HOUSTON — Democrats looking to turn Texas blue in 2020 like to point to an election last year as a sign of hope.
No, not the Senate run by Beto O’Rourke, one of two Texans set to take the Democratic presidential debate stage in Houston on Thursday night. But rather that of Lina Hidalgo, a 29-year-old Colombian immigrant who defeated an incumbent Republican for county judge in Harris County, the county’s top job.
Her unexpected victory in a populous county that counts Houston as its seat is the disruption national and local party officials hope to repeat across the state next year.
“Hidalgo defied all political naysayers,” Emmanuel Garcia, the executive director of Texas’ Democratic Party, said.
As Garcia and many other Texas Democrats see it, the political situation in the home state to two presidential candidates — former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, also the former mayor of San Antonio, and O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso — is far different than it has been in a while, driven in a big way by Latino voters.
The Democratic National Committee, which selected Houston as the site of its third primary debate on Thursday, has made clear its intention to court this potentially decisive group of voters.
According to a poll released Tuesday by Univision, 69 percent of Texas Latino registered voters said they would vote for the Democratic candidate or were leaning toward the Democrat, while 18 percent they’d vote for Trump.
Nationally, the poll found Latino voters favored former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, at 22 percent and 20 percent, followed by Castro at 12 percent and Sen. Kamala Harris of California at 11 percent.
Bucking the national trend, the largest share of Texas Latino registered voters — 26 percent — said they’d vote for O’Rourke, followed by Biden (19 percent), Sanders (16 percent) and Castro (13 percent). Eleven percent, the next highest share, did not know.
Strong growth, ample room to go
The Hispanic vote grew 76 percent in Texas in 2018, and not only because of a population increase but also because a greater share of the larger Latino population went to the polls.
“Latinos can be the difference maker in Texas and many states across the country,” said Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee chairman.
“That’s one of the reasons we are having the debate in Houston. We want to send a clear signal that we look at Texas as a key battleground,” Perez said. The debate is being held three days before Hispanic Heritage Month begins, in a state that is 39 percent Hispanic.
Republicans are paying attention as reflected in the formation of the super PAC Engage Texas. Its organizers have raised $9.6 million to register voters in the state and hired several staff members. A federal filing showed it had spent about $335,000 through June 30.
The super PAC’s chairman is E.F. Mano DeAyala, a Houston attorney with clients in oil and gas, real estate, commercial business and other businesses, and its money comes from wealthy donors. He did not return a request for comment from NBC News.
One of the “wild cards?”
The state is shaping up to be one of the more interesting “wild cards” heading into the 2020 election, said Democratic pollster Matt Barreto, a principal at the Latino Decisions polling firm.
In last year’s midterms, Democrats flipped nine House seats and O’Rourke lost his Senate race to the Republican incumbent, Ted Cruz, by less than 2 percentage points. The state’s other senator, John Cornyn, also Republican, has seen his approval ratings dip, and two-thirds of Texas Latinos disapprove of Pres. Trump, according to the Univision poll.
In nine Texas congressional districts viewed as potentially competitive in 2020, there are about 750,000 Latino votes, some registered, some not, that can be picked up, far outweighing the margin of victory in Republican and Democratic wins in 2018, Barreto said.
The landscape has also been altered by the domestic terror attack in El Paso on Aug. 3, when a gunman who later told police he was targeting Mexicans killed 22 and injured 26 at a Walmart.
According to police, the suspect posted a screed decrying a Hispanic invasion and a takeover of the state government by Hispanics and Democrats.
In the Univision poll, about 71 percent of Texas registered Latino voters surveyed agreed with the statement that “the El Paso shooter was a racist who was influenced by anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican statements made by President Trump.” The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Democrats say that with those factors and the large pool of Latinos eligible to vote but not registered — some 4 million going into 2020 — there is room to push aside Trump and other Republicans who have held a tight grip on Texas’ elected offices for decades.
“The Latino vote is coming of age,” Garcia said.
The growing youth vote
Each year, 225,000 Latinos out of 340,000 Texans of all races turn 18. The majority of young Latinos are citizens and can vote.
About three quarters of those young Latinos 18 and older live in 13 metropolitan counties around Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.
Annabelle Vasquez, 18, of San Antonio is part of that maturing Latino vote. On Monday, she joined a caravan to Houston with Castro supporters for her first political rally.
