There are few certainties in modern American politics. One of them is that a Republican will win Texas, the second-largest Electoral College prize. But in an unpredictable election year where we've seen numerous political norms thrown out the window, even that assumption could be flat-out wrong.
A poll by Public Policy Polling released Tuesday found Republican nominee Donald Trump just six points ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton, 44 percent to 38 percent (Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson pulls in 6 percent).
More troubling for Trump — and future Republican nominees — is that the sole reason he is winning in Texas is staunch support among voters over 65. The PPP poll, which surveyed 944 likely voters between August 12-14, found Trump winning the 65+ crowd by a two-to-one margin. Clinton won voters under 65 (49 percent to 45 percent), a margin that widened with voters under 45 (60 percent to 35 percent). Clinton also holds a wide lead among nonwhite Texans, who favor her over Trump by 52 points, the poll found.
The polling firm concluded Texas is within reach for Democrats for the first time in decades.
"A Democratic victory in Texas this year remains a stretch but within the numbers there are signs of Democrats being positioned to become seriously competitive there in the years ahead," Public Policy Polling said in a statement accompanying the poll.
Without qualification, a Clinton win in Texas would be monumental. A Democrat hasn't won Texas since Jimmy Carter, a fellow Southerner, eeked by with 51 percent of the vote in 1976. Since then, Democratic nominees have gone 0 for 9 (which sounds a lot like the Astros lineup lately).
Bill Clinton, from neighboring Arkansas, came within three points of George H. W. Bush in 1992 and five points of Bob Dole four years later. Every other nominee since Carter got shellacked. Walter Mondale took a 28-point pounding from Ronald Reagan in 1984. Home-stater George W. Bush thumped New Englander John Kerry by 23 points in 2004. Barack Obama, who easily won two elections, never came within 11 points of winning Texas. On the state level, Texans haven't elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. Republicans control both houses of the Legislature.
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Clinton threatens to buck that trend. But don't get too excited about her strong showing in this single poll. Despite the results, experts are still putting their money on Trump in Texas. Polling wonk Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog incorporated the PPP numbers into its calculations Tuesday, but still gave Trump a 78.6 percent chance of winning.
The New York Times' Upshot pegs Clinton's chance of winning the election at 88 percent — and even goes as far to assert Clinton has a better chance of repeating Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide than Trump does of winning — but still paints Texas deep red.
Hillary Clinton has myriad paths to winning the presidency, and none of them include Texas. If she were to win here, it would surely be during a historic rout.
But Texas would be icing on that very, very large cake.