On just about any political polling map you can name, the state of Texas is always reliably Red. A former Texas governor is now the president (such as he is); we've got a Republican governor, both our U.S. senators are Republican, and Tom DeLay's famous and evil redistricting scheme, which caused all the state Democratic congressmen to literally leave the state and hide out in New Mexico to avoid voting for it -- gave the U.S. Congress five more Republicans in the following election.
But those maps don't tell the whole story. The truth is that Texas is turning more purple every day.
Weekend endorsements from the Dallas Morning News, which backed John McCain, and the Houston Chronicle and theAustin American Statesman, which endorsed Barack Obama, are perfect examples of the split personality of the state of Texas at this time, and the changing nature of that personality.
And a dead-on example of that is Dallas county. Once a bastion of conservatism, it would appear on the surface to still be one, since, after all, the Morning News did endorse McCain, revealing their bias in this telling statement:
"Americans approach this election in understandable fear and anger, especially at the incumbent Republican president who, however unjustly, bears the brunt of the blame for the crisis. " (emphasis mine)
This is the kind of little editorial caveat, buried in the middle of a sentence, that reveals a great deal. Somehow, the man who has been president for the past eight years is NOT TO BLAME for the wreckage he has made not only of his own presidency, but of the nation.
The editorial goes on to point out all the times McCain bucked his own party--not mentioning, of course, that he has reversed himself on all those things, and to dwell for an entire paragraph on the deficit, which bothers the paper, apparently, more than any other problem facing the country. (Ranking economists on both sides of the political aisle agree that the deficit is actually the LEAST of our problems right now.)
But what the editorial says is meaningless in the face of the REALITY of what is going on in Dallas country right now.
In 2006, EVERY SINGLE DALLAS COUNTY ELECTION SPOT WAS WON BY DEMOCRATS, from judges to dogcatcher.
In fact, as former Democratic gubanatorial candidate Chris Bell wrote on the website, The Texas Blue, there is growing excitement among Texas Democrats statewide:
"People in Texas woke up after the 2006 election and realized a new day had dawned. Gone was the skepticism and despair which had driven us to our lowest point. People all across the state were ready to fight another day.
"Nowhere has the awakening been any greater than here at home in Harris County. Shortly after the 2006 election, after seeing the successful effort in Dallas County, a committee was formed to try to recruit judicial candidates since that had been so difficult in the past. There was no need for a recruitment committee. People were lining up to run for judge in Harris County and now there will be contested Democratic Primary races for a large number of benches. We also have great candidates for every other county office.
"The Harris County Democratic Party's Johnson Rayburn Dinner had attracted 300 or so people in 2006. In 2007, over 800 people purchased tickets and the ballroom was packed to the gills."
Bell goes on to describe numerous Democratic events he has attended statewide, with hundreds more in attendance than expected, and mentions that even the media "no longer treats the Republican party as invincible."
Harris county is, of course home to Houston, and this new blue flame is licking at a city's heels that once seemed the impregnable fortress of Bush Oilfield Republican Rule, and is still the home of George Bush 41.
According to Texas Blue, the 10th District, which encompasses a large area from the southwest suburbs of Austin to the northwest suburbs of Houston, has also benefitted from an influx of Democratic voters, putting its congressional seat into play.
The thing is, for the stalwart Houston Chronicle to endorse Barack Obama is big. Huge. Massive. Ginormous. (Okay, I'll stop now.):
"The incoming administration must immediately focus and engage on so many fronts. The tasks at hand will require stamina, creativity and leadership abilities to replace partisan gridlock with a national consensus on what is best for the American people. The new leadership team must have the intellect and temperament to tackle complex issues with equally sophisticated solutions. The current go-it-alone mentality in the White House on foreign policy must give way to an effort to work in concert with our allies while engaging our enemies at the negotiating table as well as on the battlefield.
"After carefully observing the Democratic and Republican nominees in drawn-out primary struggles as well as in the general campaign, including three debates, the Chronicle strongly believes that the ticket of Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden offers the best choice to lead the United States on a new course into the second decade of the 21st century.
"Obama appears to possess the tools to confront our myriad and daunting problems. He's thoughtful and analytical. He has met his opponents' attacks with calm and reasoned responses. Viewers of the debates saw a poised, well-prepared plausible president with well-articulated positions on the bread-and-butter issues that poll after poll indicate are the true concerns of voters. While Arizona Sen. John McCain and his running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have struck an increasingly personal and negative tone in their speeches, Obama has continued to talk about issues of substance."
They go on to say that while they hope Obama might be more amenable to the oil industry than he's been so far, they applaud his support of NASA. Like most of 104 other nationwide newspapers which have endorsed Obama, the Chronicle deplores McCain's campaign tactics and his choice of Sarah Palin as VP.
For the Austin American Statesman to endorse Obama is not quite so cataclysmic, since the state capitol and home to the University of Texas is known as a liberal town. However, the capitol itself has been pretty reliably Red in recent years, which makes the American Statesman's comments that much more satisfying:
"In the third and final debate last week, John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona, tried to bait him into the gutter, but Obama refused to get down there. Political wisdom dictates that candidates who are attacked return double the fire directed at them. Obama responded calmly, defending himself but declining to respond in kind.
"Now that's change."
They go on to play the "now that's change" meme all through the piece. I hope Tom DeLay's boys choked on it over their Cheerios Sunday morning, before leaving for church, where they could pretend to be righteous.
But it's not just the big cities of Texas that are turning purple.
A look at the congressional map put up by the Lone Star Project, shows a bright swath of blue right through the heart of West Texas--what I like to call the buckle of the Bush Bible Belt. The blue sections encompass areas in the vicinity of Midland--the town where Bush likes to pretend he grew up--the ultra-conservative Abilene, and the Panhandle town of Plainview, as well as deep East Piney Woods counties, (that puts the lie to the idea of total Redneck dominance).
As the accompanying article points out, this has come about IN SPITE OF DeLay's redistricting sheme. And we all know by now, much to my happy relish, DeLay himself lost his own seat in 2006 to a Democrat, Nick Lampson.
As Chris Bell pointed out in his piece, the purpling--even possible blueing--of the Lone Star State is not going to happen all at once, even with a Democratic lead candidate as charismatic and competent as the one we've got. It's happening, in fact, so gradually that the Republicans don't even seem to have noticed. This is still a state where neither top candidate ever visits during the final weeks of their campaigns, because they assume the state is too reliably Red for either one to worry about.
But this year, Obama is running ads in Texas around the clock. I see them all the time, and we pick up our local news feed from Abilene. His Texas organization is well-trained, well-funded, and well-organized. They're fighting for every single vote.
Over time, those votes are going to add up. Check in with me again in four years. By that time I think Texas is going to be purple.
By the end of President Obama's second term, it might even be blue.