11/06/2014 11:34 am ET Updated Jan 06, 2015

Latinos Aren't Going to Save Democrats in Texas

There's no shortage of analysis about the Democratic electoral debacle of 2014, both nationally and in Texas. Various observers will address particular points and provide certain suggestions, but let me focus anyone reading this piece on one figure: 40 percent. That number is the percentage of the Latino vote in Texas that I previously suggested is necessary for the Republican Party to maintain a strong working majority of the general election vote in Texas.

So what percentage of the Latino vote did Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott get in his victory over the Democratic nominee, State Senator Wendy Davis? Forty-four percent, according to exit polling from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. If one breaks those numbers down by gender, 50 percent of Latino men and 39 percent of Latina women voted for Abbott. While African-American voters in Texas went 92 percent in favor of Davis, 73 percent of non-Latino white voters supported Abbott. Other exit polling largely matches the UT-Austin numbers. That combination of Anglo and Latino voters gave Abbott the landslide victory he achieved on Election Day.

I've long argued that Democrats in Texas should not rely on demographics to turn Texas blue, or at least purple. While it may be vulgar to quote oneself, here's what I wrote on that point in April of 2012:

But I will say this -- Texas Democrats who think that demographic tides will turn in a manner that will save them are being complacent and are making a terrible mistake. Latino voters in Texas may not be moving en masse to the GOP, but they are up for grabs. The Democratic Party needs to reach out to them and should not assume that they will support the Democratic Party as a matter of course.

The results of the 2014 elections vindicate that position. Democrats who think that the Latino vote is a lock for the Democratic Party need to be disabused of that false assumption immediately. The numbers cited above show that. Also, if one looks at county-by-county data, Greg Abbott was able to get strong pluralities in many of the generally pro-Democratic Latino counties of South Texas.

The GOP in Texas has shown that it is willing to reach out to Latino voters and a large portion of such voters are willing to vote for Republican candidates. While there are elements in the Texas GOP that will have their Pete Wilson moments, by and large the Republican Party in Texas avoided such moments in 2014 and Democrats can no longer act as though it's just a matter of time for demographics to turn Texas blue.

This election shows that the Republican Party in Texas is quite capable of making a play for a solid portion of the Texas Latino vote. If Democrats want to have any hope of changing the dynamics of statewide politics in Texas, they need to lose their illusions about a coming tide of Latino voters who will save them. They need to work to expand their lead among Latino voters and find a way to bring in a decent percentage of current non-Latino GOP voters into the fold. If they fail to do both, their wait for a demographic transformation will be a very long one that may never end.