On Nov. 4, Texans will cast their votes in the gubernatorial election of 2014. And the look of Texas politics could change for the first time in over a decade.
While Sen. Wendy Davis (D) and Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) are leading the polls thus far, Libertarian Party candidate Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Brandon Parmer are also in the ballot.
Texas has been a Republican state since 1995 with the election of Gov. Rick Perry who was preceded by then Gov. George W. Bush. Prior to Bush, Ann Richards (D) held the governor’s office. But with elections less than two weeks away, polls such as Rasmussen Reports are predicting a continuation of the current party.
Dr. Michelle Payne, associate professor of political science at Texas Wesleyan, entered the talk on the 2014 election. A win for Abbott would continue a 19-year tradition, while Davis winning would change the face of Texas politics.
“If Davis wins, the Democrats likely will tip the scales towards a purple hue,” Payne said. “Politics in Texas will be different. They have been the same for a very long time under states’ right activist Gov. Perry, and he, and his party, will be absent, which can result in a tremendous shift across the face of Texas politics.
“On the other hand, if Abbott wins, experts claim nothing much will change, and it will be business as usual,” she said.
Davis’ campaign has focused on women and children rights. And Payne believes those issues may benefit Davis at the polls.
“If you look the Republicans don’t have much of a platform,” Payne said. “Davis had education and women’s rights. Abbott is looking for Hispanic sympathy, while Davis is working for teachers and women voters, and is doing pretty good with it.”
Likewise, Payne said Abbott’s push for voter ID laws could hinder votes for both parties.
“That may cause problems for both candidates,” she said. “In the last election the ID requirement was given some exceptions at the local level — I am not sure if those will extend to this election. It should be unconstitutional, anyhow!”
Vying for Davis’ soon-to-be-former senate seat, Libby Willis (D) is charged with trying to keep the seat Democrat.
“SD10 [Senate District] is a hot race with millions of big PAC [political action committee] money being contributed,” Payne said. “It is one of the key races for Texas as well. Third parties are likely to cause Dan Patrick [nominee for lieutenant governor] some issues, but that is another story.”
Dr. Trevor Morris, professor of political science at Wesleyan, doesn’t see Texas’ red state status changing, at least not during this election.
“The demographics of the state are changing” he said. “But Texas will remain a red state in the near future. Republicans have stronger support among older, white and rural populations, and Democrats from younger, minority and urban populations. The former is shrinking while the latter is growing, so the trend points to Texas becoming purple in the future, but that’s probably two or three or more elections cycles from happening.”
Consequently, Morris’ prediction is a win for Abbott, which will maintain the Republican status of the governor’s seat.
“This is probably not a very significant election in terms of result,” he said. “Republicans have held the Governor mansion and the legislature for two decades, and this is highly unlikely to change in this election. Greg Abbott [is] well-funded, won state-wide office before, and there has not been any dramatic change in the electorate or issues.”
Although Davis has caught the media’s attention with her 11-hour standoff: a filibuster for women’s rights and wheelchair ad, Morris doesn’t believe the attention will be enough to sway voters.
“There might be a greater turnout, but it will contribute to both candidates,” Morris said. “Factors like the Voter ID law will hurt Davis though her finances and get-out-the-vote efforts might offset that. If the margin of victory is less than 10 points (it was 13 points in 2010) that would indicate the state is slowly becoming more competitive.”
But then there’s the question of the voter identification laws: whether the laws will make it more difficult for minority voters to go to the polls.
“As it stands the Vote ID law will depress voter turnout,” Morris said. “Some estimates are that over half a million potential voters won’t be voting because of the new requirements, and they are mainly [Hispanic, black and youth voters]. Less than 500 voters without ID have gotten the free voter ID.”
And according to an Oct. 18 article by the Associate Press in Washington, the actual number of otherwise eligible voters number in the thousands.
“The law was struck down by a federal judge [two weeks ago], but a federal appeals court had put that ruling on hold,” the article noted. “The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification.”
But Texas has surpassed its previous record number of registered voters. Nandita Berry, Texas secretary of state, announced on Oct. 16 that registered voters number over 14 million.
Although the current polls show Abbott with a double-digit lead, Payne offers a brief bit of advice.
“Watch, but never completely trust, the polls!” she said.