SocraticGadfly: Texas Dems should be circumspect about "blue state" assumptions

September 13, 2013

Texas Dems should be circumspect about "blue state" assumptions

Note: This post will be semi-regularly updated, per relevant new news stories or blog posts about Battleground Texas and related issues. That includes talking about what's realistic, as well as not, about turning Texas more blue, if not actually blue, in the shorter term as well as longer term. New thoughts are generally added at the bottom of the post. 

And welcome to anybody referred here by P. Diddle, Eye on Williamson or other bloggers from the Texas Progressive Alliance.

Why do I make the statement I do in the header?

It's because Battleground Texas' ideas, and especially the meta-idea of how it thinks this will all be relatively natural, and relatively easy, based on Hispanic ethnic demographics, aren't nearly as solidly grounded as Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, many BT leaders and other top state Democrats seem to believe.

And, also "Kos" himself. Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, has joined some of his crack-smoking minions in saying demographics point to Texas turning blue. Kos doubled down on this a week later. (No wonder other "Kossacks" write stupidity about redistricting.)

But, he, Battleground Texas, and Hinojosa are all wet, all of them, from where I stand.

(And, given my previous experience with Daily Kos, if not Markos in person, being essentially banned, by having my account suspended, for being too progressive and too Green, leads me to say, on things like this, if he thinks it's a great idea, it's probably not.)

Why? Snark aside, why are all these folks all wet?

In a phrase, younger Hispanics are more Protestant. And more religiously active in their belief.

In a second phrase, detailed below, Texas Hispanics, counting only known US citizens, have abysmal turnout compared to national Hispanic voting rates, not to mention US voting rates in general.

In a third phrase, even changing that won't fix everything. That's also detailed below.

In a fourth phrase, even fixing some other things leaves yet other things to be fixed. Also detailed below.

Anyway, here's the skinny.

Texas blue by 2030?

The Texas Democratic Party holds strongly that, by 2030, it can make Texas "blue," and at least threaten that already by 2020.

Well, there's a couple of problems with that.

Problem 1: Demographics within Hispanic demographics

Beyond what I just hinted at, there's the old "One white voter equals two black voters or three Hispanics." Now, with black turnout nationally nearly equaling white in 2012, the first part of that equation, even with allowance for its hyperbole, is pretty much spent.

The second part? Still a fair degree of truth.

Then, there's that pesky fact that young Hispanics are Protestant in far greater numbers than viejos and viejas.

And Protestants, especially more religious ones, are more likely to be politically conservative than Catholics.

In 2004, even with allowances for W's inroads among Latinos in general, Latino Protestants split 2-1 in his favor.

Yes, all across Texas, plenty a St. Joseph's Catholic Church is doing a Spanish-language Mass, or expanding what it already offers.

But, in even more places, Iglesia Evangelista de Bautista is springing up like bluebonnets. And, less than half of Latinos are now Catholic, and a full one-fifth are not just Protestant but evanglicals.

So, Gilberto Hinojosa, just because "usted habla Español" doesn't mean that fellow linguists are going to pull the "D" at the voting booth. With many of the evangelical Protestants, you'll have to soft-sell or step around some social issues, like abortion. Maybe that's part of why Hispanic turnout is low right now?

You might say, but what if those young Protestants are no more religious than their Catholic parents or grandparents?

Well, they ARE. The Gallup poll covers that, too.

So, "blue Texas"? Color me a bit more skeptical. Also color me skeptical of the Texas Democratic Party thinking this can happen without some heavy lifting.

Also, as Texas blogger Charles Kuffner notes, Texas Hispanics vote more Republican (though still definitely tilting Democratic) than in the nation as a whole. Not huge, but it was a 5-percentage-point difference in Romney's election. More food for BG thought.

And, reflecting my above thought? Nationally, at least, Gallup tells us that while GOP-leaning Hispanic numbers are the same across age demographics, younger Hispanics are less likely to identify as Democratic leaning and more likely to call themselves independents.

Burnt Orange Report also weighs in. It notes that Shrub did decently among Hispanics, that Obama was once a hardcore deporter of illegals, and so, Democrats shouldn't count on a a Hispanic surge before it hatches.

