In Texas, most politicians used to worry only about the primaries. Once they won their party’s endorsement, candidates would coast to victory in November. Journalists still refer to Texas as “ruby red,” meaning Republicans rule the roost. That is no longer reality. Texas is barely red, and some argue it’s already purple. For statewide office, general elections now matter greatly.
Small wonder Nancy Pelosi has called Texas “ground zero” for Democratic focus in 2020. Had the Democrats not chosen Milwaukee for their 2020 national convention, they probably would have picked Houston.
And Milwaukee was no accident, either. Wisconsin was a state Democrats took for granted in presidential elections — until 2016. Donald Trump won the state, albeit by less than 1 percentage point. Rest assured, no Democratic candidate will skip campaigning in Wisconsin as Hillary Clinton did.
Democrats looking inland are finding heartland voices that can connect culturally with not only Americans in the middle of the country but blue-collar and rural voters elsewhere. They lack the harsh, berating tone often heard in candidates from the coasts.
What Texas and Wisconsin have in common is a growing aversion to hard-edged conservatism in general and Trump in particular.
We now see Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, advocating for the likes of better public school financing and more money for special education. He’s pushing for improved access to mental health services.
Contrast this kinder approach with the previous legislative session. In 2017, Texas Republicans passed a bill letting law enforcement stop anyone and demand to see proof of a person’s right to be in the country. This was a profoundly dumb insult to Hispanics, who now account for 40 percent of the state’s population. Lawmakers also spent much time on a silly “bathroom bill,” designed to make life more difficult for transgender people.
The lesson of Beto O’Rourke’s near defeat of entrenched Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 was lost on nobody. Now running for president, the El Paso native is sticking to a sunny message centered on unity — of party, of nation, of the planet. And he all but ignores Trump.
A recent Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll showed Texans narrowly preferring “somebody else” in 2020 over Trump. Among those surveyed, 39 percent said they were “definitely” for Trump, and 45 percent were “definitely” not.
Polls show Texas women taking an especially strong dislike to Trump. And demographic changes bode ill for other Republicans. Texas is home to a rising number of millennials, transplants moving in from liberal corners of the country and, of course, Latinos.
The new Democratic governor of Wisconsin, Tony Evers, doesn’t yell. He doesn’t dish out invective. He doesn’t dwell on grievance. He quietly pushes a muscular liberal agenda in the good-government language of Midwestern progressives. He’s for renewable energy. He’s for decriminalizing recreational marijuana. He would expand Medicaid to poor families under the Affordable Care Act.
Let’s not leave out two other Democratic presidential possibilities — Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg. The daughter of a schoolteacher and a sports writer, Sen. Klobuchar speaks in the Midwestern vernacular familiar to voters in Minnesota. Buttigieg is young (37), a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan, a Rhodes scholar and mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
If there weren’t something deeply flawed in the way things are going, Buttigieg said recently, “you wouldn’t have had so many people in areas like mine walking into the voting booth with eyes wide-open, with no illusions about this guy’s character, and consciously voting to burn the house down.”
These politicians know what’s gone wrong, but as importantly, they know how to talk about fixing what’s gone wrong. Democrats need their wisdom. They need their voices.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.