Early voting at the Acres Home Multiservice Center in Houston on Oct. 26, 2014. Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune
President Donald Trump has been to Texas seven times this year.
Michael Bloomberg will be on the Texas Democratic primary ballot for president.
Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro isn’t (politically) dead, though his shot at winning the Democratic presidential nomination is all but gone.
And Republican powers in Austin are assembling a political action committee to try to protect their majority in the Texas House.
All roads lead to this: Texas might not be blue — or even purple — but it will be competitive electoral ground in 2020.
You might not believe it, but it’s clear that the Democrats are ambitiously plotting to win seats in the congressional delegation and the Texas House in particular. And that the Republicans are planning defenses and recruiting voters in anticipation of a vigorous Democratic campaign.
National political money might get spent in Texas. That’s just weird. Texas is an ATM state — a place where political campaigns and candidates come to get the money they want to spend in exotic places like Iowa and South Carolina.
It’s still an incredibly expensive place to run a statewide campaign. It’s cheaper to win a U.S. Senate seat, for instance, in a smaller state with fewer voters and places to spend money. And a senator from a place like Arizona has the same voting power as one from Texas.
But down the ballot — in congressional and state legislative seats — the numbers work a little better.
On the congressional front, Texas will have six open seats next year. All are currently held by Republicans. Three will likely have new Republicans in them after the November 2020 elections, but three — the seats held now by Will Hurd of Helotes, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Pete Olson of Sugar Land — will be competitive. And national Democrats intent on holding their majority in the House are pushing to win three or four more seats now held by Republicans.
If you’re the sort of person who looks at unit pricing in the grocery store, the bang for the buck on a congressional bid is more efficient than on a statewide race for Senate.
And the real plum is in the Texas House, where a Democratic majority could push new congressional redistricting maps out of the hands of elected Republicans in 2021. The current mix in the House is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, a narrow but working majority. Democrats won 12 seats from the Republicans in 2018 and need nine more — a tall order — to get a majority.
The state Senate is expected to remain in the hands of the GOP after the 2020 election. Shortly after, in the 2021 legislative session, maps for legislators will be drawn either by the lawmakers themselves or by a state Legislative Redistricting Board that is already stacked with elected Republicans.
But if the Texas House and Senate can’t agree on congressional maps — if, for instance, the House has a Democratic majority and the Senate has a Republican one — new maps would be drawn by federal judges.
Democrats might not do any better with the courts, but it beats letting four or five elected Republicans draw maps that favor their party.
More to the point, it matters to the national political people who decide where to spend their political money. And those Democrats, who usually focus on federal races, are talking about helping in state races.
And it helps explain the GOP’s effort to raise $5 million to defend the Republican majority in the House, and the installation of a nationally known political op — Karl Rove — as the treasurer. The founders say they won’t oppose incumbent state representatives of either party. But keeping their edge is evidently worth millions.
Is there a chance they won’t? The state remained Republican red in the face of a strong Democratic turnout in 2018. Democrats came closer to winning several statewide races than they have in decades, and they flipped two congressional seats to go with the dozen state House pickups and a net of one in the state Senate.
They’re reaching for more. Bloomberg’s strategy is to skip the early primary states in hopes of scoring big in Texas. Castro will be on many short lists when it comes time to pick vice presidential candidates for the eventual nominee; he ran a good campaign, can attract Hispanic votes and might help in Texas if things here get close.
Trump is working a state that should, according to recent history, be firmly in hand. Texas might remain red in 2020, as it has been for years. But candidates across the spectrum are treating it as competitive.
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