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Analysis: Texas, the eyes of others are upon you in 2020

There’s a lot going on here. And Texas, accustomed to sitting in the back of the room in presidential election years, is getting a lot of attention.

President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

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The speaker of the U.S. House knows a thing or two about politics, and she said in Austin last weekend that the 2020 elections won’t be nationalized — that national issues and controversies won’t be at the center of voters’ attention.

Nancy Pelosi could be right about the subject matter of the 2020 elections. Candidates may well be talking about issues like health care, education, guns and immigration — and not about the antics and adventures of the chief executive of the United States. But whatever voters are talking about, Texas will be at the center of things.

Start with the fact that Pelosi, D-California, was onstage at The Texas Tribune Festival talking to the Tribune’s Evan Smith the same week that the House was starting an inquiry about impeaching President Donald Trump. It was pretty busy at the U.S. Capitol, but she made the trip.

Or how about Trump himself announcing that he will be in Dallas for an Oct. 17 rally where, among other things, he’s sure to argue his case against that House proceeding, which he has repeatedly called a politically motivated effort to dethrone him.

For seasoning, sprinkle on the news of a sixth Texas RepublicanMac Thornberry of Clarendon — deciding he has enjoyed all of the time in Congress he can stand. He and two others are in solid Republican territory; three more are in districts where candidates from either party could win.

And garnish it with former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions’ decision, after losing his seat in 2018, to run for Congress again, but in a seat far down the highway from the district he lost. He’s moving from Dallas to Waco for a grab at a safer Republican seat than the one he lost. All he has to do is unpack and convince the locals he’s one of them.

There’s a lot going on here. And Texas, accustomed to sitting in the back of the room in presidential election years, is getting a lot of attention.

You won’t be surprised to hear that Pelosi stopped to raise money in Texas while she was here, and to rally Texas Democrats who hope to gain seats in Congress in 2020 and, if everything goes their way, to win a majority in the Texas House at the same time.

The 2018 results made Democrats a little giddy.

Not that the numbers don’t back them up. They — and the Republicans, too — believe congressional seats that weren’t competitive before could be in play. In the 150-member House, 31 members won their seats by fewer than 5 percentage points last year. The Democrats remain in the minority, but they unseated two Republicans in Congress, unseated a dozen in the Texas House and netted a one-seat gain in the Texas Senate by losing a special election and then winning two challenges in the general election.

Pelosi and her troops have sent political workers to Texas to increase the congressional numbers. Suburban Democrats and Republicans are preparing for battle. And some — like Dallas County Republican Party Chair Rodney Anderson — are admitting publicly at TribFest that the president at the top of the ballot could make it more difficult for down-ballot Republicans to win over independents and moderates.

Republicans find themselves in the same soup Democrats were in a few years ago, explaining how they’re different — or not — from a president who isn’t popular with a sizable number of their voters. For them, it was Barack Obama. Now it’s Donald Trump.

An election this week — there isn’t one — would probably be about impeachment, one way or the other. That’s what people are talking about. But Anderson and others hear about other things when they talk to voters —school safety, immigration, transportation, property taxes and so on — and those could well be the driving concerns when people cast their votes next year.

But the Pelosis and the Trumps and all the others will be back. It’s not that Texas has turned blue, but that its red has faded enough to open some possibilities.

It might not be a national election here, in the sense that national issues and concerns dominate every conversation on the ballot. Pelosi knows her stuff, presumably, and she says it won’t be that sort of election. But there is a national thread here, with Texas at the center of the thoughts of national political leaders, from the White House to Congress. Texas is still red, but it’s big and its politics are changing. They can’t take their eyes off of us.

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