Gov. Greg Abbott came to San Antonio on Monday to give an election eve boost to the campaigns of two Republican state legislators and a congressman facing tough rematches in majority Hispanic districts, contending with the headwinds of a larger Democratic turnout spurred by Donald Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket.
Abbott, who has endorsed Trump but kept his distance from his party’s standard bearer, did not mention the GOP presidential candidate in his pep talk for about 75 of the party faithful at a County Line barbecue restaurant, but he did mention Hillary Clinton.
“Are you all ready to send a message to Hillary Clinton not to mess with Texas?” Abbott said to hoots and applause.
Regardless of what happens nationally, Trump appears on his way to becoming the 10th consecutive Republican presidential nominee to carry Texas, but perhaps by a slimmer margin than in the past.
The RealPolitics polling average for Texas on Monday had Trump with a lead of 11.7 percentage points over Clinton.
“Romney won the state by 16 points,” said Garry Mauro, a leader of the Clinton campaign in Texas, referring to 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “Anything in single digits has got to be considered an enormous victory. If we get to 5 or under 5 or even carry Texas, it’s an earthquake.”
University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus offered an identical assessment of Democratic benchmarks for success.
“Under 10 is a win; under 5 is a sea change,” he said.
Texas House races
Rice University political scientist Mark Jones expects Democrats to pick up between one and six seats in the Texas House. The most likely pickups are in majority Hispanic districts where Republicans won in off years or special elections.
Jones said there are six Hispanic Republicans in the House and only one — Larry Gonzales of Round Rock — is completely safe because he doesn’t have a Democratic opponent.
The three Hispanic Republicans engaged in rematches — Rick Galindo and John Lujan in San Antonio, for whom Abbott was campaigning, and Gilbert Peña of Pasadena — are all underdogs.
“They are in deep trouble at this point,” Jones said.
In coming to San Antonio to buck up their campaigns, Jones said, “Abbott is sending a message that he doesn’t take the Latino vote for granted, and just as he made Latino outreach a priority effort in 2014, so it will be the next two years looking to 2018,” when he is up for re-election.
Jones said Abbott’s message to Galindo’s opponent, Phil Cortez, and Lujan’s opponent, Thomas Uresti, is even if they should win Tuesday, “don’t get too comfortable because in 2018 I’m going to be the marquee candidate, and I’ll be here in 2018 (with Galindo and Lujan) celebrating their victory.”
The same holds true for Rep. Will Hurd, who is seeking to disrupt the historic pattern in the sprawling 23rd Congressional District, which has flipped every year since 2010, with Democrats winning in presidential years and losing in off years.
Hurd’s opponent, his predecessor, Pete Gallego, has sought at every opportunity to use Trump against Hurd, who isn’t backing his party’s nominee. The Hurd-Gallego race is the only competitive congressional race in Texas this year and one of only 16 still rated a tossup nationally by the Cook Political Report. All 16 have Republican incumbents.
Abbott said Hurd had “accomplished more as a freshman” than any other member of Congress he’d ever known.
“He’s a difference maker and a true national leader,” Abbott said.
Hurd said that the governor’s political operation — Team Abbott — “has been running like they’re on the ballot and they helped us tremendously.”
Rottinghaus said that if Democrats come closer this time than in recent presidential elections, the question will be, “Is this about Trump or is this about the Democrats? It’s probably a little of both.”
But he says what matters is a combination of local gains and enough progress statewide to make attractive and ambitious candidates think more seriously about taking the risk of running as Democrats for higher office.
In that vein, Rottinghaus noted that U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the 44-year-old congressman from El Paso seeking his third term, said last week that he was contemplating a run for U.S. senator from Texas.
Tuesday’s election culminates a long, entertaining, surprising and wrenching presidential campaign that began with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas becoming the first candidate to enter the race in March 2015, followed by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entry in June. Perry, making his second run, was the first of the big field of Republican candidates to drop out.
Cruz was Trump’s most formidable rival, ending his candidacy after losing the Indiana primary in May and not endorsing Trump until September. He has campaigned for the Trump-Pence ticket in other states in recent days.