Don’t Confuse Trends With Wins

There’s been considerable interest in progressive circles since 2012 about the possibility that demographic change could convert deep red states to blue, particularly in Deep South states with rapidly rising minority populations, like Texas.

Last month, for example, TAP’s Abby Rapoport penned an extensive piece on Texas which argued that while overwhelming GOP margins among white voters probably guaranteed Republicans control of state elections for the very immediate future, a combination of demographic change, progressive organizing, and Republican extremism and complacency could turn the tide before terribly long.

But the Wendy Davis phenomenon most recently has led some Democrats and even media types to accelerate the timetable for turning Texas blue.

At Ten Miles today, Stefan Hankin of Lincoln Park Strategies takes a close look at how far Democrats would have to climb to win, say, a 2014 governor’s race in Texas. It’s quite the steep cliff right now:

[L]et’s try the rosiest scenario possible, which assumes that Democrats achieve their best voting performance across the board and Hispanics turn out to unexpected levels. In this case, Democrats still fall short of a majority of the vote, reaching 48.8 percent. While this outcome would be remarkable given past recent elections, it would still leave the Democrats short of the governorship. The numbers show that in Texas, even the most ideal Democratic candidate with the most ideal turnout will still likely fall short of victory….

If Democrats can increase white support levels to 35 percent, a 9-point increase from the average in 2006 and 2008, while continuing to maintain their current advantage among Hispanic and black voters, the baseline Democratic coalition would reach 48 percent of the electorate by 2020. Although a blue Texas will eventually happen if voting patterns and trends continue, Democrats should be careful and not place unrealistic hopes on Senator Davis, or any other Democrat, to deliver in 2014.

Pessimism can, of course, be self-fulfilling if Texas progressives think of victory as either too far off to matter or, conversely, as guaranteed eventually by the demographics. Just making the state competitive, and keeping some of that vast storehouse of Texas conservative money at home, would be an important accomplishment worth fighting for right now, and you can never tell when conservatives might fatally overreach and bring the future closer in a hurry.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.