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El Paso congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke (center, powder-blue shirt) meets some potential constituents at a recent rally in The Woodlands.
El Paso congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke (center, powder-blue shirt) meets some potential constituents at a recent rally in The Woodlands.
Photo by Sara Button

There Needs to be a Texan on the 2020 Democratic Ticket

Beto O’Rourke, who narrowly missed unseating Senator Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterms, has finally thrown his hat in the ring for president in 2020 after months of speculation. I’ve been joking that O’Rourke has been following the Avengers trailer school of campaigning, and the fact that he formally announced his candidacy on the same day we got a new Endgame trailer proves to me that Ironicles, the Goddess of Snarky Happenstance, hears my prayers.

Whether or not O’Rourke is a good choice for president is still a big old question mark, but I do think it’s inarguable that this is the best move for him. Though a lot of people were hoping he would take another shot at Senate in 2020, John Cornyn is well-prepared and could probably beat back O’Rourke’s challenge. At 46 he has a long career ahead, and a robust showing in the primary could help him angle a cabinet or vice presidential slot. Assuming the Democrats win in 2020 and a John Edwards-esque scandal doesn’t pop up about O’Rourke, he can only fall up from this move.

So, let’s talk veep slots because I cannot stress this enough: the Democrats must put a Texan on the presidential ticket to assure victory in 2020.

There is no doubt that after 2018 that Texas is a swing state as it was back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Hillary Clinton openly dreamed of carrying the state. She didn’t, but she did lose by a smaller margin than anyone since 1996. Here in Harris County she outdid Obama by, no joke, 10,000 percent. Without a doubt we lean red, but it is just a lean these days.

And vice presidential candidates do help their bosses win. The data set is small, as all presidential data sets are, but there is compelling reason to believe that the home state of the veep candidate can be picked up despite conventional odds. According to Philip Bump’s analysis in the Washington Post , the home state of the vice presidential candidate swung toward the ticket by an average of 12 percentage points in two-thirds of the cases.

At least two presidents, Chester A. Arthur and Theodore Rooselvelt, owed their offices to the fact they were picked as veeps to help win New York when it was the prime swing state. Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine in 2016 baffled many, but she went on to win his swing state of Virginia by 5 points. Perhaps if she had chosen Julián Castro instead despite the HATCH Act scandal she would have captured Texas. She only lost by 9 points, well below the average bump a veep can bring.

Let’s look at it another way. Since statehood, four Texans have run on a major party presidential ticket. Only one of those people ever failed to carry his home state. The one that did was Lloyd Bentsen, who was the veep nominee of Michael Dukakis in 1988. They lost to the George H.W. Bush ticket, meaning that the only candidate to defeat a Texan was another Texan at the top of the opposing ticket.

Bush, of course, also handily helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency in 1980, where Texas went red after having gone to Jimmy Carter in 1976 by 4 points. Lyndon Johnson helped John F. Kennedy carry the state in 1960 by less than a point and as president, Johnson was reelected with the then-25 Electoral College votes he won in his home state by more than 20 points.

It’s not unreasonable to say neither Kennedy nor Reagan might not have won Texas without their vice presidential picks, though in both cases they still probably would have won the presidency. Would George W. Bush have had his narrow win in 2000 without his Texas roots to draw on? Impossible to tell, but if he had lost Texas he would not have become president. Donald Trump still would have, but only by three Electoral College votes.

Texas is also essential to the primary as well. Put simply, if a Democratic candidate does not have a plan for Texas then they are not going to be the nominee. Bernie Sanders’ bid for the nomination died on Super Tuesday 2016 when Texas and much of the South wholesale rejected him. The painful slog to the convention afterward refusing to admit defeat served as a prime vector for Russian bot operations to spread harmful disinformation. As Sanders does not appear in his current campaign to be trying to fix his Texas/South problem, I have little hope for his bid.

The Texas primary vote is doubly important now as opposed to 2016. California has moved up its primary from June to Super Tuesday, meaning two of the three biggest states in the contest will vote on the same day instead of California being the final endgame contest months later. O’Rourke and Castro will have an advantage, as will California Senator Kamala Harris. Despite poll numbers, these are the three gatekeepers (or minibosses if you prefer) assuming they all survive next February. Capturing Texas and California will put a huge lead in a candidate’s campaign, one that will probably be insurmountable. Texas and California are going to pick the next Democratic nominee for president.

And possibly the president after that. If O’Rourke or Castro do not win the primary the nominee will be mad not to hedge his or her bet with a Texan in the general. The Democratic field here is somewhat shallow beyond O’Rourke and the Castro twins, with only Wendy Davis having a national profile. I could see Annise Parker as a wild card veep candidate, or possibly the slayer of Dragon Culberson, Lizzie Fletcher. Limited experience seems to not be a deal-breaker in American presidential politics anymore so why not?

Texans have an impeccable record getting their states behind them on the presidential stage. That’s never been truer as we become a swing state once more rather than a definite Republican stalwart. Trump is unlikely to jettison Mike Pence as his vice president and running mate so the path for a Texan to the White House in some capacity is wide open. Hopefully the Democrats take it. If not, I don’t care for their chances.

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