State of Texas: Stark contrasts as presidential candidates make their case to Texans

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This week, 20 Democratic candidates took the stage in Detroit for the second presidential debate. But you’re not likely to see all of them on stage for next month’s debate in Houston.

Candidates have to have 130,000 unique donors and at least 2 percent support in four national polls to qualify. So far, eight have qualified, including former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

All candidates have until Aug. 28 to reach the benchmarks, but qualifying is only part of the challenge for the candidates.

Jason Johnson, chief political strategist for Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, said the candidates will have to sell an increasingly progressive-leaning message, especially on climate, to Texans.

“The focus on climate change and it being an ‘existential threat’, and this idea of having ten years,” Johnson said.  “Hundreds of thousands of Texans work in the oil and gas industry…What does that mean for every Texan, and our economy?”

But Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said skepticism is overblown as Texas is becoming an increasingly diverse producer of energy.

“To say ‘you’re going to lose these oil and gas jobs’, these are energy jobs and we’re seeing these increasingly diversified portfolios (with) some of the same companies leading in wind production,” Garcia said.

Policy views aside, Johnson commended the Democratic candidates for having substantive discussions on the issues.  Something he acknowledged his party lack at times in the 2016 election cycle.

“Unlike the Republican party from debates past, the issues are being fleshed out and a very bold contrast will be presented for the voters come November,” he said.

Democrats hit on an array of issues during the debates this week, with increased focus on the role of race in America. Candidates slammed recent comments from President Donald Trump telling four congresswomen of color to go back where they came from. 

Garcia said the Democratic candidates have a “moral obligation” to call Trump’s comments for what they were–racist.

“This isn’t about scoring cheap political points,” Garcia said.  “You look at this issue and you say: ‘do you speak truth to power?’ When the president of the United States is saying racist comments, we should call them what it is.”

But Johnson said the candidates’ jump to condemn Trump’s comments could come with political consequences, especially in the Lone Star State.

“You’re telling the millions of Texans who voted for Donald Trump that they too are, at worst racist, at best supporting a racist,”  Johnson said.

With over a year to go before the election, Garcia said Democrats need to stay on message, and regardless of the Trump-factor, prove their electability.

“This election is not won because of Donald Trump’s tweets, it’s not won because of outrage, it’s won because one party made a case to the American people and to Texans that ‘if you elect us, we will fundamentally change your life for the better’,” Garcia said. 

But Johnson said the Democrats’ message is already being heard loud and clear.

“The only debate that we continue to see is whether or not we want to turn every aspect of our economy and our lives over to the federal government immediately or gradually,” Johnson said.

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