Texas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state

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 John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE will win Texas and its 38 electoral votes next year, and they think Texas GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Castro, Warren, Harris to speak at Texas Democratic virtual convention Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight MORE will turn aside his Democratic challenger.

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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 CarterThe Democrats' out-party advantage in 2020 Have the courage to recognize Taiwan Respect your Elders — a call to action 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 HurdJulián Castro launches PAC to support progressive candidates The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump visits a ventilator plant in a battleground state The Hill to interview Mnuchin today and many other speakers MORE, Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantMinority caucuses endorse Texas Afro-Latina for Congress Latina underdog for Texas House seat picks up steam Texas kicks off critical battle for House control MORE and Pete OlsonPeter (Pete) Graham OlsonPeople over politics on PPP funding Kulkarni wins Texas House Democratic primary Former sheriff, GOP mega-donor headed to runoff in Texas GOP race MORE are retiring, while Reps. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulTop GOP lawmakers invite Blue Dogs to meet with China Task Force over coronavirus probe House passes bill that would sanction Chinese officials over Xinjiang camps The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve MORE, Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyHouse passes bill to grant flexibility for small business aid program The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter House Republicans to file lawsuit to halt proxy voting MORE and John CarterJohn Rice CarterLawmakers call on VA to remove swastikas from headstones in veterans cemeteries Warren announces slate of endorsements including Wendy Davis and Cornyn challenger Hegar Liberal group endorses Royce West for Texas Senate 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.

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“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 CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US AIPAC cancels 2021 policy conference due to COVID-19 GOP deeply divided over Trump's social media crackdown MORE (R-Texas) by turning out more Texas Democratic voters than Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJuan Williams: Bush could strike blow for Biden Zuckerberg expressed concern to Trump over rhetoric amid protests: Axios Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight 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.”