It is possible as a reporter immersed in Texas politics to not see the forest for the trees.
Last weekend, I read an interview in Salon with Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.
She is also an election analyst whose forecast of big Democratic gains in the 2018 midterm election that enabled Democrats to gain control of the U.S. House was uncannily, uniquely accurate. She is now using the same model to forecast that any Democratic presidential candidate will win a minimum of 278 electoral votes in 2020 against President Donald Trump, eight more than the 270 needed to win.
But even more interesting to me, she is predicting that, if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the D-trip, as she and others commonly call it — applies resources generously and wisely, it could flip nine Texas House seats in 2020, half again as many as the six seats the DCCC is now targeting.
In addition to what will be open seats now held by Republicans in the 23rd, where Will Hurd is not seeking reelection; the 22nd, where Pete Olson is retiring; and the 24th, where Kenny Marchant joined the Texodus; the DCCC is also setting its sights on the 21st, held by freshman Chip Roy; the 31st, held by veteran John Carter; and the 10th, which now belongs to Austin’s Michael McCaul.
But Bitecofer also includes three districts on her list that are not now on the DCCC target list — the 25th Congressional District, where Democrat Julie Oliver is making a second run at incumbent Roger Williams, also of Austin; the 2nd, held by freshman Dan Crenshaw; and the 3rd, held by another freshman, Van Taylor, who I’ve never before heard mentioned as potential Democratic target of opportunity.
In fact, according to Bitecofer, nine of the Democrats’ 18 best chances for pickups in 2020 congressional races nationally are in Texas, which makes it, in her estimation, Ground Zero next year.
I interviewed Bitecofer Monday and realized that it’s not so much that her analysis flies in the face of conventional wisdom about Texas politics, as it flies above it.
Her model is based on what was at first an intuition Trump was going to drive college-educated voters, often with a lax history of voting participation, to turn out against him in unprecedented and realigning ways — and she said, that is what is happening, and she predicts will continue to happen through 2020.
Her analysis has important implications.
If she is right, 2020 is not about changing voters’ minds, or Democrats peeling off some moderate Republican voters. It’s about turning out a whole different set of college-educated Democratic and independent voters who will be drawn to the polls by their animus toward Trump, which he has stoked virtually every waking hour since he was elected. Yes, Trump being Trump drives up Republican turnout, but Republicans are already more dependable voters. It’s Democratic turnout that has the most room to grow.
“Keep in mind, we’re talking about Gen X and millennial suburbanites who lean liberal or are liberal but not that politically engaged,” Bitecofer told me. “That’s the wave. Not moderate Rs.”
Under Bitecofer’s model, it doesn’t really matter if the Democratic congressional candidate is a fire-breathing progressive or a milquetoast moderate, as long as they remind voters that the election is all about Trump.
Bitecofer exudes confidence in her forecast.
Of McCaul, she said, “He’s a dead man walking if the DCCC drops money in that race, and then it doesn’t really matter who the Democrats nominate. Other handicappers will have it as `lean red’ when they do their races, and I will have it as ‘will flip’ if the DCCC has put it on its list.”
It’s all about the data, said Bitecofer, who changed the way I’m looking at 2020 in Texas.
“The worst thing that could happen to Republicans is if the D-trip finds my data and sees it the way you do,” she said.