Is Hillary the answer for the beleaguered Texas Democrats?

Hillary Clinton was selected as the most fascinating person of 2013 (AP Photo Jose Luis Magana)

June 21, 2013 10:41:15 AM PDT
This week Claire McCaskill of Missouri became the first member of the U.S. Senate to endorse Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.

Since the Democrats won't nominate their presidential candidate for more than three years, this endorsement seemed a bit premature to some, but it makes sense to me. The Missouri lawmaker is from a border state where President Obama's political standing is not high, nor likely to improve much over the remainder of his second term. Given that, shifting the focus from the current president to the prospective nominee in 2016 has a certain logic. Ms. McCaskill also has some making up to do - in 2008 she went with fellow Senator Obama rather than Senator Clinton in the hard-fought nomination battle, and one suspects Hillary (and Bill) have not forgotten that choice. There is also little political risk in coming out early for the former Secretary of State, who leads all other contenders for the nomination by huge margins in surveys of self-identified Democrats.

This same pattern holds in our state where a recent Texas Tribune poll showed Republicans divided in their presidential preferences, but with Hillary Clinton holding a huge lead over Vice President Joe Biden and all others among Democrats. That being the case, I expect we will see local Democrats joining the Senator from Missouri and hopping on the early train for Hillary. They too, would have good reason to do so. Barack Obama has been the most successful Democratic ,presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and is only member of his party to win reelection with a popular vote majority since Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. But the President's success at the polls has come at high cost for members of his party across a wide swath of the country that stretches from West Virginia to Texas. Mr. Obama's new national political coalition of racial and ethnic minorities, young adults, and single women carried him to victory in 2008 and 2012. But at the same time, his party has lost ground with white male voters in general, and has badly declined with all white voters in much of rural and small town America.

This pattern holds in Texas. Outside the big urban counties of Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis, Mr. Obama lost 229 of the other 250 counties in the Lone Star State. The only non-Hispanic majority county the President carried was Jefferson, where the large black communities in Beaumont/Port Arthur helped him edge out Mitt Romney in 2012. In some of these other counties, the Democratic presidential vote fell below ten percent, and averaged only about 25 percent. The old "Yellow Dog" Democrats of Texas seem to have gone extinct with a black Democrat in the White House.

To get some idea of the sharp decline in the Democratic presidential vote in rural Anglo Texas, look at the 2000, 2008, and 2012 vote in a half dozen counties around the state. Even though he was running against George W. Bush, a popular sitting governor, Al Gore got far more votes in his 2000 race than Obama in 2008 or 2012.

[SEE CHART WITH VOTING TOTALS IN 2000, 2008 and 2012 ]

Texas Democrats think a white nominee, make that a white female nominee married to former President William Jefferson Clinton, just might get them back in the game by reversing the decline in their party's support outside of big cities and Hispanic areas. There is reason for this hope. In 2008, Hillary Clinton fought a classic primary battle across all fifty states and the District of Columbia. The Texas Primary that March drew more than 2.8 million voters, and Hillary Clinton carried the state by about 100,000 votes. The then Senator from New York won partly by rolling up big margins in Hispanic counties, but also by carrying all the rural and small city counties in Texas. Look at her margins in the same counties in the table above.


Of course, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee in 2016, she will not be running in Texas against a black Democrat, but a Republican, who may be Hispanic but will not be African American. The 2016 race, especially if Ms. Clinton is her party's nominee, will test whether the decline of the Texas Democratic vote outside Hispanic Texas and the big cities was a temporary phenomenon, or a lasting partisan shift.

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