Julián Castro at his campaign announcement in January and Beto O’Rourke at a campaign event in September 2018. (Julia Reihs (left) and Montinique Monroe / KUT)
With former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s announcement today, two Texas Democrats are now seeking the presidential nomination in 2020.
“It is surprising,” said longtime Democratic strategist Colin Strother. “It’s the first time, I believe, it’s happened in my lifetime.”
Strother said he long expected Julian Castro, former HUD secretary and San Antonio mayor, to run. Castro announced he was seeking the presidency in January.
“We could see that coming after his stellar performance in the Democratic National Convention in 2012,” he said. “People saw that, ‘Hey, this guy is special; we should keep an eye on him.’ Beto, however, came out of nowhere.”
The last Texas Democrat to run for president was four-term U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. Bentsen unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1976. He was later on Michael Dukakis’ ticket as the vice presidential nominee in 1988.
This isn’t, of course, the first time two Texans have run for the presidency at the same time. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz both unsuccessfully ran for Republican Party’s nomination in 2016.
Texas Republicans have a long and successful history of running for president. In recent years, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush won the presidency as candidates from the sate.
Manny Garcia, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said it’s clear political winds are changing in Texas, which is why two Democrats are wading into the crowded field of primary candidates this year.
“It shows that Texas Democrats are making massive changes,” Garcia said. “Texas Democrats have been growing stronger and stronger every year and every election cycle.”
Neither Castro nor O’Rourke have won statewide elections in Texas so far. Even though Democrats gained 12 state House seats during the 2018 midterms, Democrats are still struggling to win statewide.
Garcia said early polling in Texas so far has shown a small opening for Democrats. According to a recent University of Texas at Austin/ Texas Tribune poll, Texas voters are split on whether they would vote to re-elect Donald Trump. Of the Texans surveyed, 49 percent said they would definitely or probably vote for Trump in 2020 – while 51 percent said they probably or definitely would not.
Garcia said it helps that two Democratic presidential campaigns are going to be campaigning from Texas.
“Going into 2020, it’s become very clear that Texas is a huge battleground state,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot for folks to be excited about.”