Update, Jan. 17, 2018: Expect more and more of them to come, Latinx evangelicals, AND to look at allying with the GOP, as evangelical religion continues to grow in Latin America AND to more openly ally with center-right parties there.

Problem 2: Hispanic vote turnout

You see, it's true that on turnout, the old story of 1 Anglo = 2 African-Americans = 3 Hispanics is no longer true. At least not for black voters, who surpassed whites nationally in percentage of turnout last year.

Hispanics, though? They still trailed by a fair degree.

Texas Hispanics? They were an additional 10 percentage points behind the national average. Nationally, 48 percent of eligible Hispanics voted. In Texas, just 38 percent. And, no, this isn't an "illegals" issue; the graphs are all based on Hispanics who are U.S. citizens. So, Gilberto? Before relying on demographic assumptions that are undercut by other demographics within your ethnic group, you might want to first get your ethnic group to actually show up at the polls.

And, Thomas B. Edsall says that even getting Hispanic vote and registration rates up to national averages, with a presumed break of 71 percent Democrat, still leaves the Democrats and folks like Battleground Texas looking way up, way way up. Indeed, even if Hispanics voted in Texas at the same rate as all races voted nationally, Mitt Romney STILL would have beaten Barack Obama in Texas by 800,000 votes. In short, with reasonable Hispanic turnout, Texas might not be as red as Oklahoma, but it would still be as red as, say, Kentucky.

Meanwhile, a nutbar at Daily Kos claims Edsall says that Battleground Texas has Greg Abbott quaking. Other than Abbott's over-the-top comment that Edsall quoted, he said no such thing, just wingnut hyperbole in the quote.

It's amazing how delusional a lot of Kossacks are on these "Democrats right or wrong" type issues. Of course, when your Fearless Leader believes there's secret libruls in the CIA, that explains a lot.

Related to that, another Kossack engaged in mental masturbation that, if Texans just somehow controlled the State Lege and Governor's Mansion, Texas would have a 20-16 Democrat edge in Congresscritters. Besides the stupidity and unreality of the hypothetical, even in reality, there's reasons that wouldn't have happened, on the redistricting, etc., as I blogged here.

Problem 3: It ain't just the Hispanics, in more detail:

Per a great Texas Observer story from last year on voter turnout, voting rates in general are problematic.
Texas is consistently in the bottom five states for voter turnout. In the 2010 election, about 41 percent of eligible voters turned out nationwide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Texas, 32 percent did. That means Rick Perry was elected to his third full term by just 17 percent of the state’s eligible voters.

Among Hispanics, these rates are even lower. The national Latino voting rate was close to 50 percent in 2008. But in Texas that year, just 38 percent of Latinos turned out to vote. In California, 57 percent of Latinos went to the polls.

In 2008, Latinos accounted for almost 40 percent of the eligible voters in Texas, but cast only 12 percent of the votes. In Harris County, fewer than a quarter of eligible Latinos—citizens over 18 whether they’re registered to vote or not—decided to vote. Among working-class Latinos, turnout was in the low teens.
The story notes that many Hispanics think higher level Texas Democratic Party officials only care about them at vote time. It's all about selling the party message better. The story notes that, if something like Obamacare is presented the right way, a lot of Hispanics "get it" in ways they originally didn't.

Of course, these types of problems are all organizational, structural and not new. John Sharp's pushing of Tony Sanchez in 2002 without adequately "vetting" him (or maybe not caring) and TDP's leadership's acceptance of him, ditto, ditto, speaks to that in part. So, too, does the fact that some Texas Dems were willing to give an arms-length embrace to either Kinky (all hat, no liberal cattle) Friedman or "grumpy grandman" Carole Rylander in 2006, before Chris Bell stepped up (relatively speaking).

No wonder, per this Texas Public Radio piece which linked the Observer one, that many Hispanics, and I'm sure many non-Hispanics, feel some degree of apathy.

Problem 4: Other issues, part 1

The biggest other issue is that, as the Texas Democratic Party has lost turf, it's — to be blunt — fielded crappy candidates for major, statewide offices.

Last three governor's races? Tony Sanchez, Chris Bell and Bill White? An apolitical Hispanic who had given the GOP big bucks, somebody with little name reputation and little platform beyond honesty, and a neolib who had an inept campaign while, I guess, hoping for all those magic Hispanics. (Don't forget Gary Mauro in 1998, advised by many not to challenge Shrub.)

