FORT WORTH, Texas — Narrowing polls and heavy early voting turnout among new voters pushed the nonpartisan Cook Political Report to move Texas from its “Leans Republican” column to “Toss Up” state status in the 2020 presidential race.
Cook Political Report, an independent newsletter that tracks races across the nation, moved Texas on Wednesday.
Cook is viewed with reliability, said Kimi Lynn King, professor of political science at The University of North Texas.
“And they use the kind of standard scientific measures we like to see,” she added.
Another news network moved Texas into its “Toss Up” category on Tuesday.
“Some of this is wishful thinking by the national media,” said Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy, who said Democrats have been talking about flipping the state for years.
“I always tell them don’t believe it until you see the election results turning that way. So far, it hasn’t happened," he said.
But Kennedy and King said the reasoning behind Cook’s move makes sense.
Texas has almost two million more registered voters than it had in 2016.
Many of the voters taking part in early voting have no voting history in the state, so how they will vote is anybody’s guess.
“This is the most intense guessing game I’ve ever seen,” Kennedy said. “You have a quarter of the vote that has no history, so everybody is really making things up at this point.”
“Are they coming out to vote Democratic because they’re mad? Or, are they new Republicans coming out to vote to preserve low taxes? Why are they voting? That’s what we don’t know," he said.
President Donald Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016, but Republican Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Democrat Beto O’Rourke in 2018 by less than 215,000 votes, or 2.6%.
No Democrat has been elected to statewide office in Texas since 1994, when Bob Bullock was re-elected lieutenant governor. He did not run again in 1998.
That means an entire generation of Texans has known nothing but Republicans holding every statewide office.
Nor does that generation know what it’s like for a presidential campaign to make a run in Texas late in the fall.
Kennedy said the last Democratic presidential candidate to stop in North Texas in the final hours before an election was Bill Clinton in 1992.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris will be visiting McAllen, Houston and Fort Worth on Friday – four days before Election Day.
That’s an indicator that things have gotten close and Democrats are “within range of overtaking the race,” Kennedy said.
Polls show a tight margin between Joe Biden and President Trump, but King cautioned that while polls predict behavior, they cannot promise what someone will do.
“What ultimately matters is when you and I walk into the polling place and nobody else knows how we’re going to vote,” she said.
Kennedy said it is a close election, but rural Texas might still have the power to overtake the urban vote.
“Giant rural West Texas will vote 85% red,” he said. “All the rural Texans are coming out just as strong and turning out just as heavily.”