Piece of Mind: Texas Set to Become a Battleground State?

Apr 3, 2019

You’ve probably heard the news: We’re having a presidential election next year. It’s been in all the papers.

What you also might have heard – but this isn’t necessarily a sure thing – is that Texas might become a “battleground state” in which the Republican and Democratic nominees for president will fight hammer and tong for the state’s 38 electoral votes.

How did Texas turn from a reliably red (read “Republican”) state to one that could be contested hotly by both major political parties? One word: Beto. As in Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, the former West Texas congressman who came within a couple of percentage points in 2018 of defeating Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Oh, wait! O’Rourke also is running for president of the United States.

This battleground business has a long way to go before it becomes a reality.

Let me toss a few numbers at you.

Texas last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1976, when Jimmy Carter won the state over President Gerald Ford, who was campaigning for election. That’s 44 years! Texas has voted Republican – and solidly so – every four years since that time.

The 2016 election saw Donald Trump defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton in Texas by about 8 percentage points. That’s a comfortable margin to be sure, but it is a good bit less comfortable than the margins rolled up by GOP nominees Mitt Romney (2012) and John McCain (2008) against Barack H. Obama.

What about Northeast Texas? How does this region stack up as a potential battleground in 2020? Let’s see: Collin County voted for Trump over Clinton 55-38 percent; Hunt County went for Trump 76-20; Hopkins County voted 79-19 for Trump; Rains County went 84-13 for Trump over Clinton. The short answer: Democrats have a steep hill to climb in Northeast Texas if they are going to join much of the rest of the state as a place where Democrats and Republicans duke it out for voters’ affection.

However, there remains some indication that Texas well might be in play when the parties nominate their presidential candidates a year from now.

Unless the sky falls in, hell freezes over and Earth spins off its axis – or he is kicked out of office – Donald Trump will win the GOP nomination in the summer of 2020. The Democrats? Let’s see about that.

The Democratic ticket could bring Texas into play if Beto O’Rourke is anywhere on the ballot, either as president or vice president. He does have proven vote-getting power as witnessed by his astonishing performance in the 2018 U.S. Senate race against Cruz. He can raise a lot of money . . . rapidly!

As I look at the still-growing field of Democratic primary candidates, I am left to wonder whether the energy that Beto brought to his Senate bid among Democrats will hold up if the Democratic presidential ticket does not include him.

There’s another thing to ponder. Do Texans want their state to gather the kind of attention the candidates shower on states such as Ohio, Nevada, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan? We hear grumbling occasionally from residents of those states who grouse about all the political ads they endure on TV, radio and whatever medium the candidates decide to use.

Are we ready for that in Texas?

I hope we are.

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.