The Texas Senate race should frighten the Republican Party

It’s fall in Texas again, with residents excited about J.J. Watt, whether the Astros can win the World Series again, and Beto O’Rourke? Even outside of Austin there’s a sense that the Democrat has a shot against incumbent Senator Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOcasio-Cortez and Cruz's dialogue shows common ground isn't just for moderates Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists MORE this November. Zip around Houston or Dallas and the Beto signs are out in force.

I couldn’t tell you who will win in November, but this isn’t a Texas-only phenomenon. Across much of the South and West, new arrivals from Democratic-leaning states are turning traditionally-red states a little more blue. The Cruz-Beto race is an early bellwether indicating if Texas will become the next California.

Years ago, the thought of a Democrat — especially one endorsing an AR-15 ban and “Medicare for all” — having a fighting chance in Texas would be laughable. But today the Cook Political Report is now rating the Cruz-Beto race… wait for it… a toss up. Beto has an actual shot.

Look no further than last week’s debate. The daggers were out for Cruz. He was even asked if his relationship with Trump cost him his dignity. Meanwhile, O’Rourke was… sharp. Neck veins aside, he attempted to thread the needle between a progressive base out for blood and a conservative electorate in the Lone Star State. His cadences and body language was not unlike 2007 Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA Aren't delirious Democrats now accusing Team Obama of treason? Trump won't say if he'd endorse Pence in 2024 MORE campaigning in Texas.

The fawning media coverage is more than a little reminiscent. Maverick! Journey! Why and how could a race in Texas be so close in a midterm race? After all, Cruz won by a handy 16 percent in 2012 even with Democrats buoyed by Obama driving out turnout.

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A part of November’s results will come down to the dynamics of the race itself. Cruz has spent a significant period on the national stage. This has made him both a hero to some on the right, but also a target to the Democratic establishment and the media. There’s no sweeter prize for the Democrats this cycle to knock off the #2 GOP finisher in 2016 in the largest GOP state. Beto is also a young, charismatic, cynical to the point of phoniness candidate the Democratic base and Beltway already see as the next Obama.

However, the future demography of Texas itself is the (to borrow a recent phrase) lodestar of the race. In a race between a Latino freshman Senator and Congressman that culturally appropriated a Latino sobriquet, Texas’ population shifts are on clear display. Latino voters have increased their share of the Texas electorate and now make up over 39 percent of the population, up from 36.7 percent in 2010.

In the latest Quinnipiac poll Cruz carries a nine point lead, but is lagging behind Governor Greg Abbott’s 19 point advantage. In the same poll, Cruz cinched white voters by a 66-32 margin but splits Latinos, with Cruz trailing O'Rourke 54-45 among them.

The race exemplifies two different strands of Texas’ future. One is that Latino voters in the state, predominantly of Mexican heritage, are now the swing population in the state’s elections. Abbott is leading Latino prospective voters, and is headed toward a landslide. This should give the Texas GOP hope that focused messaging and reinforcing shared family and economic values mean a fair fight for voters of all ethnic backgrounds.

The other is that outside forces really want Texas to stop being Texas. Cruz may have the ear of the political and economic establishment, but Beto has Washington! And Fairfax County! Cruz attempted to poke light at the situation with a clumsy joke about banning barbecue but it underlines the fact that a Beto victory would signify a substantial change to Texas — and that you can’t get the genie back in the bottle. And if the Democrats can strike so far into traditional GOP territory, what Republican-leaning states could be next?

From 2007 to 2016 almost 300,000 Californians moved to Texas. Count in the thousand per day more who move to Texas from New York, Illinois, and elsewhere. Full stop, Texas’ demographics are changing. Major migration shows that middle class whites leaving other states for Texas retain their old voting patterns. Even if there is a roughly 50-50 Republican-Democrat split among these new residents, this still leaves both Texas more blue overall. Upper middle class, college educated whites are up for grabs, and Cruz’s campaign must make them a top priority.

Cruz’s traditional campaign strategy might work this time, but six, 10, or 12 years from now the demographic changes will manifest themselves in a way that can no longer be ignored. Whether it be in Texas or North Carolina or Florida, the lessons are plain as New Hampshire and Colorado’s purplish streak. Residents leaving blue states are transforming the politics of the places they move to. The Republicans’ reaction could come with two likely outcomes: either as a blue Texas because the GOP didn’t react in time (or did so through archaic means) or a Texas that is more red than ever.

Right now the person with the most to do about it is Senator Ted Cruz.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and author of “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.