Ah, Blue Texas, the dream of so many, you may be here. Sunday saw two polls – a University of Texas at Tyler poll showing Biden +5 and a CBS/YouGov showing Trump +1 – both showing Democrats competitive in the Lone Star State, and reignited the 18 month long debate about whether the Biden campaign should just throw everything at the core map or expand into Texas, Georgia, Iowa, and Ohio. The polling, as well as a long read from the New York Times on the question, has led to another round of talks about whether Texas is a goal worth winning this time, or a luxury that can be ignored for now.
Let’s start by laying two things on the table – first, the Times piece is heavily influenced by Democrats in the four “outer” battleground states who want money, energy, fundraising appeals, and time (if campaigning in person starts up again). What they are saying about the likelihood of Biden winning these states cannot be divorced from the fact they are using the Times to put pressure on the Biden campaign. Secondly, there is almost no chance Texas is either a Senate or Presidential tipping point – Texas would probably be the 53rd or 54th Senate seat if John Cornyn were to lose, and there are 5 states that are beyond doubt likelier to be a tipping point than Texas at the Presidential level – Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia. If Texas – a Trump +9 state – is going to Biden, then Democrats are already well past 270 Electoral College votes. The argument for it as a place to spend can still be made, but any argument for spending there that doesn’t accept that at either Senate or Presidential levels it is a luxury and not a necessity is flawed from the start.
The argument for spending in Texas is simple – there are at least seven flippable House of Representatives seats in the state – the 2nd, 6th, 10th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th are all vulnerable and GOP held. None of those are worse for Democrats than Lean Republican according to LeanTossup, and helping the DCCC is a worthwhile end for a Presidential campaign that has an eye to a productive Presidency. A larger House majority will make the lives of House Democratic leadership easier as they navigate a (hopeful) Biden first term. As well, building a bench in the state is important for future statewide campaigns, as the poor nature of their current bench shows. Democratic failures to get a better candidate for the Senate seat in Texas this year could come back to bite them, and building up a bench to win Senate seats in 2024 and 2026 (assuming in the latter case a Cornyn win this year) matters.
The other part of the equation is the Texas State House, where Democrats are only nine seats away with 9 seats won by Beto to go and get. If they win the State House, the GOP would lose control of the redistricting process, and be forced to come to some accommodation with Democrats on the map for the next decade. To try and guess how many seats Democrats could be favoured to win under a negotiated map as compared to one where the GOP have full control would be fanciful, but in a state where they expect to have 39 seats after reapportionment, it is not going to be one or two. The UTT poll had a State House Generic Ballot, a D+5 result in line with their Presidential numbers, and that would comfortably be a Democratic chamber. Winning that could, in itself, be enough to keep the US House blue in 2022 even in a red year, depending on how redistricting goes.
The case against Texas is that there is no reason to make a small Texas investment. If you aren’t prepared to make a big play for Texas, don’t bother – it is so big, and so expensive, that a couple of million dollars isn’t going to do a damn thing, and if you are willing to go as big as you need, is it better to go all in on Texas or split that money across five states? It is clearly an exaggeration to say that Joe Biden could buy out every TV commercial on every Montana TV channel from Labor Day to Election Day for Steve Bullock for the price of a proper play for Texas, but it isn’t that much of one. What Democrats could do at the Senate level with the money that doesn’t go to Texas could be huge, but then you risk a bad Congressional map for the next decade that you pray turns into a dummymander by 2026.
There’s no right answer to the spend in Texas question, and reasonable people can come to different conclusions. Hell, opinions change internally day to day and week to week. But what the pair of Texas polls from this weekend show is that “Biden can’t win Texas, it’s a pipedream, focus on winnable states and not wishcasting” can’t be said anymore. It may be a bad idea to spend in Texas, but it can’t be said the state isn’t winnable.
Evan Scrimshaw (@EScrimshaw) is Managing Editor and Head Of Content at LeanTossup.ca and a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.