Could Texas become the next swing state?

Could Texas turn purple?

AUSTIN - Texas – the toss up.

It's a thought that may have sounded outrageous just four years ago, but now analysts are beginning to pay closer attention to.

That point was echoed during a speech earlier this month at the Scoot Inn in Austin by Congressman Joaquin Castro.

"I say in 2020, they treat Texas like a swing state," he explained, in response to a question from the audience about an apparent lack of DNC financial support in Texas during the 2016 race.

While President Trump carried the state, the relatively close margin was seen as a success for Democrats.

Compared to 2012, Democrats narrowed the gap from 16% to 9%, the closest they've been in 20 years.

But was the 2016 race an anomaly – or a harbinger of things to come?

"I think quite frankly whether it's 2020 or 2022, Texas will enter purple status," explained GOP Strategist John Weaver.

Weaver was most recently the Chief Strategist of John Kasich's presidential campaign and has worked a variety of high-profile races throughout his career.

He says the numbers and trends spell trouble for the future of Republicans in the state.

"Millenial voters, in fact, young voters under 35, are not with Republicans on any of these issues perhaps other than the economy.  You couple with that a growing Latino population, not just here in Texas, but nationally, and margins with the African-American community are high as ever," said Weaver.

In Texas, there are more Hispanic school children than white school children, and the Hispanic birth rate continues to outpace the white birth rate.

"I am worried that the party could become more and more identified with one race, and one gender, and one age group. Old white men.  And we won't survive that," Weaver explained.

State exit polls, compiled by CNN,  back up Weaver.

In Texas, Trump lost the female vote, the under 30 vote, the non-white vote, and amongst voters who consider themselves ideologically moderate.

Early actions taken by the Trump administration have already drawn the ire of the Hispanic community.

State Representative Carol Alvarado, a Democrat who represents Harris County, was blunt in her assessment of Trump's victory.

"I think it was a slap in the face to (the Hispanic community), because of the type and the depth of the rhetoric," Alvarado explained.

She pointed to massive gains Democrats made in Harris County as a sign that the tide could be changing across the state.

In 2012, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were separated by fewer than 1,000 votes in the county.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the county by more than 160,000 votes.

"I think we’re on the crest of becoming a purple state.  We have a very diverse state. We have people moving here by the thousands on a daily basis.  They see Texas as a place of opportunity, a place that they can come and get an education, have a career, provide for their family.  And as we see more and more different ethnic groups moving in, I think that’s encouraging for the Democratic party here in Texas," said Alvarado.

Much of the argument amongst Texas eventually becoming a toss-up revolves around shifting demographics. But is the argument that simple?

Chuck DeVore, the Vice President of National Initiatives for the Texas Policy Foundation believes there's more to the story.

"There are four majority-majority states - California, Texas, New Mexico, and Hawaii. If demographics is destiny, then Texas should have voted more for Hillary Clinton than did California," said Devore, who previously served in the California State Assembly before moving to Texas.

Of those four states – Texas was the lone to vote Republican in any of the last three presidential races.

He believes the argument of Hispanics as a monolithic voting bloc is flawed.

"Texas does perhaps a better job at assimilation than do other states, where you find large numbers of immigrants to Texas consider themselves either American or Texans.  You don't see that in other states," he explained.

Even Texas' economic policies play a role.  Texas, unlike California, is a right-to-work state.  Because of that, organized labor does not wield the same voting power here as they do elsewhere.

And while many Texans point to a large influx of Californians into impacting races, DeVore believes their influence is overstated and often oversimplified.

"Well the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune did a poll a couple years ago polling political attitudes of Californians moving to Texas, and they found that by a little more than 2-1 they were conservative, not liberal.  So you have to look at the reason why people are moving from places like California or Illinois to Texas.  Usually, it’s for jobs.  Usually, it’s for entrepreneurial opportunity.  Those individuals are not going to be big fans of large government, heavy taxes, and the regulatory state.  As far as our inner cities, they’ve been trending blue for quite some time.  And I think you can’t blame the political trends in our cities on people moving here from Illinois or from California," explained DeVore.

Travis County GOP Executive Vice Chair Matt Mackowiak doesn't foresee Texas becoming a swing state in the near future - but won't discount an eventual battle.

"I do think that in 20 or 30 years, as the demographics continue to change, that there is a threat to the Republican party holding the state unless we find a way to start winning Hispanic votes to a much greater extent," explained Mackowiak.

He mentioned Kay Bailey Hutchinson, John Cornyn, and George P. Bush as Republicans who have been successful in breaking through to Hispanic voters.

DeVore mentioned Governor Abbott's strong performance amongst Hispanic voters, and the respective popularity of individual Republican lawmakers in Texas as barriers to success for Democrats.

While Mackowiak acknowledged Democratic gains in 2016 - he believes they still have several shortcomings to competitively challenge Republicans.

"Democratic infrastructure in Texas is extremely weak. They have a very weak base.  All they're really able to do is win urban elections," said Mackowiak.

Texas has not voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976.  The last time the state voted for a Democratic governor was Anne Richards in 1990.  Both the state Senate and House are Republican-controlled.

Both DeVore and Mackowiak asserted the difficulty of making predictions concerning 2020, pointing to undetermined factors surrounding the state of the country and Trump's presidential record as that respective election draws closer.

Weaver said that the Republicans victory in November may obscure warning signs and troubling trends.

"We did break through as a party in the Industrial Midwest.  But you can’t count on that again, number 1.  And number 2, the Hispanic population is growing quickly in North Carolina, in Georgia, obviously here in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado is seemingly out of reach for us, and I won’t even talk about California," said Weaver.

Regardless of how you read the numbers, none of the shifting demographics matter if Hispanics don't vote.

In 2012, Pew Research reports only 48 percent of eligible Hispanic voters cast ballots – compared to 64 percent of eligible white voters.

Last week, we got our first look at how Texans have graded Trump so far.

According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, 81 percent of Republicans approve of Trump's job performance so far, and his favorability rating has increased 21 percent since October.  However, that split severely tightened once Democrats and Independents are factored in.  In total, 46 percent of Texans approve of the job Trump has done - while 44 percent disapprove. 

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