Why Texas Is Closer To Turning Blue Than It Has Been In Decades

Oct 26, 2016
Originally published on October 27, 2016 9:51 am

Polls show the presidential race in Texas is closer than it's been in decades. Some even show the two candidates within the margin of error.

Does Hillary Clinton actually stand a chance in Texas? It's unlikely, but it could be closer than at any time in the past 20 years. The reason for how competitive the race looks lies in two demographic groups — Republican-leaning suburban women offended by Trump's comments about women, and Latinos, who are fired up to vote against him.

Suburban women cool to Trump

Part of the answer might be found in the suburbs of Dallas. Jody Rushton is the former president of the Texas Federation of Republican Women and currently serves as precinct chair in Plano.

This upper-middle-class, predominately white, suburban community is fertile Republican territory, and Rushton has been its party liaison for many, many years. On this day, she's walking her neighborhood for Donald Trump.

At one house, resident Charlene Collins tells Rushton she's worried about the election. Rushton asks her what's motivating her to vote. Collins says one issue in particular is tipping the scale: "Mainly it's the judges. I can tell you truthfully, this is a really sad situation for us to be in."

Rushton agrees. Her first choice for president was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Like many Republican suburban female voters across the state, she will loyally support her party's candidate. But she knows others who hesitate and some who can't bring themselves to vote for Trump.

"Our candidate is not a politician," Rushton says. "And, obviously, he's done things that are out there that we don't appreciate. There's no way I can condone what he's done and said in some of the areas. However, his words don't mean so much from 10 years ago as what he says he will do."

This is the potential soft point for Trump's campaign: suburban Republican women.

Carol Reed knows this all too well. She's been a Republican political consultant in Texas for more than three decades. She helped build the Texas Republican Party from a collection that could caucus in a phone booth to the powerhouse it is today.

Reed says what's happening to the GOP nationally is happening in Texas, too.

"He has turned off women all over America," Reed says, "and it really doesn't matter whether you are an R or a D. We're no different when it comes to that kind of thing. So, the soccer mom today, while she cares more about economic stuff, there comes a point where there's a bridge too far, and I'm seeing already in North Dallas a couple of the 'nasty woman' T-shirts."

Reed believes Trump will carry Texas, but probably by a lot less than the 16-point margin Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney beat President Obama by in 2012. Reed is more focused on what happens to Texas Republicans after Nov. 8.

"If we see a huge split like I think is going to happen," Reed warns, "if Republican moderates are driven further out of the party, and if the Republican Party doesn't change the way they approach people and sticks on these wedge issues, they're going to lose."

Latinos appear fired up

Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia from Dallas believes Trump's campaign could help change the balance of power in Texas.

Anchia knows that in the past, Hispanic turnout in Texas has been a disappointment. But he believes this election is different.

"Where we stand today, Hillary Clinton winning Texas is very, very real," Anchia says. "We have a candidate who has gone out of his way to alienate Hispanic voters. I think you not only going to see that at the top of the ticket, but you're going to see it down ballot. The efforts of Donald Trump and the Republicans, they're really delivering that vote in large percentages to the Democratic Party."

The numbers from the first day of early voting in Texas were astonishing. Four years ago in Houston, 47,000 people voted on the first day. On Monday, 67,000 voted.

In Austin, 16,000 voted four years ago; Monday, more than 35,000 voted.

Every major city smashed its previous record.

Something is going on. Texans just don't know what yet.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As a sign of how unusual this presidential election is, Texas is now considered a battleground state. The Lone Star State has been a Republican juggernaut in presidential elections for the last 40 years, and now polls show a close race there. But does Hillary Clinton really stand a chance of winning Texas? Well, NPR's Wade Goodwyn went to find out.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It's the first day of early voting in Texas, and Republican precinct chair Jody Rushton is walking her neighborhood in Plano for Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

JODY RUSHTON: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi.

RUSHTON: Did you vote today?

GOODWYN: This upper-middle-class, predominantly white suburban community is fertile Republican territory, and Rushton has been their party liaison for many, many years. Solid wooden doors are thrown open wide by friendly women.

RUSHTON: I'm really glad you voted.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I know, and...

RUSHTON: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: ...There were a lot of people there, too.

RUSHTON: Were there?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah.

RUSHTON: Oh, good.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: A lot of people.

RUSHTON: You're off my list then. I won't call you and remind you to vote.

(LAUGHTER)

GOODWYN: Rushton trundles house to house in a warm October sun, ambushed by motion-activated zombies crawling out of front yard graves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZOMBIE DECORATION SCREAMING)

GOODWYN: Two doors down, Charlene Collins is worried about the election. When Rushton asked Collins what motivates her to vote the most...

CHARLENE COLLINS: Well, mainly it's the judges.

RUSHTON: The judges.

COLLINS: And I can tell you truthfully. This is a really sad situation for us to be in right now.

RUSHTON: It is sad.

COLLINS: But...

GOODWYN: Jody Rushton's first choice for president was Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Like many Republican suburban women voters across the state, she will loyally support her party's candidate. But she knows others who hesitate and some who can't bring themselves to vote for Trump.

RUSHTON: Our candidate is not a politician, and obviously he's done things that are out there that we don't appreciate. There's no way I can condone what he has done and said in some of the areas. However, his words don't mean as much from 10 years ago, 11 years ago, as what he says he will do.

GOODWYN: This is the potential soft point for Trump's campaign - suburban Republican women.

CAROL REED: He has turned off women pretty much all over America, and it really doesn't matter if you were an R or a D.

GOODWYN: Carol Reed has been a Republican political consultant in Texas for more than three decades. She's helped build the Texas Republican Party from a collection that could caucus in a phone booth to the powerhouse it is today. Reed says what's happening to the GOP nationally is happening in Texas, too.

REED: Absolutely, yeah, we're no different when it comes to that kind of thing. And so the soccer mom today, while she cares more about economic stuff, there comes a point where there's a bridge too far. And it just - you know, I'm seeing already - in North Dallas, I saw a couple I'm a nasty woman T-shirts.

GOODWYN: But Reed thinks a Clinton victory in Texas will also prove to be a bridge too far. She's not worried about Trump winning Texas. She's worried about what happens to Texas Republicans after November 8.

REED: If we see a huge split like I think is going to happen, if the Republican Party does not change its way of approaching people and if they stick on these wedge issues, they're going to lose.

RAFAEL ANCHIA: Where we stand today, Hillary winning Texas is very, very real.

GOODWYN: Texas House Representative Rafael Anchia from Dallas believes Trump's campaign is changing the balance of power in Texas. Of course he well knows that in the past, Hispanic turnout in Texas has been a disappointment. But he believes this election is different.

ANCHIA: We have a candidate that has gone out of his way to alienate Hispanic voters. I think you're not only going to see that at the top of the ticket, but you're going to see it down ballot. The efforts of Donald Trump and Republicans - they're really delivering that vote in large percentages to the Democratic Party.

GOODWYN: The numbers from the first day of early voting in Texas were jaw-dropping. In Houston four years ago, 47,000 voted on the first day. On Monday, 67,000 voted. In Austin four years ago, 16,000 - Monday, 35,000. Every major Texas city smashed its previous record. Something is going on here. We just don't know what yet. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.