Monday, July 20, 2015

Texas Is A Big State; Expect It To Eventually Play A Big Role In Democratic Party Politics


I was still a teenager the first time I ventured from home in New York to Texas. I had only passing interest in what I saw as a Big Oil-controlled fascist-oriented state where they killed JFK, but I was hitchhiking to Mexico and there was no way around it. It went as badly as I imagined it might. I was robbed of everything I had, then driven out into the desert by Texas police who pretended they were going to shoot my friend and me. Instead, they just left us.

I don't think I went back to the state again for over two decades, and even then it took the beginning of Austin's "South by Southwest" in 1987. Bernie Sanders went to the same high school I did in Brooklyn, James Madison, but he was a few years ahead of me and I have no idea how he felt back then about Texas. He sure seemed happy to be there yesterday!

Politically, Texas is still part of the Solid South, a bloc of states that once upon a time always voted for Democrats from the bottom of the ticket to the top. After Texas was admitted to the Union, the first presidential election it participated in was in 1848, when 8,801 Texans casting their ballots for Democrat Lewis Cass, as opposed to the 3,777 who voted for the victorious Zachary Taylor, a Whig. Four years later Texas was on the winning side with Democrat Franklin Pierce and it was again in the next go-round, which gave the election to Democrat James Buchanan.

In the pivotal 1860 presidential election, Abraham Lincoln didn't appear on the ballot in Texas. The state voted for Vice President John Breckinridge (D-KY), who has the distinction of being the only United States senator convicted of treason against the United States by the Senate, having enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861 while still serving as a senator.

The first presidential election Texas took part in after the Civil War was in 1872, and Texans gave Democrat Horace Greeley 66,435 votes against Republican Ulysses S. Grant, who took a respectable 47,426 votes in the state. After that, Texans gave big majorities to Democrats Samuel Tilden, Winfield Hancock, Grover Cleveland (three times), William Jennings Bryan (three times), Alton Parker, Woodrow Wilson (twice), James Cox and John Davis. The first Republican to win the state's electoral votes was Herbert Hoover in 1928-- when Hoover beat Catholic Democrat Al Smith in Texas 367,036 to 341,032.

Four years later Texas had its biggest turnout ever, helping defeat Hoover, who only got 97,959 votes to FDR's massive 760,348. Roosevelt continued winning Texas in landslides in 1936, 1940, and 1944, and in 1948 the state gave President Harry Truman a landslide over Republican Thomas Dewey. Then the giant Democratic Party edifice began to crack in Texas, at least for the national ticket. 

Republican Dwight Eisenhower beat Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. In 1960 JFK eked out a narrow victory over Nixon, although some say LBJ was able to steal the race for him. In 1964 LBJ won his home state over Barry Goldwater. In 1968, surprisingly, Hubert Humphrey beat Nixon, narrowly. In 1972 Nixon drew 2,298,896 votes to George McGovern's 1,154,289. Four years later Jimmy Carter narrowly beat Gerald Ford, but since then Texas has again been part of the Solid South, except that it has been a Republican Solid South. 

Reagan trounced Carter in 1980 and did even better against Mondale in 1984. This is how it's gone since then:
George H.W. Bush (R)- 3,036,829
Michael Dukakis (D)- 2,352,748

George H.W. Bush (R)- 2,496,071
Bill Clinton (D)- 2,281,815
Ross Perot (I)- 1,354,781

Bob Dole (R)- 2,736,167
Bill Clinton (D)- 2,459,683

George W Bush (R)- 3,799,639
Al Gore (D)- 2,433,748

George W Bush (R)- 4,526,917
John Kerry (D)-2,832,704

John McCain (R)- 4,479,328
Barack Obama (D)- 3,528,633

Mitt Romney (R)- 4,569,843
Barack Obama (D)- 3,308,124

(In 2008 Hillary Clinton won the Texas Democratic primary over Obama, 1,462,734 to 1,362,476.)
These days, Democrats don't do much general-election campaigning in Texas, although the primary means something, and Texas is still a huge source of campaign funds for Democratic candidates-- primarily from the trial lawyers. Demographically, Texas is getting more purple, but the depth of strength of the GOP in the state shouldn't be underestimated. They're not giving up power there for a long, long time. 

Yesterday, Bernie Sanders arrived in Texas straight from a massive rally in Phoenix. Yes, Arizona is a red hellhole, but Phoenix, not so much. Ruben Gallego won the Democratic primary in AZ-07 as the most progressive candidate running. AZ-07, which comprises the city of Phoenix and some of Glendale, is 65.9% Hispanic, and is so Democratic that the Republicans didn't even bother to run someone against him. In 2012 Obama beat Romney there 72-27%. So yeah, Bernie drew a huge crowd in Arizona-- over 11,000 people-- but it wasn't a bunch of Goldwaterites he drew.

His next stop was Dallas. The Dallas suburbs and exurbs may be the fascist heartland of America, but the city itself is reliably Democratic. And so is Houston, which is where Bernie headed after Dallas. Zaid Jilani covered the Dallas event, which drew between 8- and 10,000 people to the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom. Texas' March 1 primary is the first for the Democrats in a big urban state, and if Bernie can beat Hillary there, the contest will be essentially over for her.
The senator condemned the Democratic Party's political strategy in the South, saying that it has “conceded half of the states in the national level.” He said that when “childhood poverty in Texas is 27 percent, we've gotta take it on. When 34 percent of people living in Texas have no health insurance, we've gotta take it on.” The people sitting in the bleachers behind him took to their feet to applaud when he said it makes more sense to invest in “jobs and education” rather than “incarceration,” something that has become a feature of his stump speech.

Sanders' speech in Phoenix on Saturday night brought together an estimated eleven to twelve thousand people-- one of the largest political rallies in the city's history (by comparison Barack Obama got 13,000 in January 2008). The crowd gave Sanders standing ovations at numerous points, such as when he condemned police violence, called for tuition-free college, and demanded that American provide for the veterans of its wars. It's worth noting that, in contrast to Donald Trump's homogeneous audience, Sanders’ crowd was extremely diverse; there was heavy representation of young Latinos, with one activist introducing the Senator before his speech.

Bernie is campaigning across the Southwest to show he has broader appeal than just the safe blue-state regions of the country. It is an echo of the swing through the South that Sanders did in 2013, when he was still considering his candidacy

“I really strongly disagree with this concept that there’s a blue state and red state America,” he told In These Times in an interview that year. “I believe that in every state in the country the vast majority of the people are working people. These are people who are struggling to keep their heads above water economically, these are people who want Social Security defended, they want to raise the minimum wage, they want changes in our trade policy. And to basically concede significant parts of America, including the South, to the right-wing is to me not only stupid politics, but even worse than that-- you just do not turn your backs on millions and millions of working people.”
The Houston event had been planned for Cullen Performance Hall, which holds 1,500 people. They moved it to a much larger venue, Hofheinz Pavilion, which holds 8,500.

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