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Analysis: Texas Isn’t Really Purple. Is It?

A new poll suggests the leading Republican candidate is tied with the leading Democratic candidate in the presidential race in Texas. Discuss.

Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are facing off in the 2016 presidential election.

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What if a Republican won the presidency while losing the state of Texas?

It would be bigger than huge news. It would be gigantic. A leviathan. Elephantine.

It hasn’t happened since 1968, when Richard Nixon won the presidency while finishing behind Democrat Hubert Humphrey by 38,960 votes in Texas.

It’s unlikely to happen this year — not that anything else has gone according to the probabilities and predictions during this election cycle.

In fact, a Democratic win in Texas would be astonishing even in a year when a Democrat was winning nationally.

A new Washington Post/Survey Monkey poll of the presidential race has the top two contenders nose to nose in this presumptively red state. They polled all 50 states, asking more than 74,000 voters for their opinions in an effort to grab a big-enough sample to get statistically defensible numbers from each state.

Here’s their Texas take: In a survey of a two-person race, Hillary Clinton got 46 percent of the vote, Donald Trump got 45 percent and 9 percent of voters registered no opinion. In a poll of a four-person race, those two tied in Texas with 40 percent each, while Libertarian Gary Johnson got 11 percent, Green Jill Stein got 3 percent and 6 percent registered no opinion.

Their understated analysis: “Texas splits about evenly between Clinton and Trump in the new poll. That’s a significant change from past elections in the traditionally Republican stronghold.”

No kidding.

Nothing is impossible, but a lot of things that haven’t happened in a long time would have to take place to make this particular poll come out right.

No Democrat has won a presidential election in Texas since 1976, when Georgia’s Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in that post-Watergate, post-Nixon pardon election.

No Democrat has received 46 percent in a statewide election in Texas since El Paso’s Bill Moody did it in a Texas Supreme Court race in 2006; if you allow rounding, you can lasso in Sam Houston, who got 45.9 percent in another Supreme Court race in 2008.

We haven’t seen a close general election race for president in Texas in a while. How have the Democrats done since that 1976 showing? Not so hot: Carter got 41.4 percent in his 1980 re-election bid against Ronald Reagan. Walter Mondale in 1984 got 36.1 percent; Michael Dukakis in 1988, 43.4 percent; Bill Clinton in 1992, 37.1 percent; Clinton’s re-election in 1996, 43.8 percent; Al Gore in 2000, 38 percent; John Kerry in 2004, 38.2 percent; Barack Obama in 2008, 43.7 percent; and Obama’s re-election in 2012, 41.4 percent.

You’d have to get an unusually strong positive performance from Clinton or an unusually strong negative performance from Trump to roll those numbers over.

Each candidate is viewed negatively by scads of voters — particularly by voters who don’t share their respective party labels. Clinton does fairly well in Texas, for a Democrat: She beat Obama in the 2008 primary, getting 50.9 percent of the vote to his 47.4 percent. But she’s never been on a general election ballot here, and Bill Clinton finished second both times he was on it.

Nothing is impossible, but a lot of things that haven’t happened in a long time would have to take place to make this particular poll come out right.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was the preferred presidential candidate in the Texas Republican primary in March, pulling in 43.8 percent of the vote. Trump was second, with 26.8 percent. So he didn’t come close to the native son, but Trump has never been on a general election ballot here.

Trump is hoping Clinton leaves Texas with the same red state blues that beset her husband in his presidential runs.

The Washington Post/Survey Monkey poll had Clinton in front nationally and in the Electoral College even with an indecisive number in Texas. If that’s correct when the votes are tallied, the Texas result might not matter in the overall outcome.

But a result like that, improbable as it might seem, would matter in other races.

This election year has a handful of statewide races other than the one for president, and the candidates there might see more fallout — positive and negative — from the top race than most other candidates.

At the top is a four-candidate, open-seat contest for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission, followed by five more contests — three for the Texas Supreme Court and two for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — that each have Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Greens in the running. The third criminal court race on the ballot has everything but a Green Party candidate running.

At the least, these 27 Texans will be watching very, very closely:



More columns from Ross Ramsey:

It’s both unofficial and traditional to call Labor Day the beginning of the intense action in a general election year, and it still carries a shred of truth. The slates are set. Summer vacations are over. This election is on.

That big political race on the surface hides a very quiet state ballot down below. In fact, a surprising number of the members of the Legislature and of the Texas delegation to Congress face no major-party opposition in November.

The symmetry was swell, with confirmation of Rick Perry’s appearance on "Dancing With the Stars" landing on what would have been the 72nd birthday of Molly Ivins, the state’s most famous connoisseur of political humor.

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