We could call the last three candidates Mr. Republican, Tony Sanchez in 2002; Mr. Snooze, Chris Bell, in 2006; Mr. Vacuous, Bill White, in 2010. So, if San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro's already a no-show for 2014, who will Dems run for governor? If it's Wendy Davis, we could have Tony Sanchez, part 2.

Recent US Senate races? Ted Cruz faced a Democratic retread in Paul Sadler. Rick Noriega was OK against John Cornyn in 2008, if not fantastic, and still lost by more than 12 percentage points.

Whose going to run against Cornyn next year? Against either Perry or Abbott for gov? No state House members have name recognition; no state Senate Dems from Dallas or Houston have balls (or much more name recognition). And, no Democratic non-politician has uttered a peep.

Also at issue is something I've thought about for some time. Other than Ron Kirk taking the plunge against Cornyn in 2002, no other black Democrat has run for statewide office. Period. When Wallace Jefferson has run for, and won, multiple elections to the Texas Supreme Court, that's kind of pathetic.

But, I know the reason why. A lot of black Democratic state senators are comfy with their current little powers and domains and crumbs of respect from the GOP side of the aisle. Well, if Jerry Patterson or Todd Staples, let alone Dan Patrick, replace Dudley Dewless as Lite Guv, that will likely change.

And, speaking of Bill White, as I noted in a comment, remembering how so many Texas Democratic leaders were talking up his chances so much, don't be claiming that because I don't have a poly-sci degree, I can't do campaign and political analysis, although I'm delighted that his post has caught the attention of at least one of you. (I hear your gored ox bellowing. And wonder how well you've done with Hispanic voter turnout on particular campaigns.)

This issue didn't happen overnight, either. Texas Monthly's July 2013 cover story analyzes how Texas Democrats got to this point.

Related to all this, it's clear, as San Antonio's alt-weekly spells out in detail, that Texas Democrats need to get white women to vote for their candidates

Problem 5: Other issues, part 2

Williamson County Democrats — eager, but no takers?
Battleground Texas photo via Daily Kos
Moving on. Other than relying on Hispanic ethnic growth, and theoretically getting a Julian Castro to run, and sooner rather than later, what is Hinojosa doing to recruit among migratory growth, primarily but not solely white, from other states? Do Republicans from California know just how wingnut the Texas GOP is?

He ought to be emailing a link to the PBS Frontline episode about the State Board of Education to every move-in from another state for whom he gets an email address. He ought to be talking about education in general to any transplants with children.

I mean, look at the photo here, from this other new post by Kos himself about the Texas GOP countering Battleground  Texas and how earthshaking this allegedly is.

Despite all the talk about Hispanic demographics, those volunteers all look Anglo to me, with the possible exception of the lady furthest right. In a county that's 20 percent Hispanic, which means that county Democratic numbers (if voting turnout were better) would be 30 percent Democratic or more.

And, despite all those volunteers, and allowing for it to be a posed PR shot, there's still nobody signing up for anything!

Otherwise, Hinojosa has kind of a "party hack" reputation among many who know.

Meanwhile, per The American Prospect, let's look at Battleground Texas. And the uphill sledding it has to do.

Executive Director Jenn Brown may have done well with African-American voters in Ohio, but black votes ain't the issue. Good luck, especially since she is in part working with Texans who have previous political experience — Texans who (per TAP) can't even get half the state's Hispanics registered!
Democrats can’t simply start knocking on doors in neighborhoods that have long been shunned, asking for votes and expecting results. The Latino Decisions election-eve poll showed the depths of Texas Democrats’ dysfunction: Only 25 percent of Texas Latinos had been contacted by a campaign, a political party, or a community organization of any kind—compared with 59 percent in Colorado, 51 percent in Nevada, and 48 percent in New Mexico.
That's abysmal, Hefe Hinojosa and other Texas Democratic Party leaders, Hispanic and non-Hispanic alike.

Second, per Abby Rapoport at TAP, dating back to Shrub, Texas Republicans have, in general, been better at Hispanic outreach than the national GOP. And, having a Hispanic U.S. Senator now will help.

