The Texas Senate Race Is Terrifying the Republican Party

Until recently the thought of a Democrat winning a Texas Senate race would be considered ridiculous. Especially a liberal Democrat who has endorsed an assault rifle ban and believes in “Medicare for all.”

But as of today the highly-respected Cook Political Report is rating the race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke a toss up.

“Senate Rating  changes … the playing field has expanded a bit.
#MTSen: Likely Dem -> Lean Dem
#WVSen: Toss Up -> Lean Dem
#TXSen: Lean R -> Toss Up”

There’s now a feeling in Texas that the young and charismatic Democrat has a real shot against the incumbent Republican who nobody likes, Senator Ted Cruz.

Some polls have Beto down to Cruz, but some have him ahead. It truly appears to be a toss-up at this point, but the momentum seems to be in O’Rourke’s favor. And Republicans are terrified.

Earlier this month they even launched an emergency national campaign to save Cruz’s Senate seat. Because of O’Rourke‘s astounding fundraising, Cruz has been running short of cash as he tries to keep pace.

Last week’s debate did not go well for the incumbent. The daggers were out for Cruz, who has aligned himself with a president whose popularity seems to be decreasing, even in Texas. He was asked if his relationship with Trump cost him his dignity. Meanwhile, O’Rourke was sharp and drew comparisons Barack Obama campaigning in Texas in 2007. He has had fawning media coverage in a race that has drawn huge amounts of national attention.

Cruz won by 16 percent in 2012 even with Obama on the ticket that year. So the fact that the race is now a toss-up is an indication that something very important has changed in the state of Texas.

Texas’ demographics have been changing rapidly for a long time. And it appears that the demographic problem of the Republican Party is finally catching up with them. Ted Cruz might in fact become its first victim.

Texas’ population shifts are on clear display this year. Latino voters have increased their share of the Texas electorate and now make up over 39 percent of the population, up from 36 percent in 2010.

Just as importantly, they are actually voting in larger numbers than ever before. (Large Latino voting turnout is partly driven by their dislike of the divisive rhetoric of President Trump.)

According to Texas political analysts, this year’s Senate race illustrates two different aspects of Texas’ future.

  • One is that Latino voters in the state, predominantly of Mexican heritage, are now the swing population in the state’s elections. 
  • The other is that outside forces are playing an increasing role in changing the character of Texas politics.

Since 2007, 300,000 Californians moved to Texas. In addition, thousands of people each day move to Texas from New York, Illinois, and other northern states.

Even if there is a roughly 50-50 Republican–Democrat split among these new residents, this still leaves both Texas more blue overall. Upper middle class, college educated whites are now up for grabs instead of being solidly Republican. Cruz’s campaign must make them a top priority in order to stop the bleeding. But nationally, the GOP is losing college educated voters, especially women, especially this year.

On top of that, the average age of voters is decreasing, and younger voters tend to favor Democrats by about a two-to-one margin.

Cruz’s traditional Republican campaign strategy might work this year, or it might not. But there is no doubt that demographic changes in Texas can’t be ignored because they are happening right now. Residents leaving blue states are transforming the politics of the places they move to, whether it be in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, or Arizona. Both younger voters and Hispanic voters are voting in larger numbers than ever before.

The Republicans’ reaction to these changes aren’t known at this time. There is a feeling right now that the GOP must adapt to the changes or die.

It is clear that this year’s Senate race in Texas is pointing out that the Republican Party’s old playbook won’t work in the future — and it may not even work this year.

There is no doubt that what is going on in Texas should frighten the GOP. What’s unclear is what they are going to do about it.