not an employee or student ID. This is due to both the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder and the Republican’s iron grip on the governorship and state legislature.
- The cost of obtaining the required materials to register amounts to a modern day poll tax that discriminates against voters of color, particularly Latino voters, who may not be able to afford to register.
- Republicans have gerrymandered the state to give the usually conservative suburbs inordinate control over state elections, creating an imbalance in power.
- Even with all the resources that have been poured into making voting easier in Texas, more than 277,000 registered Texans still experienced problems at their polling stations in 2018, either because of inconvenient and understaffed polling locations or faulty voting machines.
Trump’s Unpopularity in Texas
Decades of Republican entrenchment and the obstacles towards voting should make Texas a safe bet for Donald Trump next year, but his low approval ratings are hurting him there, too.
When a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll asked Texans how likely they would be to vote for his re-election, the results were exactly 50–50 among all respondents, and 60% of independents said they would not vote for him. Texas independents usually skew conservative, so this is a bad sign for Republicans. A recent Quinnipiac poll also showed the President within the margin of error in a series of hypothetical matchups with Democratic candidates, and losing to Joe Biden, 48–44%.
Trump’s unpopularity was an aide to Texas Democrats in the 2018 midterms. Although El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke failed to unseat Senator Ted Cruz, he only lost by three points, the closest margin for a Texas Senate race in decades. O’Rourke’s galvanizing campaign also helped Democrats pick up seats in the Texas House and Senate, and flipped two U.S. congressional seats blue in the suburbs of Houston and Dallas. They already have momentum going into 2020, and the four Congressional retirees only adds another gust of wind to their sails.
The Shifting Texas Electorate
To understand how Texas is changing, it’s helpful to look at the state’s five most populated counties — Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis, and Tarrant. These counties represent the state’s biggest cities — Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Fort Worth. For further context, Pete Olson represents Harris County, Will Hurd represents Bexar, and Marchant represents Dallas and Tarrant.²
First, these are the numbers from the five counties in 2012, when Obama lost Texas to Mitt Romney by 16 points:
Now compare this to 2016, when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by only nine points in the state:
Clinton outperformed Obama in every one of these counties and shrunk the margin of defeat in Tarrant by half. Overall, she came closer than any Democrat to winning the whole state since her husband in 1992.
Now take a look at how O’Rourke did in these five counties against Ted Cruz last year:
O’Rourke improved on Clinton’s numbers in every one of the five counties, and even won Tarrant by six points. He got 60% of the urban vote, and his strength with the groups who came out for him — white and Latino voters — are building blocks for how Democrats can win the state in future elections.
Many white voters in the state’s urban and suburban areas crossed party lines to vote for Democrats last year due to their frustration with Trump and the Republicans. O’Rourke also won heavily with younger whites, who are now more likely to identify as Democrats than they were 10 years ago. With Texas metros experiencing rapid population growth, Democrats may be able to increase turnout in these areas next year, where a presidential election will bring out voters in a way midterm elections often fail to.
Texas’s Latino population, which is growing at a faster rate and will soon outnumber whites, is also fertile ground for Democrats. While they did not vote for O’Rourke in the same numbers they did for Clinton in 2016, particularly in the Southern parts of the state, they still had an effect on the outcome, especially in those five counties (47% of Texas Latinos now reside across them, with 2 million in Harris County alone.) Dallas County saw an increase in the Latino vote from 2014 by 86%, and El Paso County, O’Rourke’s district, had an increase of 168%. Moreover, the growing Latino population of Tarrant County — up by 26% since 2010 — made a huge difference in flipping it blue.
The New Blue Wall
So what would happen if Democrats build on all these trends and turn Texas blue? First, here’s the electoral map from 2016:
Now here is the exact same map if Texas had gone blue:
The map could be exactly the same everywhere else — including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and all Hillary Clinton would have had to do to be President is win Texas.
To further emphasize how significant a blue Texas would be, here is the map of the 2000 election if, by some divine act of God, Al Gore won there instead of George W. Bush:
The two Democrats who won the popular vote but lost the electoral college would have become President if they had just flipped Texas. That is how crippling it would be to Republicans if they lost their most electorally rich state. Deprive them of Texas, and you cut off their oxygen. They would be unable to survive another presidential election in their current form.
Obviously this is not going to happen overnight. Turning Texas blue is going to take a lot of time, and it may not happen in 2020. But it is more likely than anyone would have imagined in 2016, and the fact that so many of its Republican representatives are heading for the exit means that another blue wave could hit their shores, and when it does, it will capsize all of them.
 The caveat being that the Democratic Party was largely made up of Southern segregationists.
 Travis County is represented in part by congresspersons Michael McCaul and Chip Roy, both of whom Democrats plan on targeting next year.