A political science student at Our Lady of the Lake University, Vasquez was turned onto his campaign by a news story she saw on Twitter recounting his presidential bid announcement.
“I thought it was really cool because he’s one of us. Since I’m Latina, I thought it was really cool to have someone represent us on the stage, the big stage,” Vasquez told NBC News by phone as she rode a bus to the rally.
Oscar Silva, Battleground Texas executive director, said the Latino vote is a “root” cause of the change being seen in Texas, where Latinos are on their way to being a plurality of the population in 2022 to 2024.
Battleground Texas is hoping to register about 250,000 Texas voters — the margin of O’Rourke’s loss to Cruz — including 146,000 young voters and 131,000 voters of color.
Silva said the group is seeing Latinos go from unregistered to active voters in a shorter period — a single election season. Along the way, the group has learned to clear “barriers” to voting and seeing the Latino vote surge.
Hispanic early voting increased more than in any other ethnic group in 2020 as well, “an indicator of the priority that being civically engaged and an active voter is taking in the lives of our Latinx communities,” Silva said.
GOP: Trump will “prevail”
The Latino vote potential in Texas fits the Democrats’ narrative that it is not a red state, but a state that doesn’t vote.
That’s not how Republicans see things.
The party’s candidates can still can pull 35 percent or more of the Hispanic vote in state elections. A majority of Latino voters backed the relatively unknown and far less funded Lupe Valdez in her bid for governor last year, but she garnered 53 percent and Republican incumbent Greg Abbott got 42 percent of the state’s Latino vote, helping him win the race.
Adryana Aldeen, a Republican analyst and consultant, said Hispanics will rise to support Trump because “like any other voter, they like to keep all their money in their pocket.” There may be disagreement with some of the things he’s done on trade and immigration, but the job growth and lower unemployment among Latinos will prevail, Aldeen said.
Sitting at a recent car club show in downtown San Antonio, Johnny Rodriguez, 55, who’s in the Air Force Reserves, he doesn’t like a lot of what Trump says, but he’s still supporting him. “He’s a businessman, so he knows what he’s doing,” Rodriguez said. Trump’s rhetoric is not aimed at Hispanics, Rodriguez said, but at the “illegal alien.”
Daniel Garza, president of the The LIBRE Initiative, a group whose limited-government positions align more with Republicans, said the recent El Paso shootings won’t be factor when Election Day 2020 rolls around.
“When you go into the booth, you are still going to make a rational decision,” Garza said. “The primary question is, will my life overall improve? The emotions of that week have long since disappeared by then.”
The DNC’s Perez has a long list of comebacks for Republicans’ overtures to Latinos, from unaffordable health care hurting their economic recovery to attempts in the state to purge naturalized citizens from voter rolls to Trump calling Mexicans rapists. And then there is respect.
“He wants people in our community to be scared. He doesn’t want them to vote,” Perez said of Trump. “The Texas people stood up in 2018 and said I will not be cowed by you. You cannot deter me from my right to vote, and that is exactly what is going to lead us to victory.”
Elizabeth Warren edges out Joe Biden in Des Moines Register Iowa poll
The poll out Saturday night found Warren was the top choice for the Democratic nomination with 22 percent support among likely caucus-goers, while Biden had the support of 20 percent of respondents. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fell to third with 11 percent.
The poll was conducted of 602 likely Democratic caucus-goers from Sept. 14-18. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The last Register/CNN poll, in June, had Biden leading with 24 percent and Warren in the third spot at 15 percent, slightly behind Bernie Sanders, who came in second with 16 percent support.
While there have been several other recent polls of the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state, the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, conducted by Des Moines-based pollster Ann Selzer, is widely considered to be the most accurate, so its Saturday night releases have become must-watch events for Iowa politicos.
The poll was released after the entire 2020 Democratic presidential field gathered in Des Moines Saturday for the annual Steak Fry, a fundraising event hosted by the local Democratic Party club.
Warren surged 7 points in the poll since the June survey, while Biden lost a bit of ground, putting them neck-and-neck inside the poll’s margin of error.
Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, both slipped significantly, down 5 and 6 percentage points, respectively, leaving Buttigieg at 9 percent, down from 15.
The rest of the field, meanwhile, is mired in the single digits.
California Sen. Kamala Harris held steady at 6 percent, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker gained a couple of points to land at 3 percent, while coming at 2 percent were Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, billionaire Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Everyone else was at 1 percent or below.
