Texas: the multi-star state of tomorrow?

Image: jmtimages

Republicans win the South.Democrats get the West Coast and North East, the Midwest is largely up for grabs. We’ve become used to this partcular paradigm of US electoral coalitions. And at the heart of these coalitions are California and Texas. But not for long.

Romney won Texas by 16 per cent of the vote, a 4 per cent improvement on the GOP’s performance in 2008 and a 13 per cent improvement on 1992. The donkeys haven’t taken the Alamo since Carter in 1976 (who swept the South).

Going on history, the future seems clear: with US elections becoming fought over fewer and fewer swing states, Texas doesn’t look like it will become one.

The problem with this assumption is that Texas’ future looks very different from its past. All of the common stereotypes about the Lone Star State are wrong. 88 per cent of its population lives in cities. Whites are a minority. Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic.

In the post election analysis about President Obama’s ‘shock’ victory, everyone – even my grandmother – was saying the same things: Women, Blacks, Hispanics, and Cities.

On the basis of this, Texas – and its precious 38 electoral college votes – should not only be ‘up for grabs’, it should be solidly Democrat.

And what a world that would be. Finally, the news would stop being dominated by ethanol subsidies for Iowa, teabaggers of New Hampshire, hanging chads in Florida. Instead, elections would be a given. They would be Democrat.

The Republicans would be forced to modernise or perish. Rush Limbaugh would be out of a job, Sarah Palin could nestle down with the bears and Michele Bachmann’s McCarthy-esque calls for a new House Un-American Committee would fade into the part of hell reserved for people who talk in the theatre.

There’s a big reason why this hasn’t happened yet. Hispanics don’t vote. Despite being 38 per cent of Texas’ population, they accounted for only 20 per cent of exit polls in the last election. That’s several million wasted votes – more than enough to drive the state to the left.

It’s not just Hispanics though. Across the state, voter turnout at all levels is dire. The face of Texas, Rick Perry, was in such a tight race for governor that only 27 per cent of eligible voters pitched up. In 2008, only 45.5 per cent of the voting age population went to the polls, and this year those numbers were down.

Texas, even by US standards, is a beacon of apathy. The reason for this is a self-perpetuating myth: that Texas is the Republican heartland. Obama’s ground game led to massive increases in turnout in every swing state it set up in. This myth stops it trying the same in Texas.

The prevailing view in the smoke filled corridors of Washington is that money to Texas is money wasted, taken from the traditional battlegrounds. And – before you know it – there’s an elephant sauntering up Pennsylvania Avenue.

But Texas is rapidly becoming too prominent to ignore. Since 2000, its population increased by 12.7 per cent – twice the national average. That translates into more electoral votes, which are being syphoned from the Democratic stronghold in the northeast. For example, Texas gained 4 votes this year (the same amount as New Hampshire has overall), while New York lost 2. The status quo is increasingly favourable to Republicans. It is the Democrats who must change or die.

The most stunning irony of all is that the GOP have turned Hispanics to the Democrats. Catholicism and belief in the American Dream puts Latinos well to the right on social and economic policy, yet the GOP’s absurd stance on immigration drives their votes away.

Texas will become a swing state. If the Democrats play their cards right, it can be theirs by the 2014 midterms. If not, it may take decades, but they will still reverse the great Republican myth.

For Republicans, Texas represents their singular problem. They cannot take the White House while alienating Hispanics, but a moderate cannot win a primary without doing so.

Forget Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. The future will be decided by a lone star.


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