Third, Rapoport buys into the same mindset as Texas Dems, that Abbott et al are doing nothing but giving Battleground Texas free PR. Well, GOP state Chairman Steve Munisteri may be doing that, but Abbott and other elected officials are instead throwing red meat to constituents. Any free PR for Battleground Texas is simply a spandrel.

Fourth, in claiming GOP supremacy in Texas is relatively new, compared to other Southern states, well, not quite so. John Tower was first elected to the Senate back in 1962. And, both Senators have been GOP for two decades now. That's earlier than some other Southern states could say. Ditto for when Texas, versus other Southern states, first elected a GOP governor.

Fifth, she really doesn't know Texas politics if she says:
In 2002, Democrats ran what they thought was a “dream team”—wealthy businessman Tony Sanchez for governor and Ron Kirk, an African American who’d been elected mayor in Dallas, for U.S. senator.
She ignores that Mr. Republican's GOP donations were becoming a matter of public knowledge by the time he was nominated. She also ignores that John Sharp, the machinator behind this, was already moving further right.

And, she also ignores that the nomination of Sanchez, for his bucks, rather than a mainline Hispanic Democrat, showed that already then, the Democratic "bench" (and ideas) were pretty much bankrupt.

Now, on the plus side, she gets Brown to admit that this is a long-term effort. And that it has to be. And that, for right now, however long "right now" is, BT won't do any statewide efforts.

And that Harris County, compared to Dallas County, has been a, well, a miserable failure on trying to go blue. And, that's with blacks and Hispanics actually being a little bit larger percentage of the population in Harris County.

PDiddle crunches various analysis and suggests that Democrats might find even more fruitful fields in trying to boost the women's vote.

So, let's crunch the electoral projections and kind of wrap things up.

This all means I do not expect, barring a fluke, a Texas Democrat to win statewide office before 2020.

Other than that, I don't totally expect a Texas Democrat to win a statewide race before 2030. Along with Texas Dems overrating any demographic advantage, the party's had basically horrible candidates for statewide races. And a leadership that's semi-inept, if not fully so. And that takes a while to turn around.

That's why it's laughable that yet another Democratic blogger insists that the promised land will be reached, and fairly quickly. Meanwhile, though, let's hope that GOP operative Matt Mackowiak is not listened to by the likes of Hinojosa. Shorter Mackowiak: Dems need to run a Bill White type for gov. Whether Battleground Texas is an Obama-organized vehicle for Castro, as Mackowiak claims, is another, albeit interesting, issue.

Yes, per this blog, the GOP also has a Hispanic problem. Maybe that's part of why, metaphorically, one white vote often still equals three Hispanic ones. Young, active Protestant Hispanics don't feel very much at home in either party and so don't vote. And that blog shows that identification as Democrats falls among young Hispanics, even if there's no rise in identification as Republicans.

Jobsanger says:
Some in the GOP think if they just pass some watered down immigration bill, then Hispanics will flock to their banner. I think that is ludicrous. It is going to take a lot more. They are going to have to start treating Hispanic citizens as equals, and undocumented immigrants as humans worthy of some respect. The problem the GOP has is that the teabaggers, who control the GOP in many states, simply are not ready to do that. Until they are ready to change their attitude, the GOP is going to have trouble wooing Hispanics. 
True that.

But, per my comment above, Texas Democrats are going to have to acknowledge that many younger Hispanics are pro-life, socially conservative in general, and often strongly anti-gay. In short, Texas Democrats need to accept that they probably need to simply write off at least one-fifth, probably one-quarter, maybe even one-third of Hispanics under the age of 35 today as ever being or becoming reliable regular Democratic voters.

Period. End of story. ¿Comprendes, Señor Hinojosa?

Actually, not the end of story.

Meanwhile, I say this not because I enjoy Texas Democrats continuing to lose.

Rather, I want them to win, but to do the groundwork of building a good foundation, and of getting good, non-neoliberal candidates. In other words, Texas Democrats, like national ones, need to stop being neoliberals, need to start recognizing that many disaffected (including this Green-leaner) are tired of the neoliberal parade, and want and deserve better.

