If the polls are any indication, 2018 could be an interesting year for Texas politics. While the state remains solid red, Democrats have at least a glimmer of hope that they will break their 22-year losing streak in statewide races. Recent polls have shown Sen. Ted Cruz (R) leading by single digits over Congressman Beto O'Rourke (D), with the closest being an Emerson College poll that has Cruz's lead down to just one point.
The Cruz-O'Rourke race stands in contrast to the others on the ballot. "You see for instance, double digit leads for the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general (all Republicans)...but Cruz, who is the very first thing you'll see on the ballot, is not doing very well," says Bob Stein, political science professor at Rice University.
Stein believes Texas Democrats have legitimate reason for optimism. "I still think the advantage is to the Republicans, but I think the base of that vote is slowly declining in terms of demographics, and then some conversion, and add to that a little more enthusiasm for the Democrats," he tells KTRH. Some of that added enthusiasm among Dems was apparent in the primaries.
Another issue in Texas is the phenomenon of straight ticket voting, where voters can cast an entire ballot for one party. Stein says that can hurt down-ballot candidates that may have crossover appeal to members of another party. "When you ask somebody, who did you vote for in a race that's off the first page on the voter screen, most of them don't know because they've been voting straight ticket."
So Democrats appear to have a good candidate, they're energized, and getting some crossover voters. Does that translate to their first statewide win since 1994? "I think they probably have the best chance they've had since Ann Richards," says Stein. "Do I think they will? Probably not, but the word probable means now that there is more than a non-trivial chance."