Is Hillary Clinton the game-changing Democrat who can finally realize the liberal dream of turning Texas blue?
A new survey by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling indicates that the answer is yes. The retiring secretary of state could make the Lone Star State competitive in 2016, should she decide to run for president.
In hypothetical matchups, she’d beat GOP heavyweight Florida Sen. Marco Rubio 46% to 45% and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie 45% to 43%. She would even handily beat the state’s governor, Rick Perry, 50% to 42%, according to PPP's numbers.Pretty impressive for a state that hasn’t voted Democratic since 1976, when Jimmy Carter won Texas in the first presidential election after the GOP disaster of Watergate.
Hillary has had Lone Star success before. In the 2008 primary, Obama won more delegates overall, but Clinton won the popular vote in the state, 50.9% to 47.4%.
“There’s great respect for Hillary Clinton in Texas,” Matt Angle, who heads the left-leaning, political research and strategic communications organization the Lone Star Project, told msnbc.com.
Angle, who served as chief of staff to former Texas Congressman Martin Frost, said the survey also revealed just how much Perry has “tarnished the Republican brand in Texas.”
Perry “reflected the narrowest point of view [when he ran for president]”, said Angle. “There’s one thing that all Texans can agree upon…They don’t want to be embarrassed, and Rick Perry really made the state look bad.”
Vincent Harris, a Texas-based conservative political strategist, acknowledged to msnbc.com that Clinton could be one of the Democrats’ best chances of winning over the conservative state.
“She is a liberal who I think has shown that she’s willing to stick up for this country and she’s not going to take sh-- from anybody. I think that we appreciate those qualities down here in Texas,” Harris said.
He added that it’s “not only because she’s a woman but because of her personality as a tough cookie. I think people appreciate that.”
Of course, a win for Clinton in Texas is no shoo-in.
Currently, Republicans hold every statewide office and both U.S. Senate seats (including Ted Cruz, the first Hispanic from Texas elected to Congress’ upper chamber), and Mitt Romney handily beat Obama by 16 points in the state.
But Democrats do have demographics on their side. Non-Hispanic whites make up only 45% of the population, according to the 2010 census, while 38% of Texans identified themselves as Latino or Hispanic. And, their populations are growing. Hispanics made up 65% of the state’s growth since 2000, while the African-American population grew by 22%. Non-Hispanic whites had the smallest increase of any group—just 4.2%.
Of course, both blacks and Latinos tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Nationwide, 93% of African-American voters cast their ballots for Obama, while 71% of Latinos voted for Obama.
Still, Walter Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said that turning Texas blue—even with Clinton in the mix—is a “monumental task.”
He pointed out that even though the base of minority voters is growing, their turnout numbers are historically lower than whites. He also said although there’s a surge of Hispanics in the state, many of them are not yet old enough to vote or are non-citizens. On top of that, gerrymandering in Texas has “created a situation where we pretty much know the outcome before they happen. It diminishes your urgency as a voter…there’s not much incentive to show up.”
“The idea that Texas can be so radically changed in such a short order [by 2016] is going to require a huge mobilization,” said Wilson.