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Latest retirements signal Texas trouble for Republicans

In recent years, Democrats have talked about making significant gains in Texas. In 2020, those possibilities will become quite real.
The Texas flag flies at the entrance to the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Shafter, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty)
The Texas flag flies at the entrance to the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Shafter, Texas.

As of this morning, 11 U.S. House members have announced their retirement plans, and nine of the announcements have come from Republicans. Most have come over the last two weeks.

But while there's some geographic diversity within the group, four of the retiring GOP incumbents are from Texas -- including an important one who formally declared his intentions yesterday.

Representative Kenny Marchant of Texas announced on Monday that he plans to retire, becoming the fourth Republican House member from Texas in recent weeks to head for the exits rather than face re-election in 2020 in a state that is rapidly becoming more competitive. [...]Mr. Marchant, who was first elected in 2004, won his suburban Dallas district by comfortable margins for over a decade, but last year he prevailed by only three points against a Democratic opponent who had relatively modest financial resources. Mr. Marchant, a low-key member and reliably conservative vote, sits on the influential Ways and Means Committee.

The results from 2018 no doubt rattled Marchant, who struggled against a candidate he expected to defeat easily. On the same day, in Texas' U.S. Senate race, Beto O'Rourke (D) defeated Ted Cruz (R) in the 24th congressional district by three points.

Two years earlier, Donald Trump won the district -- situated between Dallas and Fort Worth -- but only by six points.

Given these details, Democratic officials fully expect to compete in this open-seat contest next year -- just as the party has high hopes for Texas' 23rd district, where Rep. Will Hurd (R) announced his retirement last week.

It's renewed a fair amount of chatter about a question that's been lurking in the background: just how competitive could the Lone Star State become? The Associated Press reported yesterday:

Monday's announcement that yet another Republican congressman is retiring highlights the GOP's growing struggle to win the House majority next year and the shifting political leanings of Texas, the nation's second-largest state.Democrats' burgeoning prospects in Texas, which has a deep-red pedigree, are widely attributed to two factors. One is the state's growing populations of Hispanics and of moderate voters in communities ringing cities like Dallas, Houston and Austin, the other is the polarizing rhetoric of President Donald Trump."Trump has really turned out to be an accelerant for energizing young voters and voters of color," said Democratic pollster Zac McCrary, whose clients include MJ Hegar, a Democratic contender for challenging GOP Sen. John Cornyn next year. "And again at the same time, Trump has so deeply alienated suburban white voters in numbers that are mind-boggling."

Some eye-rolling is understandable. There's been ample chatter in recent years about the concerted Democratic efforts to turn Texas "blue," but the state clearly remains a Republican stronghold.

This is, however, one of those facts that's true until it's not. Last year, several GOP incumbents who expected to cruise to easy victories struggled to hang on, and with each passing year, Texas' electorate becomes a little younger and more diverse -- which necessarily creates opportunities for Democratic gains.

Real Clear Politics' Sean Trende made the case yesterday that political observers may have "grossly oversold" the GOP's vulnerabilities in Texas in recent years, but people are now "grossly underselling" the possibility of Republican defeats in the Lone Star State now.

Given Democratic gains in urban/suburban areas, Trende added, it's not outlandish to think Texas "could go blue, quickly."

In practical terms, this doesn't necessarily suggest the state will be a presidential battleground, at least not in time to cause trouble for Donald Trump, but as the so-called "Texodus" continues, it's getting much easier to see the state as a congressional battleground.