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Booming Texas economy may usher in a Democratic win in 2020

Gregory Korte and Joe Carroll, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Texas Democrats, though, have been demoralized for decades.

The last Democratic governor was Ann Richards, the quick-witted feminist who seized national attention with her Democratic National Convention speech in 1988 mocking the Connecticut-born George H.W. Bush for being insufficiently Texan, even though he worked in the Texas oil business before getting into politics. "Poor George, he can't help it," she said in her Texas twang. "He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Six years later, she would lose the governor's office to Bush's son, George W. Bush.

Bush and his successor Rick Perry, now Trump's energy secretary, ushered in a series of pro-business economic policies: low taxes, fewer regulations, and a legal system more favorable to corporations. While the fracking boom that unlocked natural gas reserves helped, too, there's no denying that Texas led the nation in job growth through the Great Recession.

"Ironically, the strong economy that Republicans brag about and largely made possible is contributing to the demographic change that is now eroding their influence" in Texas, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

But candidates and policies matter, too. Unlike California, where Republicans pushed anti-immigration initiatives, Texas Republicans courted Hispanic voters and enacted immigration policies that were anathema to the national GOP, like the Texas DREAM Act making undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition at state universities.


Texas Hispanics also tend to be more conservative than those in other states. Many can trace their ancestry to the period when Texas was part of Mexico, or even Spain. Immigration is less important an issue as they've intermarried and accumulated wealth.

Texas Republicans appealed to socially conservative Latinos by opposing abortion and gay rights. "Wedge issues work, whether you're black, brown or white," said Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. "But that's changed with Trump, the way he's vilified brown people."

According to Latino Decisions, 74% of Hispanic voters in Texas voted for O'Rourke. And they turned out in higher numbers too, with 800,000 more showing up compared to the 2014 midterms.

Still, there's a huge reservoir of untapped Latino votes in Texas. Almost 1.7 million Hispanics were registered but didn't vote in 2018, and another 2 million weren't registered. By 2020, another 400,000 young Hispanics will join the voting-age population.


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