For the past few decades, Texas has been a Republican stronghold when it comes to elections, voting for GOP candidates up and down the ballot. The last time the majority of Texans voted for a Democratic presidential nominee was 1976. But as we approach this year's midterm elections—which features several close races—some are wondering: could Texas go from red to blue?
"The numbers are on our side," said Dyana Limon-Mercado. "We have plenty of people that, if they just get out to vote, Texas can flip for sure.”
Dyana Limon-Mercado is the chair of the Travis County Democrats in Texas, where she says voters are more motivated than ever to get to the polls and vote for Democrats over issues like health care and public education. She also claims the Lone Star State isn't exactly red.
"I think it’s sort of a misnomer to say that we’re a red state and we’ve always been that way. We’re really a nonvoting state much more so than a red state," she said. "And really, the challenge for us has been turning out people to vote."
Turnout could be changing, though. Ahead of the October 9 deadline, a record 15.6 million Texans registered to vote—an 11 percent increase from the last midterm elections. But Republicans say it's not just Democrats who are responsible for that spike.
"I do think there’s a lot of enthusiasm that’s not being reported on and we’ll see that. 2018 will be a test," said Andy Hogue, communications director of the Travis County Republican Party. "I believe we’ll hold on to the Senate and lose a couple in the House but overall, I don’t see a lot a change coming."
The surge in voter registration even outpaced population growth, which Texas set a record for in 2017—attracting an influx of young adults. Coupled with the growing Latino population, which grew by nearly 1.7 million between 2010 and 2017, the demographic shift has put the future of the GOP there into question. According to Pew Research, Hispanic registered voters have identified with the Democrats more than Republicans, not unlike young voters.
On top of a handful of competitive house races, recent polling shows U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's lead over U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke in the single digits, compared to the nearly 16-point lead he had in 2012 against Paul Sadler. But Andy Hogue says he still doesn't see Democrats as a threat yet, and believes O'Rourke is nothing more than a test balloon.
"If you look at Beto’s rhetoric, he’s not running to win. He’s repeating the Democrat talking points point for point. Look at Lupe Valdez, their candidate for governor. Who’s heard of her? You can find Beto signs all over town from downtown to up here in the suburbs. Everywhere. But you won’t find one Lupe Valdez sign anywhere, and that’s because the Democrats are betting on Beto O’Rourke as a test balloon to see how many voters will turn out," he said.
In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton received 43 percent of the vote in Texas—more than she picked up in Iowa or Ohio, two known battleground states. But if the midterm elections are a referendum on the president, then Texas Democrats might be in trouble; President Trump has a 51 percent approval rating in the state.
In order to truly turn the state blue, Democrats would have to pick up over a dozen seats in Congress. They'd have to win even more in the state legislature. Considering that, it's more likely that Texas would become a purple battleground before it turns completely blue.
Correction: A previous version of this story said the Latino population in Texas increased by 1.4 million between 2010 and 2017. The story has been updated.