Still, just one-in-five likely Democratic caucus-goers said they had already made up their minds so the race remains fluid. Almost two-thirds said they were open to being convinced to support someone else.
“The data in this poll seem to suggest the field is narrowing, but my sense is there’s still opportunity aplenty,” Selzer told the Register. “The leaders aren’t all that strong. The universe is not locked in.”
But the data is unquestionably good news for Warren, who is now both the best-liked candidate in the field (75 percent view her favorably) and the candidate being considered by the most likely caucus-goers (71 percent).
Voters go ‘center-left’ on issues, but not on candidates
WASHINGTON – When it comes to issues and issue agendas, there is good news and bad news for Democrats in 2020 in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
On the good news side of the ledger, there some key issues where voters seem supportive of left-leaning ideas and approaches. The bad news, a leftward-lean does not mean a leftward rush. If Democratic candidates push too hard in the primaries they may find themselves with problems in the general election.
The issue agreements and differences with registered voters and Democratic primary voters are eye-opening and, in some cases, surprising.
One number that jumps out of the data, 58 percent of registered voters in the survey say they support “providing free tuition at state colleges and universities.” That’s lower than the 81 percent of Democratic primary voters who support the idea and there’s a lot of wiggle room in how respondents may have interpreted the question (would it be means-tested?), but it’s still a majority.
And there are a series of issues like that one, where Democrats seem to have registered voters in their corner on topics ranging from immigration and student debt to health care and the environment.
For instance, 67 percent of registered voters and 89 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor allowing young adults who were brought illegally to this country to stay here to attend college. On student debt, 64 percent of registered voters and 82 percent of Democratic primary voters favor forgiving student loans after someone has paid 12.5 percent of their income every year for 15 years.
The two groups are also in agreement on offering a health insurance “public option” for people younger than 65 who want to buy into it, 67 percent and 78 percent favor that idea respectively. And both registered voters and Democratic primary voters favor “shifting the country to 100 percent renewable energy and stopping the use of coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power by the year 2030” – 52 percent and 81 percent support that idea.
Those are numbers that should bring smiles to the faces of Democrats. They show a lot of broad support on some major issues that Democrats say they favor and seem to suggest Democrats are in a good spot to win voters in 2020.
For the record, the data also show that both registered voters and Democratic primary voters oppose building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and oppose eliminating the Affordable Care Act.
But there is another set of numbers in the poll that show the challenges Democrats could face on these same issues if their nominee heads down a path that goes a little further to the left.
On immigration, 64 percent of Democratic primary voters want to give undocumented immigrants government health care, only 36 percent of registered voters want that. When it comes to student debt, 60 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor immediately canceling and forgiving all current student loan debt, but only 41 percent of registered voters support that idea.
A solid 63 percent of Democratic primary voters back a “Medicare for all” single-payer health care system “in which private health insurance would be eliminated” – only 41 percent of registered voters agree. And while 58 percent of Democratic primary voters support an end to the practice of “fracking” for oil and gas production, only 41 percent of registered voters feel the same way.
Those are some wide gaps and the splits show that winning general election support is not just about talking about the right issues (clean energy, fixing student debt), it’s about talking about them in the right way.
The registered voter answers on these questions suggest that the U.S. electorate become a center-left entity in the last few elections, one that is embracing more liberal action on issues such as climate change, health care and college costs.
But these numbers also suggest that the “center-left” is not the “left” and that’s where many Democratic primary voters reside.
The next six to eight months will determine where the Democratic nominee eventually ends up on these issues. And if the party’s nominee moves too far too fast to placate primary voters, he or she may end up standing on uncomfortable ground next November.
A record share of voters dislike Trump personally, but Democrats face challenges of their own
WASHINGTON — As Democratic candidates compete for the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump, the incumbent they hope to oust is more personally disliked than any of his recent predecessors, and half of voters say they’re very uncomfortable with the idea of his re-election.
But the electorate at large also expresses doubts about some of the progressive policies being backed by candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the party’s more moderate frontrunner — Joe Biden — also faces questions about his fitness for the job.
Those are the major findings in the latest release from the September NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which also shows that 46 percent of Americans give Trump credit for what they call an improving economy, the highest share of his presidency.
“The Democrats want a referendum on Trump. The GOP wants a comparative choice. And therein lies the rub,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his firm Public Opinion Strategies.
