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Democratic primaries have been fairly low-turnout affairs in Texas politics in recent years, likely reflective of Republicans’ long-held control of the state. Despite steady growth in registration — Texas has added more than three million voters to the rolls in the last decade — Democratic primary voting has remained lackluster. With one major exception – 2008.
Many Texas Democrats remember the epic 2008 presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The two campaigns spent millions. TV and radio airwaves were saturated, mailboxes were full, and canvassers hit the streets. And Texans responded.
2.9 million people showed up for the Democratic primary a decade ago, more than 22 percent of Texas’ 12.7 million registered voters. And Hillary Clinton eked out a narrow 100,000 popular vote victory.
No Texas primary election before or since 2008 has rivaled the Obama-Clinton heavyweight fight, but there are signs the 2020 Democratic contest could seize the mantle. Why the big expectations?
Put simply, Texas matters in the 2020 presidential nomination contest, bigly.
The Iowa Caucus kicks things off on February 3, followed in short order by New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Exactly one month after Iowa comes Super Tuesday on March 3. 13 states, including Texas and California, will make their choice of who gets a shot at the Trump title fight in the fall.
With 262 delegates at stake, Texas represents 14 percent of the total needed to secure the Democratic nomination. And unless one candidate is able to win 85 percent of the vote or more (highly unlikely), multiple candidates can win crucially important delegates. So just like 2008, the presidential hopefuls must play here and play big.
So what’s different now from a dozen years ago? For one thing, Texas has a whole lot more voters. There were 12.75 million registered as of the March 2008 primary. By November 2018, 15.79 million were on the rolls, and that number will likely surpass 16 million by next March.
What else? Oh yeah, instead of six candidates on the ballot in 2008 (including Joe Biden who earned a whopping 0.2 percent of the vote), there are currently 23 Democrats running for president. No way all of them are still around by next March, but a bunch still will be, likely including two Texans – Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke.
We now have way more registered voters than 2008, a whole bunch of candidates spending whatever money they can, not to mention some spirited contests down ballot. Democratic turnout in March 2020 could easily approach four million, and that is a Texas-sized primary.