And, per Peter Beinart, if they want to do that, rather than chasing Hispanics, Democrats both in Texas and nationally should chase younger voters. (If not, maybe like me, more of them will become independent left-liberals.)

And, speaking of ....

I issue a challenge to the true believers

Let's look at this issue per the various subheaders of this blog post.

First, why is Texas' Hispanic voting rate 10 percentage points below the national average? Can that gap be closed, and how quickly? What do you think it will take?

Per that Texas Observer story, and a recent municipal election in Flower Mound, part of what it will "take" is likely more lawsuits over either gerrymandered local government districts, or the lack of single-member voting entirely. (Think about that, you white Austinites who tout the liberality of your own city.)

Second, since, per Tom Edsall, that alone will be nowhere near enough, what does Battleground Texas and the Texas Democratic Party need to do to recruit more white voters, whether native/semi-native, or recent moves from elsewhere in the country? Has either BG or TDP made specific statements to that end or indicated they have a strategy?

Third, name me some names for non-crappy candidates in future elections. Related to that, tell me more specifically why black Democrats, say black state senators like Royce West and Rodney Ellis, refuse to consider running for statewide offices?

Fourth, other than hype/hoopla, even though BG is brand new, are you satisfied so far, not just with what you hear, but, per Jenn Brown, being told to can the hoopla and dig in for a long-term, and incremental-step, grind? Hinojosa is semi-new but not brand new as TDP chair, and he's nowhere near new as a politico. Are you satisfied with his work? With him being party chair?

Meanwhile ...

Is Wendy Davis the answer?

Who wouldn't love her filibuster? Especially with all the livestreaming making David Dewhurst look idiotic and bullying in real time?

That said, for people urging her to run for governor in 2014? Slate has a good analysis of that. It would be an uphill slog. But, not totally so. She's now got name recognition to leverage, especially if TDP gets Obama-smart with online outreach, simply using things like the best video snippets of Davis'.

Beyond that, she's unquestionably more dynamic than either White or Bell, presumably more liberal overall than White, and certainly more liberal than Sanchez was.

And, meeting with the head of the Democratic Governors' Association certainly fuels the fires and speculation.

At the same time, her rising star power doesn't change any of the basic issues mentioned above to any significant degree.

Political scientist Cal Jillson stresses that in this story (subscription needed, but quote via Off the Kuff):
Jillson warns Democrats not to be swept away by “Wendy-mania.”

“The events of the past week have certainly amped up the energy in Texas politics, but the changes required to turn Texas purple, let alone blue, will still be a decade or more in coming,” Jillson said.

Indeed, a Houston Chronicle analysis of election data from 2000 to 2012 found that demographic shifts toward an ever-increasing minority population will only take Democrats so far. The study, conducted last November, found that if current demographic and voting trends continue, Texas will become a politically competitive state in 2020 and a true toss-up in 2024.
Well put. The Texas Tribune has a similar take.

And, Kuff pours a bit more cold water of reality on Davis' chances against both Perry and Abbott. (Interestingly, she's the only by-name Democratic possible who polls better against Abbott than Perry. Abbott crushes Perry in most Dem-hypothetical matchups. That's probably more reason Perry's July 8 "exciting news" announcement is not about running for re-election as governor.)

(Update, July 23: Kuff has now gone Murray Wiedenbaum, and found "Rosie Scenario." He also gave me an early morning laugh by using "Bill White" and "good candidate" in the same sentence.)

Would that it were different. Davis is more dynamic than either Bill White or Chris Bell, certainly a real Dem unlike Tony Sanchez (and more liberal than White), and has shown she can win over independent voters.

Speaking of ...

People who tout Davis' state senate results ignore that even if her district tilts Republican, it's still suburban Republican. In the less Austinized portions of the Hill Country, in the Piney Woods, in West Texas, that means bupkis. Sorry, folks but true.

NPR nails this with a map of Obama's 2012 performance in Texas. In short: He didn't win anything that wasn't majorly urban or majorly Hispanic. Now, I'm not expecting Davis, or whomever, to win, or even try to win, a small county in the Panhandle. But, she, or whomever, does have to be more competitive in an exurban place like Ellis County, southeast of Dallas. Or in smaller but not insignificant, cities like Wichita Falls, Abilene or Tyler.

