A G.O.P. Cattle Drive in Texas

Texas is perhaps the one state that will most benefit from the 2010 Census as they are projected to gain at least three and possibly four seats.  This affects the presidential electoral process and strategy.  You don’t find Obama doing much campaigning in the Lone Star State.  That may very well have to change in 2012 as he will have to rely less on former population centers like New York, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and especially California.  This could be fun to watch.

But first, there is a race for governor that pits incumbent Republican Rick Perry against his Democratic challenger Bill White, the former mayor of Houston.  Initially, the Democratic Party thought they had the right candidate in the Republican stronghold of Texas.  Governors are not term-limited in the state and Perry is seeking his third term.  Once thought to be a viable replacement, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison opposed him in the Republican primary, but Perry rather easily dispatched her back to Washington to continue her term as Senator.  With Hutchison out of the way, Perry has set his sights on White.  The most recent poll from Rassmussen puts Perry up by 11 points.  This race is one of the most polled among races for governor and over 9 months, Perry leads by an average of over 7 points and has not trailed in any month thus far.  Still, three of eight professional sites rate this race a toss-up, while five others give it to Perry.  There is no doubt that White will pick up votes in the major metropolitan areas like his home base of Houston and among minorities in Dallas, Austin and other larger cities.  But unlike other large population states, that bulk of population is not necessarily concentrated, but more diffuse throughout the state.  Additionally, unlike other large population states, even in the urban areas, there is a strong base of conservative/Republican voters still present to aid Perry in the overall sense.  Perhaps the only worry for Perry, and those areas are slight, is the fact that there are pockets of Republicans who espouse a more libertarian slant.  Votes for the Libertarian Party candidate in these areas will keep Perry’s vote total down making the race appear closer than it really is in the Democrat versus Republican area.  Additionally, in the primary, about 1.5 million Republicans voted compared to 680,000 Democrats.  Some of that was due to the more competitive nature of the Republican primary, but regardless, registered Republicans far outnumber registered Democrats in Texas.  And even among registered Democrats, there is exists a sizeable portion who are conservative Democrats.  All this points to a Perry victory of about 54-42% with the balance going to third party candidates, but a Perry victory nonetheless.

The state is so large with 32 Congressional districts which precludes a district-by-district analysis of Texas.  Republicans hold 20 of the 32 districts.  In six of those districts, Republicans are running unopposed while in the remaining 14, Republicans are all considered safe by the professional services.  Conversely, no Democrat is running unopposed.  In fact, of the 12 Democrats, only 8 are considered safe.  Of the eight Democratic incumbents, all represent minority-majority districts centered around major population areas like Houston, Dallas, El Paso, Austin, and San Antonio.  Only two are white, three black, and three Hispanic.  So clearly in these areas, the Representative appeals to the dominant minority in the district with the two white incumbents sufficiently liberal to garner the minority vote.

Thus, it is in four districts- the 17th, 20th, 23rd, and 27th- where Republicans stand a chance of adding seats this year.  It is generally a foregone conclusion that incumbent Democrat Chet Edwards’ days are numbered in the 17th District.  Republican Bill Flores leads Edwards by about 8 points in polling thus far, although one needs to consider the effect of anti-incumbency sentiment and top-down voting behavior.  Those two factors may be enough to gives Flores a greater than 10-point win margin.  And even though Edwards is considered a moderate Democrat eventually voting against Obamacare, he also voted for the Obama stimulus.  Perhaps the only thing working in his favor is that unlike other areas of the country where the mood of the electorate regarding the economy is sour, in Texas it is better than the national average.

There are a three other races where I feel Republicans have a decent chance of picking up seats in Texas.  Even though no Democrat has ever lost in the 20th district, the strict liberalism of incumbent Charlie Gonzalez should play against him this year more than in the past.  This district is centered around San Antonio and has an Hispanic majority.  Perhaps if the Republicans could field a viable Hispanic in this district, they would have a better chance.  But, the race could be closer than most are predicting this year.  In the 23rd District, incumbent Democrat Ciro Rodriguez is opposed by Republican Quico Canseco.  Located along the Mexican border with no major metropolitan areas, this region would look to be ideal for a Republican pick up.  I have seen no polling data out of the 23rd, but this is a district that barely sided with Obama in 2008 (a 3-point victory) and went for Bush in 2000 and 2004.  Even more interesting is that as the popularity of Bush was going down in 2004, support for Bush in this district actually increased over his 2000 numbers.  And although Rodriguez likes to fancy himself a moderate of sorts (he voted against TARP and the auto bail out), he also voted for Obamacare and the stimulus- the two Obama initiatives to add the most to the federal deficit.  Given the trends in this district, the large Hispanic population and the fact that Republicans are running an Hispanic candidate and the fact that win margins for Rodriguez in the past were not stellar, I believe that Rodriguez will lose his re-election bid.

More problematic for the Republicans is the 27th District which encompasses the Corpus Christi area and Brownsville.  Established after the 1980 Census, Solomon Ortiz, the incumbent Democrat, has held the seat since 1983.  Making matters worse for Republicans realistically is that the district is 68% Hispanic represented by a Hispanic Congressman running against Blake Farenthold.  Really?  Blake?  Regardless of his credentials under any circumstances, does anyone really believe a candidate with the name “Blake” will win in an Hispanic-majority district?  Still, the only glimmer of hope is that the district went for Bush in 2004 by double digits while only giving Obama a narrow 7-point victory over McCain in 2008.

Texas is projected to gain 3-4 seats out of the 2010 Census.  This will change presidential electoral strategy come 2012, 2016, and 2020.  This is a reliably red state despite its growing minority population centered in the major cities.  When it comes to reapportionment, Texas will be closely watched by lawyers in the Democratic Party as they will not be caught with their pants down as they did during the last reapportionment ten years ago which strengthened Republican chances.  Regardless, before that happens, Republicans should pick up two seats in the House out of Texas this year plus the Governor’s office will remain in Republican control.