A crowd of 60,000 screams as he takes the stage. It’s a classic late-September night in Austin; the summer heat has begun to fade, and it’s a mere 83 degrees as the sun dips behind the city’s skyline. When he appears onstage, they rush forward to get a closer look. He smiles radiantly and gives a friendly wave–the crowd roars in excitement. He is not a musician, he is Texas representative Beto O’Rourke–but on this hot summer night, he is the biggest rockstar in Texas.
Beto joins legendary Texan and country star Willie Nelson onstage for a campaign event that the two have planned together. While a Willie Nelson concert itself is enough to draw a crowd in Texas, Nelson is not the reason these people are here tonight. This is evidenced by the thousands of “Viva Beto” and “Beto for Senate” signs creating a shimmering black and white sea across the crowd. The pair stand side by side, arms around each other, peering out as the crowd greets them with more raucous cheering. The contrast between the sleek young politician and the 85 year old country music legend perfectly illustrates the great transformation happening in Texas. The elder Texan is passing the torch to the younger one; one who represents a new era of young, reform minded Texans, who are poised to take over the state in the coming years. In this case, however, they aren’t sharing a torch, but rather a stage, belting the words to Nelson’s famous “On the Road Again.” Inasmuch as Willie Nelson represents the fading Texas of the past, Beto represents the blossoming Texas of the future.
Beto speaks to the crowd for 15 minutes, focusing on his policy goals, but specifically touching on his desire to unify Texans from all backgrounds. “This is a campaign of people, all people, and I don’t care about the differences between us,” Beto tells the crowd. “If you’re a Republican, you’re in the right place,” Beto continues, “If you’re a Democrat, you’re in the right place. If you’re an independent, you’re in the right place. Whoever you pray to, whether you pray at all, whoever you love, however many generations you’ve been in this country or whether you just got here yesterday, we’re all in the same boat, we’re all human beings, and we’re going to start treating one another that way.” Beto’s words may be aimed at Texans, but in a country that is seemingly more divided than ever, they shine as beacons of inspiration and hope for Americans all over the country. The profound words are not lost on the crowd, and after his powerful remarks, Beto’s already energized crowd is simply electrified. Nights like these make people feel like they are part of something truly great.
The concert continues, and at the close, Nelson debuts a new song of his, “Vote ‘Em Out,” whose title tells you all you need to know about the song. Nelson tells the crowd, “the biggest gun we’ve got is called the ballot box.” It’s a remarkable night in the whirlwind that has been the Beto campaign, but for Beto, this is just another campaign event.
“On the Road Again” sums up Beto’s rise quite accurately–Beto’s typical day involves 4 to 5 separate campaign events, and probably a similar number of coffees. Astonishingly, Beto has campaigned in every single county in Texas, all 254 of them, a campaigning feat that most never considered possible. Beto’s campaigning has been nontraditional in scope, but also in method. One of Beto’s signature campaign events has been “running town halls” in which dozens, and often hundreds of Texans gather and go for a run with Beto. These runs often begin before 6 AM, but nevertheless, hundreds turn out to jog with the Senate hopeful, and to engage with him along the way. The running town halls contextualize Beto’s campaign–he’s young and is putting a spin on a traditional campaign event. He is also constantly campaigning, even during his daily workout, and he is doing so before sunrise. Not only is it clear that Beto is genuinely enjoying himself at these events, but one also gets the sense that at the turn of a heel, the former college rower could leave the hundreds of runners in the dust.
Leaving Cruz in the Dust
Beto’s rise is so astounding not only because of the unprecedented excitement he has created, but also in his unprecedented fundraising feats. Beto has raised the most money of any Senate candidate ever, totaling $70 Million since announcing his campaign. This includes a staggering $38.1 Million in the last three months alone. To put this into perspective, the next highest fundraising senate candidates are Governor Rick Scott ($69 Million) and Senator Claire McCaskill ($33 Million) both of whom are established and experienced politicians running extraordinarily tight races in battleground states. Senator Ted Cruz, whom Beto is challenging, has raised around $30 Million, meaning in the last fundraising quarter alone, Beto has raised 127% more than Cruz has raised in the entire race.
