Friday, September 11, 2020

Texas is a Battleground State This November

But that probably doesn't mean what you think it means.

As Galen Druke and Tony Chow point out in today's episode of FiveThirtyEight's Confidence Interval, the state's demographics, turnout, etc. are moving favorably for Democrats.

Mitt Romney won Texas by 16 points in 2012. Donald Trump only carried the state by 9 points in 2016. And in 2018, incumbent US Senator Ted Cruz only managed to edge out incredibly weak Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke by 2.5%.

Still, the FiveThirtyEight guys only give Joe Biden about a 30% chance of carrying Texas in November, and I'd put that chance at more like 5%.

Explaining why I rate Biden's prospects in Texas as so low also explains why Texas is an incredibly important battleground state.

In theory, the trends have Biden within spitting distance. I hadn't even bothered looking at Texas polling until this morning because that just sounds knee-jerk absurd, but the RealClearPolitics polling average (on a pretty small data set, granted) has Trump up by only 3.5% in the state. Yes, he should be worried.

But here's the thing:

The last time Texas went Democrat in a presidential election was 1976. It's a long-term known quantity in that respect.

Since then, the Democrats have found ways to win four presidential elections (Bill Clinton x 2 and Barack Obama x 2) without Texas.

On the other hand, of the six presidential elections won by Republicans from 1980 to 2016,  in three of them -- the last three of them, in fact -- the Republican winner garnered fewer than 308 electoral votes.

Or, to put it a different way, if Texas had gone Democrat in any of those three elections, the Republican would have lost that election.

For the Democrats, Texas would be a delicious RBI in the top of the 9th if they're already up by ten runs.

For the Republicans, Texas is the ballgame.

This means that the Republicans will do anything they have to do to keep Texas in their column. They'll spend as much money as it takes. They'll run as many TV and radio and YouTube ads as it takes. They'll put up as many billboards as it takes. Trump will visit as many times as it takes, and his proxies will stump there as often as it takes. If it looks like Texas is in play, they'll go all in to hold on to it.

The Democrats know that no matter how much they spend and no matter how hard they work, the Republicans will spend more and work harder.

The Democrats also know that every dollar and minute Republicans spend on Texas is a dollar and minute that Republicans can't spend in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Wisconsin (or Arizona or Nevada).

So the Democrats will spend some money and some time on Texas, just enough to keep it looking like it's in play, because they know that while they almost certainly can't win it, every dollar and every hour they spend there diverts multiple times as many dollars and hours from GOP efforts in states where they could win.

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