And that means a targeted effort to recruit recent transplants to Texas.

That NPR piece is part of a larger series on changing demographics (and other issues) and how they relate to Texas' political future. And, one of the pieces there offers a caution for both parties.

In Texas' biggest urban areas, above all Houston, followed by Dallas, the old ethnic triad of black/white/Hispanic is less and less true anymore. People who know Houston know about its huge Vietnamese population, and large numbers of other southeast Asians. They may be aware of the Indians and Pakistanis employed in greater Dallas' telecom corridor, but fewer may know of the strong Korean presence in Dallas.

These minorities may tilt Democratic, but likely not to the same degree as blacks and Hispanics, and with fewer historical reasons (i.e., civil rights issues) of doing so. They may, like evangelically religious blacks, have some issues with gay rights. They may have other concerns that blacks and Hispanics don't. And, they may, like Hispanics, not always turn out strongly at the polls, though State Rep. Hubert Vo's elections might argue against that.

Anyway, at the state rep. and state senate level, that means more targeted campaigning.

Update, Aug. 30: The Dallas Observer's Jim Schutze, in a greatly snarky piece, wonders why, if BG Texas is so interested in Hispanic votes, it is so in love with a white woman? He also refers a NYT piece that notes that both other Texas white women and Hispanics are more conservative than her on abortion.

Of course, Schutze is writing this not even as a muck-raker, but more as a pot-stirrer. Suburban and urban white women in Texas probably track pretty close to her, while rural white women certainly don't. Duh. Jim, she's not looking for rural white women for votes.

That said, it does raise a larger issue. If the time isn't right this year for either of the Castro bros to run for statewide office, when will it be? No theoretically Democratic Hispanic has done that since Sanchez. Ditto for an African-American candidate. Since Ron Kirk's 2002 "dream team" run against John Cornyn, no black Democrat (had to specify Democrat, since we have Texas Supreme Court Justice Jefferson, successfully, and Mr. Bow Tie Williams, unsuccessfully, on the GOP side since then) has run statewide.

Part of the answer, of course, is that racism is still out there. Part of it is that black state senators like their power bases.

Finally, in terms of her electoral politics, if you want real change on issues other than abortion, Davis likely is not the answer. Nor is NAFTA-loving Julian Castro.

Why do I write all this?

I tilt Green, after all, as regular readers know.

That said, I'd still vote for the right Democrat over a Republican. (I voted for Bell for governor in 2006.)

It's because I've seen a decade and a half, now, of state-level Democratic laziness, both mental and physical, mixed with denialism.

And, I don't want Democratic leaders to trot out another Hispanic just because he's Hispanic, or just because he's Hispanic with dinero. The failure to adequately vet Sanchez was and is inexcusable. (And, as we say "adios, mofo" to Rick Perry, that's a reminder that the man he beat for lieutenant governor, John Sharp, is arguably the mofo lite of the Democratic party. Adios to you, too. And, any Dems like you still around? If Battleground Texas can't say adios to your ideas, at least, then I'll keep saying adios to Democratic candidates.

I don't want Dems to nominate a technocratic neoliberal like Bill White, either, another lurch to the right.

And, per 2006, I don't want Democrats to be so lazy as to think GOP infighting will help them out, even as no actual candidate steps to the plate. I don't want Democrats to be so intellectually lazy as to think Kinky Friedman is an actual liberal.

In short, I want to make sure the Democratic Party gets protected from its own past history.

The first time was tragedy, the second time farce, setting aside the noble immolation of Bell.

I don't want illusions about Davis' chances, and I don't want her encouraged to be a state-level neolib. The third time, after tragedy and farce, will be nausea.

Another reason to write this is supplied by Texas Tribune, which says Democrats need to define a message better, then learn how to sell it better.


Unknown said...

How many campaigns have you run?

Where did you earn your degree in political science?

Gadfly said...

Plenty of newspaper editors like me do political analysis, Colin. And, sometimes we do it better than you all, especially if, like me, one isn't a member of either major party. I remember a lot of Texas Dems talking in 2010 about how good Bill White's chances were.

And, on the Texas Senate being "in play," I'll be mighty surprised if the margin is back down to 17-14 after 2014 elections.