Beto’s unprecedented fundraising push has resulted in him fundraising more than a number of major presidential candidates did in their 2016 election campaigns, including Governor John Kasich, Governor Jeb Bush, and Senator Marco Rubio. All the more impressives is the campaign’s commitment to “No PACs – just people,” meaning that Beto has fundraised purely from individuals, spurning any money from PACS or special interest groups.
Texas’s Revealing Voting History
By all means, Beto’s rise seems surprising, if not unprecedented. A look at Texas’s voting history, however, shows that this shift may not be surprising at all, and reveals serious precedent for major shifts in Texas’s voting patterns. To understand the great political swings of Texas, one can find fascinating patterns by examining the voting history of Texas. For almost the last century, Texas voting patterns have seen two major political shifts, each of which covered 10 presidential election.
For the 10 presidential elections from 1940-1976, Texas voted blue in seven out of the 10 elections. During those 80 senate years, the senators of Texas were Democrats for 61 of them.
Texas voted red in the ten presidential elections since 1976. During those 80 senate years, 63 years saw Republican senators.
The next 10 presidential elections may once again see a shift, and a look at the four most recent presidential elections reveals that a new shift may have already begun. Since the 2004 election, Texas has shown decreasing support for the Republican presidential candidate:
‘04 – 61.1% (Bush)
‘08 – 55.5%, (McCain)
‘12 – 57.2%, (Romney)
‘16 – 52.2%. (Trump)
Notably, President Trump received the least support of any Republican presidential candidate in Texas since Bob Dole in 1996.
This all brings us to 2020, the start of a new 10 election cycle. Once one understands Texas’s legacy as a blue, then red, state, Texas suddenly seems far more intriguing as a political battleground, especially considering its position as the second most powerful electoral state in the nation.
The population of Texas isn’t changing their political beliefs because it has been 10 elections. The shift in Texas’s politics is being powered by massive population growth and major demographic changes as a result of the growth.
Texas’s Major Demographic Shift
By every metric, Texas is in the midst of booming growth. From 2010-2017, Texas’s population grew an astounding 12.6%, in comparison with the United State’s population growth of 5.5%. This has resulted in a boom for Texas’s urban areas; last year five out of the top 12 American cities that grew the most by raw population were in Texas, and seven out of the top 13 American cities that grew the most by percentage were also in Texas.
Texas’s growth is being fueled by an influx of young, ethnically diverse people, coming from other states as well as other countries. From 2012-2016, people coming from other countries accounted for 3.9% of Texas’s population growth. Primarily, though, the growth is being fueled by Americans relocating to Texas from other states, such as California, which saw more residents leave for Texas than any other state between 2012-2016. The new Texans tend to be young, which has led Texas to be the fourth youngest state in the country. Furthermore, the people coming to Texas tend to be from a diversity of ethnic backgrounds. Since 2010, Texas has gained four times as many Hispanics as white residents, and the increase in Asian Americans in Texas is almost equal to the increase in white Texans during that span as well. This has resulted in the reality that hispanics residents will outnumber white residents in Texas in the next decade, with estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicating that this could be as early as 2022.
When one looks at Texas and its monumental demographic shift of late, it is easier to understand why what was once considered the red heartland of America, is no longer so. An influx of young residents coming from liberal places, and major growth among the hispanic population both support the notion that Texas will consistently have more and more blue voters. As of October 13th, Beto was outperforming against Cruz among Hispanic voters 62-35; Hispanic voters are not only the future of Texas, but an incredibly large part of the present.
A Revolution in Texas
As 2020 approaches, the rise of Beto, the incredible demographic shift in Texas, and the start of a new 40 year cycle in Texas voting all point to the perfect storm for Texas to flip to a blue state. For Texas to actually flip, though, it isn’t enough for the table to be set; it will require serious Democratic voter turnout.
In truth, the revolution in Texas has already begun. The election in November will bring a decision on the upcoming senate seat in Texas. Beto has made impressive gains in recent polls, but it is likely that Ted Cruz will be prevail in this battle. The real war, however, revolves around 2020 when young, new Texans, and older Texans ready for a change, have another opportunity to charge to the ballot box. As Willie Nelson said, “the biggest gun we’ve got is called the ballot box;” red Texans have always loved their guns, will blue Texans love their ballot boxes?