Source: The Houston Chronicle
Democrats have dreamed of making Texas competitive for years. In recent months they’ve launched the political action group Battleground Texas, whose founder said Latino turnout is the central plank of their campaign. In DC, House Democrats appointed Laredo Rep. Henry Cuellar to lead their national congressional Latino outreach group.
Republicans, meanwhile, have scoffed at the efforts. Gov. Rick Perry called it “the biggest pipe dream I have ever heard.”
OK, so what’s spin and what’s reality? Last November, the Houston Chronicle completed a database analysis of the changing population patterns of the state and the changing voting proclivities of key demographic blocs. Our conclusion: Texas would become competitive by 2020 and a true toss-up state by 2024 if current turnout and partisan voting patterns continued.
But what if Latinos — historically a group that votes with far less frequency than the rest of the population — started voting at the same rate as everyone else, as Battleground Texas is seeking to accomplish? How much would that narrow the Republicans’ advantage in Texas?
To find answers, Texas on the Potomac analyzed 2012’s election results and it found that if Democrats could raise Latino turnout to the same level as non-Hispanic whites, Texas would instantly become a battleground state.
Now we realize that’s easier said than done, but here are the cold, clear numbers of what might have been …
Mitt Romney carried Texas by a margin of 15.8 percent over President Obama in 2012. If Latino citizens had voted at the same rate as non-Hispanic whites, Romney’s victory margin would shrink to 5.4 points.
This shift would have made Texas the state with the second smallest margin of victory of any state Mitt Romney won, behind battleground North Carolina and just ahead of Georgia.
It would put Texas in the range of Democratic battleground states such as Colorado and Iowa. A strong increase in Hispanic turnout also could make Arizona a battleground.
Down-ticket races in Texas would have seen a similar shift to Democratic candidates — starting with a narrower margin of victory for now-Sen. Ted Cruz, whose 16 point win over Democrat Paul Sadler would have been closer to 5.5 points.
For House of Representatives seats, the distribution of Latinos across Texas would have created different results. The most competitive race was a border district, where Democrat Pete Gallego defeated Francisco Canseco by a margin of 5 percentage points. Increased Latino turnout would see Gallego’s lead skyrocket to a 22 percent margin of victory.
Two Republicans would be most at risk if Latino turnout rises—both from areas along the Gulf of Mexico south of Houston—Randy Weber and Blake Farenthold.
Pearland’s Randy Weber was already in a competitive race in 2012 against Democrat Nick Lampson, winning by a 9 percentage point margin. With increased Latino turnout, Weber would see that lead shrink to just over 3 percentage points. His district would become the most competitive in the state.
Farenthold’s district would see an even larger shift. The Corpus Christi native coasted to victory in November by 18 percentage points. The lead would shrink to under 4 percentage points with an increased Latino turnout.
Farenthold represents a district that is 51 percent Latino according to the U.S. Census, one of the highest numbers for any Republican representative in the country.
A second tier of competitive seats might emerge in the Dallas area. Joe Barton and Pete Sessions both coasted to victory by a 19 percentage point margin. Sessions would see this lead shrink to just below 12 points, while Barton would see his lead shrink to 13 points. Both races would be substantially closer than Gallego’s would be under this scenario.
A shift in Latino turnout might create competition in previously unthinkable territory. For example, no Democrat challenged Randy Neugebauer, in his deep red Lubbock-centered district, but the district is 35 percent Latino according to the U.S. Census.
Increased turnout won’t be enough
Democratic partisans may be heartened by the news above. However, even under this best-case scenario for turnout, none of the races flip from Republican to Democratic. Latino voters continue to lag heavily behind other groups in turnout, and that is unlikely to change overnight.
Further, this analysis used 2012 exit poll data on the partisan breakdown of Latinos, with a near-record margin favoring Democrats. This analysis relied on exit poll data on the Obama-Romney race, where Latinos broke for Obama by a 71 to 27 margin. Some Texas candidates, including Ted Cruz, performed slightly better than Romney among Latinos. Some Republican candidates may have performed worse among Latinos, as Nick Lampson and Pete Gallego, for example, both outperformed Obama in total election results. This analysis is only an estimate of what the election would have looked like with increased Latino turnout.
This analysis does not intend to predict the future. The Latino population has a median age of 18, the youngest of any ethnic group, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Young Latinos becoming eligible to vote through aging, naturalization, or a possible path to citizenship for the undocumented, could all exacerbate change alongside increased turnout efforts.