The latest Texas Lyceum poll shows Hillary Clinton just seven points behind Donald Trump in this reliably red state. That’s unusually close. Republican presidential candidates have carried the state by double digits in every contest since 1996. Democrats are hoping Trump’s presence at the top of the GOP ticket will help them in down-ballot races as well.
If there’s one congressional race to watch in Texas this year, it’s the rematch between Republican Will Hurd and Democrat Pete Gallego in the 23rd district. It stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, and it includes much of the Texas-Mexico border, along which Trump says he will build a wall.
“Hurd is the incumbent, Gallego’s the previous incumbent, so they both have bases of support and know the district well,” says Erica Grieder, who is covering the contest as senior editor of Texas Monthly. “I think that’s the kind of case where the presidential contest can really seep over in a way that hurts.”
Closer to home, there are several Harris County contests in which a high turnout for Hillary Clinton could help Democratic challengers. Kim Ogg is hoping to win a rematch with Republican District Attorney Devon Anderson. Former City Councilmember Ed Gonzalez is challenging Republican Sheriff Ron Hickman. In any other year, Anderson and Hickman would have a big advantage as the current officeholders.
“If I’m a betting man, and I live in Texas, I never want to bet against incumbent Republican officeholders,” says Josh Blank is manager of polling and research for the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin. “Having said that, the increased interest that we see at least in the statewide numbers among Hispanic voters makes me think that, you know, the Democrats are probably looking at those seats and thinking that they have a chance.”
But that cuts both ways. Republicans who don’t like Trump might be tempted to stay home if the alternative were Senator Tim Kaine or some less familiar Democrat. “I’m skeptical that people would, let’s say, pass up an opportunity to vote against Hillary Clinton, if they’re likely to vote to begin with,” Blank says.
Brandon Rottinghaus, who teaches political science at the University of Houston, agrees. “The fact that you’ve got historic negatives for both Trump and Clinton could lead to a moment where they are less relevant than the candidates who are in front of you,” Rottinghaus says. “So if it’s that person knocking on your door, trying to make a case for why you should be part of the process and come vote for me, I think that gives those candidates an extra edge.”
In other words, local races are likely to boil down to which candidate can win over voters on his or her own, without much help from the top of the ballot.