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 TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE will win Texas and its 38 electoral votes next year, and they think Texas GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit 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 CarterSaagar Enjeti: Jimmy Carter's dire warning about Joe Biden Krystal Ball: Yang vs. Bernie on the War on Drugs; Saagar Enjeti: Jimmy Carter's dire warning about Joe Biden Trump: 'No question' Biden is 'having a hard time' 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 HurdGOP struggles with retirement wave Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Pelosi: GOP retirements indicate they'll be in the minority, with Democrat in the White House MORE, Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback Texas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state MORE and Pete OlsonPeter (Pete) Graham OlsonHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Texas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state Texas faces turbulent political moment MORE are retiring, while Reps. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHong Kong activists visit Capitol Hill Texas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state Overnight Defense: GOP grumbles after Trump delays military projects for wall | House panel hints at subpoena for Afghanistan envoy | Kabul bombing raises doubts about Taliban talks MORE, Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyTexas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state GOP lawmakers call for provisions barring DOD funds for border wall to be dropped Lawmakers mark anniversary of Martin Luther King 'I have a dream' speech MORE and John CarterJohn Rice CarterCornyn faces toughest race yet in changing Texas Texas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges 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 CruzState Department's top arms control official leaving Sanders NASA plan is definitely Earth first Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-Texas) by turning out more Texas Democratic voters than Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUkrainian official denies Trump pressured president The Memo: 'Whistleblower' furor gains steam Missing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani 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.”