AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Republicans are sounding the alarm as Democratic presidential candidates get ready for their debate next week in Houston, warning that the Lone Star State could become more purple if the party doesn’t treat it as a 2020 battleground.
Most in the GOP are confident President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden says Roe v. Wade under attack like 'never before' On student loans, Biden doesn't have an answer yet Grill company apologizes after sending meatloaf recipe on same day of rock star's death MORE will win Texas and its 38 electoral votes next year, and they think Texas GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE will turn aside his Democratic challenger.
But they are worried they will lose more House seats a cycle after Democrats clawed back two districts as they retook their majority.
Five House Republicans have retired, including three in seats targeted by Democrats. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates them as either toss-ups or lean Democratic.
More broadly, Texas Republicans say the GOP can’t rest on its laurels in a state that is growing more competitive.
“We need all hands on deck and all Texans to pull together to make sure we don’t let the Democrats put an end to the longest successful run in Texas history,” said James Dickey, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party.
Top Texas GOP fundraisers who are used to exporting campaign cash to more competitive races elsewhere are looking to keep donor money in-state this cycle.
“There’s a lot of apathy and smugness and laziness here on the Republican side that’s got to be reversed or there will be a shock to the system at some point,” said George Seay, a Dallas businessman and top GOP fundraiser in Texas.
Demographics are slowly but surely changing the state as an influx of voters from California and other left-leaning states move to Texas.
GOP support is eroding in the suburbs surrounding Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, four of the nation’s largest and fastest growing metro areas. That’s particularly worrisome to Republicans leery of Trump’s popularity with suburban voters.
A Democrat has not won statewide in Texas since 1994, the longest such streak in the nation.
But Trump won Texas by only 9 points in 2016, the worst showing for a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years. Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterWhy our parties can't govern Second gentleman Emhoff acts as public link to White House After the loss of three giants of conservation, Biden must pick up the mantle MORE in 1976 was the last Democratic presidential nominee to win the state.
There are fears that further slippage at the top of the ticket will cost the GOP House seats and potentially a majority in the state house. Democrats defeated longtime GOP incumbents in Houston and Dallas in 2018 and six other Republican House members won reelection by 5 points or fewer. Of those, Reps. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHillicon Valley — YouTube takes some heat Former GOP rep: Social media companies should be able to suspend Trump, others for 'boldfaced lies' Hillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — Tackling the misinformation 'crisis' MORE, Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantTexas House Democrat who fled state announces congressional bid Republican Van Duyne wins race for Texas House seat Cook Political Report shifts 8 more House races toward Democrats MORE and Pete OlsonPeter (Pete) Graham OlsonHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Republican Fort Bend County Sheriff wins Texas House seat 10 bellwether House races to watch on election night MORE are retiring, while Reps. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Overnight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia Biden sparks confusion, cleanup on Russia-Ukraine remarks MORE, Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyMask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House GOP lawmakers seek answers from FDA on prenatal testing accuracy following New York Times report On The Money — Ban on stock trading for Congress gains steam MORE and John CarterJohn Rice CarterTrump endorses Texas rep who said he 'very well may have' committed impeachable offenses Early redistricting plans show GOP retrenching for long haul Bottom line MORE face tough reelection battles.
“Our concern isn’t so much whether Trump or Cornyn wins in Texas, it’s their margins of victory that will help us keep those contested House seats,” said Corbin Casteel, a longtime Republican strategist in Austin.
Texas’s booming economy has attracted a young and diverse workforce from more liberal parts of the country, such as California, Illinois and New York.
The running joke in GOP circles is that Trump should build a wall along the northern border in Texas to keep the liberals out.
Republicans argue that conservative policies led to the economic conditions that have been a magnet for job-seekers and employers, and they believe that many people moving to the state will be receptive to that message.
But they also acknowledge that domestic migration has hastened the state’s political realignment, particularly in the fast-growing metro areas that account for more than two-thirds of the state’s voting population.
“The suburban counties just cannot be taken for granted,” said Bill Miller, a GOP lobbyist and consultant in Texas. “Republicans took them for granted in the past election and paid a steep price for that. The reason Texas is not more purple is that rural Texas is still staunchly Republican. But the suburbs have changed, and so many of these races are just not a lock cinch for Republicans anymore.”
Republicans are rushing to address the perception that they’re predominately the party of older white men in an increasingly diverse state.
“Doing the kind of outreach that we need to be doing is on everyone’s mind, from elected officials to the local county chairmen and the precinct chairs,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist. “It’s time to follow through.”
Texas Republicans believe the Hispanic community is more receptive to the conservative message than many people realize.
But the party has a new problem: Polls indicate that the white women who voted for Trump in 2016 are abandoning him ahead of the 2020 election.
“We have to address this head on,” said Stacy Hock, the chairwoman of the Texas Republican Party’s Victory Committee. “We have to talk to women about the things they care about — the economy, opportunity, justice, education, health care and security. We have the case to make, but we’ve really fallen short in the past few cycles.”
The GOP’s statewide vote totals have been largely stagnant in recent elections, even as Democratic candidates for president and the Senate have steadily grown their share of the vote.
In the 2018 midterm elections, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) nearly defeated Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Texas) by turning out more Texas Democratic voters than Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE did in the 2016 presidential election.
To fight back, Texas Republicans are undertaking new voter registration efforts.
Top GOP donors in the state are launching a super PAC called Engage Texas, which aims to spend $25 million to register 2 million new Republican voters.
In particular, Texas Republicans are targeting evangelical voters, believing Christian conservatives are underrepresented at the polls because they’ve never felt the urgency to vote in the traditionally red state.
The state party is running its own efforts as well, launching new voter registration drives, volunteer field training courses and candidate workshops at an earlier stage this cycle than it ever has in the past.
The Texas GOP is also courting the out-of-state newcomers — the “refugees fleeing oppressive legislatures,” as Dickey calls them — who have made Texas the fastest growing state in the country.
“The question we have to answer in 2020 is whether the change in results Republicans saw in the major metro areas between 2014 and 2018 was a temporary dip or the start of a new trend,” Dickey said. “That depends on us. If we do what we need to do, we can ensure it was a dip. If we don’t, it could be the start of a long-term trend.”