Texas Democrats are being told they have their "greatest opportunities in a generation" this November with Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee and majorities of voters viewing corruption as a major problem in state government.
Austin-based Democratic pollster Leland Beatty argues, in a memo obtained by The Texas Tribune, that several factors, including an anticipated drop in GOP straight-ticket voting, could provide beleaguered state Democrats their biggest opening in 20 years. His predictions come as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton continues to trounce Trump in all national and most battleground state polling, raising questions about his strength even in some reliably red states.
In Texas, 20 state House districts may be in play out of 39 where there is a GOP incumbent and a Democratic challenger on the ballot, Beatty wrote. In all 39 districts, a majority of those expected to vote — ranging from 52 percent to 72 percent — see corruption as widespread in Texas government, according to Beatty's projections.
Beatty also said Democrats stand a chance of an upset victory near the top of the statewide ballot in the railroad commissioner's race, where Democrat Grady Yarbrough is up against Republican Wayne Christian. Beatty called both candidates "virtually unknown by Texas voters."
One caveat to Beatty's analysis involves money. In the 20 House races that could be competitive, he said the Democratic candidates "do not appear financially ready to compete," with 13 having reported less than $5,000 in the bank as of June 30.
There is still hope for Democrats, according to the pollster.
"Given the current sentiment of voters, the drumbeat of news of corruption at the highest levels of State government, the disastrous Trump candidacy and a poor outlook for Republican straight ticket voting — Democrats won't need as much money as their counterparts to be competitive," Beatty wrote.
A poll done by Beatty in June found Clinton trailing Trump in Texas by only 7 percentage points, 30 percent to 37 percent. A week later, a nonpartisan University of Texas/Texas Politics Project survey found a similar margin, with Clinton behind Trump by 8 points, 33 percent to 41 percent.
State Democrats got a shot in the arm earlier this week when Clinton's running mate, Tim Kaine, dropped in on Texas for a two-day fundraising swing that included a volunteer thank you event Tuesday in Austin. The U.S. senator from Virginia told volunteers he and Clinton are "very serious" about Texas, and in a subsequent radio interview, he said it is "definitely possible" Clinton could carry the state in November.