AUSTIN (KXAN) — The halls of the Capitol are clear and state lawmakers are back home to make their case to the very people who sent them there. They now join their federal counterparts on the campaign trail, where the Texas Democrats running for president aren’t yet garnering the attention they hoped for from voters.
Former El Paso Congressman, and one-time U.S. Senate hopeful, Democrat Beto O’Rourke and former San Antonio Mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Julián Castro are both polling in the single digits. Texas Politics Project Director, Jim Henson, said O’Rourke and the rest of the Democratic field will need to make a meaningful impact in next week’s Democratic primary debate to just stay in the conversation.
“For people in that middle to lower tier you are really beginning to feel like you need to do something to break out of the pack,” Henson said. “Draw attention to yourself in a positive way so that you come out of the debate with people talking about you, and with donors more interested in you again.”
For whoever’s at the top of the ticket for Democrats, Henson said Texas is trending towards a more competitive state, and Republicans are no longer approaching it as a sure thing come election time. “We’re not sure how exceptional 2018 was and that’s really the big question in Texas going into 2020,” Henson said. “I think we can confidently say the state will be more competitive and Republicans are behaving that way.”
Manny Garcia, the executive director for Texas Democrats, said polls are making it clear–at the state and national level–that Texas is becoming the “biggest battleground state in the country.” “Poll after poll has shown it and when we’re looking at targets…it’s becoming very clear that Texas is the biggest battleground state in the country,” Garcia said.
One battleground district in Texas is the 23rd Congressional District. Republican Rep. Will Hurd beat Democrat Gina Ortiz-Jones by just 926 votes, in 2018. Ortiz-Jones is running again in 2020 to try to unseat Hurd.
“The reasons I ran last time are the reasons I’m running this time,” Ortiz said. “We still need to bring down the cost of healthcare. We still need to make sure we’re not leaving folks behind in our rural areas. We still need to make sure our district is as economically viable as can be.”
Ortiz Jones says voters in the district tell her healthcare is the most important issue in the district. Hurd says voters are telling him that securing the border is the top issue.
“We’ve also got to make sure that we’re addressing this humanitarian crisis that we’re seeing on the border,” Hurd said. “It’s a shared problem between us and Mexico and we should be working together in order to address this threat.”
Elections in District 23 have historically been competitive. Hillary Clinton carried the district in the 2016 Presidential election and Beto O’Rourke did the same in the 2018 Senate campaign. But, despite the strong showing for Democrats, Hurd won re-election in both of those campaigns.
“I’m going to keep doing my thing, this isn’t rocket science,” Hurd said. “I’m out in the community, I’m working on behalf of people.”
But if Hurd’s seat is any indication from last election cycle, Henson said, Republicans realize Texas is no longer the electoral lock it used to be.
“I think we can confidently say the state will be more competitive, Republicans are already behaving that way,” Henson said. “Whether we’re going to see a turning of the tide and really see the kind of competition that would lead the national party to put more money into Texas remains to be seen.”