Trump approval stable, but a record share dislike him personally
The poll found Trump’s approval rating at 45 percent among registered voters, virtually unchanged from last month and consistent with where former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton stood in public approval at this point in their presidencies.
But it also showed that Trump faces historically poor personal favorability ratings, even among those who approve of the plans he has pursued in office.
A combined 69 percent of registered voters say they don’t like Trump personally, regardless of their feelings about his policy agenda. A record 50 percent say they dislike him personally and dislike his policies, while another 19 percent say that they dislike him but approve of his policies.
Just 29 percent say they like Trump personally, with 25 percent saying they also approve of his policy agenda and 4 percent saying they disapprove.
On this measure, the high degree of personal dislike for Trump differentiates him from his five most recent predecessors. Majorities of voters said they personally liked Obama, Clinton, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, even though they might disagree vigorously with their political agenda.
In fact, prior to Trump’s presidency, the highest share of voters saying they disliked the president personally — regardless of their views on his policies — was 42 percent for George W. Bush in March 2006, after Hurricane Katrina.
Voters also have higher levels of discomfort about Trump’s re-election than about his main Democratic rivals.
Half of voters — 49 percent — say they’re very uncomfortable with his 2020 candidacy. That’s compared to 41 percent who say the same for Sanders and 33 percent apiece who say the same for Biden or Warren.
But Trump also continues to benefit from the upside of the polarization of the electorate around him, commanding more enthusiasm than his Democratic competitors as well. A quarter of voters (26 percent) say they’re enthusiastic about him, while fewer say they’re enthusiastic about Warren (17 percent), Sanders (13 percent) and Biden (12 percent.)
Some progressive proposals divide Democrats and the electorate at large
Voters overall are supportive of many of the policy goals being discussed by 2020 Democratic candidates, but there are notable exceptions surrounding “Medicare-for-All,” government health care for undocumented immigrants, and complete student loan forgiveness.
Among Democratic primary voters, 64 percent say they support providing government health care to undocumented immigrants, while just 36 percent of all registered voters agree.
A similar share of Democratic voters — 63 percent — support a single payer “Medicare-for-All” style plan, also backed by Warren and Sanders, that would replace the existing private insurance system. Among voters overall, just 41 percent support that idea.
And six-in-10 Democratic voters also back immediate cancellation and forgiveness of all student debt, a position shared by just 41 percent of all voters. Sanders has unveiled a plan to eliminate all $1.6 trillion in student debt, while Warren has proposed the cancellation of up to $50,000 in student debt per person, based on household income.
More moderate Democratic positions on the issues of health care and student loan forgiveness, however, have the backing of wide majorities of both Democratic voters and the general electorate.
Two-thirds of all voters — 67 percent — and 78 percent of Democrats back an optional program that would allow those under 65 to buy into Medicare just like one can currently buy in to private insurance.
A similar share of all voters — 64 percent — support a plan to forgive student debt for those who have paid 12.5% of their income every year for 15 years.
And 58 percent of all voters support a measure to provide free tuition at state colleges and universities.
While some of the most progressive Democratic proposals lack majority support, the poll also found that two of Trump’s signature plans are similarly unpopular with the voting public.
Just 43 percent of all voters support the construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall. And exactly the same share back the elimination of the Affordable Care Act.
Voters raise concerns about Trump and Biden’s fitness for the presidency
While Biden may be the Democratic Party’s current standard-bearer for more moderate — and popular — policy proposals, a significant share of Americans in the poll say they’re losing confidence in his ability to lead the country.
A third of voters overall — 36 percent — say they’ve lost confidence in Biden in recent weeks, a time period that included a debate performance described as shaky by his critics. Just eight percent say they’ve grown more confident in him.
The same share — 36 percent — say they have become less confident in recent weeks in Trump’s ability to lead, with 17 percent saying they’ve become more confident.
Those who have lost confidence in the former vice president cited his debate performance, his age and what they say is an over-reliance on Obama’s legacy in making his own case for the job.
“Overall, I like Joe Biden a lot, but I think his performance at the debate gave me the feeling that he might be a little bit past his prime for the position,” said one male Democratic respondent from New York.
A white female Democrat from Illinois put it more bluntly.
“Basically he’s an old white man who I don’t think is going to help our country advance,” she said. “Because our country is not just a bunch of white people anymore.”
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Sept. 13-16. The margin of error for all adults is +/- 3.27 percentage points.
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