Thanks to Slim Poll Margins, Is Big, Red Texas Now a "Battleground State"?

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Donald Trump might as well be a dream come true for Battleground Texas, the organization that has been fighting for the past few years to turn Texas blue, or at least purple.

Because according to new polls released yesterday from the Washington Post/SurveyMonkey and the University of Houston, Trump only leads Hillary Clinton by 2 to 3 percentage points in Texas, respectively, which is within the margin of error. The slim margin led the Post to consider Texas, yes, a "battleground state"—a couple words that haven't had any significance in the big red state of Texas for nearly 30 years, said University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray.

"It's in the realm of possibility now that Clinton could carry the state," Murray said. "The Clinton campaign would never have put down hard cash [on recent TV advertisements] unless they saw the same thing in their own polling. It's getting pretty close."

According to the University of Houston poll, no Republican presidential candidate has failed to carry Texas by less than 11 percentage points since 2000. 

In the poll, men favored Trump over Clinton 44 percent to 35 percent and women favored Clinton over Trump 42 percent to 38 percent. Texas voters think Trump will do a better job on immigration, fighting terrorism and crime, managing the economy and ending gridlock in Washington while believing Clinton would do better protecting the environment and handling foreign policy. Still, only 23 percent of all those surveyed thought Trump would actually win the presidency.

While Murray said he has never been one for analogies, he said a particularly relevant one to this year's presidential race is Texas's 1990 governor's race, when the bombastic Republican candidate Clayton "Claytie" Williams lost an early 20-plus-point lead over Democratic nominee Ann Richards after he made jokes about rape and offensive comments about women. According to an article in the New York Times in March 1990, Williams said victims of rape should just "relax and enjoy it"; later, "Mr. Williams said it was merely a joke and apologized 'if anyone's offended.'" 

Sound familiar? 

Murray said even more women bailed on Williams after an "awful campaign in the fall," ultimately resulting in Ann Richards winning the race. "He insulted Richards and women with his swagger and demeanor," Murray said. "It was in a totally different way — he was a West Texas cowboy, and Trump's a New York asshole, but you basically got to the same place: He deeply offended women, and his vote collapsed from a regular Republican perspective, particularly in the Dallas suburbs. And I think a lot of that is going to happen this time."

Murray said Clinton's decision to trumpet the Dallas Morning News's historic endorsement of her in a week-long TV ad buy will play to that strategy well. As the Texas Tribune noted this week, it was a "remarkable move" on the part of the Clinton campaign, "a rare development in a state that typically receives minimal attention from presidential campaigns during the general election." That's because the Electoral College hasn't voted Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Murray said Clinton choosing to pay attention to Texas this time may not be in effort to win the state outright with electoral votes, but at least to narrow the popular vote margin so her national popular vote margin widens. Which would leave a certain someone with less of an opportunity to whine about the supposed "rigged" election, he said.

Still, UH political science professor Jim Granato said despite the poll numbers he estimates Clinton only has a one in five chance of winning Texas. Granato said the only down-ballot race he thinks will be truly affected by what he called "the Trump phenomenon" is U.S. congressional District 23, the race between Republican incumbent Will Hurd and Democratic challenger Pete Gallego. Otherwise, he said, it doesn't appear that Texas is really changing colors.

The key to determining Texas's chances of turning blue or purple in the future though, he said, lies with the 1.5 million new registered voters — and whether those voters will choose to participate as Democratic voters in future elections in which a demagogic, predatory maniac is not at the top of the Republican ballot.

"Republicans dominate, as the Democrats did prior to the '70s, and right now we're still a one-party state in large part," Granato said. "So it could take a couple more elections to tip this over — but the seeds are there now, that's for sure. And it could be that Trump is that tipping point."

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