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Sorry, But Wendy Davis Won't Win Texas

Democrats have been dreaming of the day when demographic changes might turn Texas “blue,” but it seems like Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator who filibustered an anti-abortion bill in June, is looking to speed up the time table. There’s plenty of speculation that she’ll run for governor in 2014, and TNR’s Nora Caplan-Bricker has the impression that she’s cautiously optimistic about her chances. I’m incautiously pessimistic. Texas is always tough for Democrats, but it's even tougher in 2014.

Texas is one of the most racially polarized states in the country: Obama might not have even received 20 percent of the white vote. That’s why Obama lost Texas by 16 points, even though whites were only about 58 percent of the electorate. The problem for Davis is that minority turnout drops in off year elections, like 2014. According to the Census, the 2010 Texas electorate was 65 percent white, compared to 58 percent white in last November’s presidential election. In a state where partisanship and race go hand-in-hand, that’s devastating for Democrats.

Demographic changes will help Democrats a bit, but not enough. The Census showed the white share of the electorate declining from 69 to 65 percent white between 2006 and 2010, so we might assume that the white share of the electorate might dip into the lower-sixties by 2014. That’s still much less diverse than in 2012.

For Democrats to win a white, off year electorate, a Texas Democrat would need to get into the mid-thirties among white voters. That would require a massive improvement over Obama’s performance, probably along the lines of a net-30 points, depending on just how poorly Obama did in 2012. Based on the 2010 results, many of those gains would have to come from traditionally Democratic but conservative stretches of west Texas, where a strong Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Bill White, ran far ahead of President Obama. White won Foard County, for instance, by 2 points; Obama lost by 42 points.

The problem, of course, is that Democratic presidential candidates lose these voters for a reason. They’re extremely conservative. And making big gains among the state’s whites voters is very difficult. More than half of the state’s white voters are evangelical Christians, according to the 2010 exit polls. Those voters broke for Perry by a massive 84-15 margin, for McCain by an 83-16 margin, and even more for Romney. It’s inconceivable that Wendy Davis, a liberal heartthrob best known for filibustering an anti-abortion bill, would make meaningful inroads among southern Evangelical Christians. She could easily do worse. 

So that means that Davis would need to make massive gains among remaining segment of the electorate: the state’s more competitive, non-evangelical white voters. How well? If you assume that a candidate best known for supporting abortion isn’t going to do much better than a well-regarded Democratic candidate among white evangelicals, then Davis would probably need to carry the non-evangelical, white vote in Texas by a clear margin, probably by more than 10 points. That would be the electoral feat of the century.

Texas is an extremely red state. There aren’t many swing voters, since a majority of the state is either non-white or white evangelical Christian. Until the state’s demographics change, Democrats will need a candidate who can make big inroads into the state’s massive white, conservative base. That's especially true in a midterm election. And Wendy Davis isn’t that candidate.