Bud Kennedy

For Texas Democrats, the bad news gets worse

This was never going to be Texas Democrats’ year, maybe not their decade.

But in a year when Texas voters were drifting toward church-backed conservatives on the right, Democrats turned left.

The result: an average 17-point lead for all statewide Republicans in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll that simply shows how little this state has changed.

For a half-century, regardless of party, Texans have polled as half conservative and one-third liberal, with the rest in the middle of the road with what Democrat Jim Hightower said were “yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

The new Texas Tribune poll showed Republicans’ average edge as 51-34 percent, with gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott leading Democrat Wendy Davis 54-38.

“Texas is and always has been a conservative-leaning state,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a Texas Christian University political science professor for 32 of his 60 years.

The poll reflects Texas’ pattern almost exactly, although movement conservatives have shifted Republicans closer to church and Tea Party doctrine.

So Texas hasn’t changed, and neither has the Democrat in the White House.

“All national elections are in part referendums on the president,” Riddlesperger said, and President Barack Obama is facing the typical political pushback against any second-term incumbent.

If Obama is a problem for Democrats, so is Davis, or at least her earnest but impersonal campaign.

The most telling poll might have come in April, when North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling found that 47 percent of Texas voters already didn’t like the Fort Worth Democrat.

That was twice the negative rating for 2010 Democratic nominee Bill White of Houston at a similar stage of the campaign, and he lost to Rick Perry by 12 percent.

In the new Tribune poll, Davis is disliked by 44 percent of voters, 10 percent worse than Abbott.

If Davis can’t outperform White, political science professor Matthew Wilson of Southern Methodist University wrote by email, “Democrats nationally would have to be very disappointed.”

Given Texas’ demographic and population change, he wrote, “it would mean that she failed to make meaningful inroads among married Anglo women, and that she failed to galvanize and mobilize” Hispanic voters.

But “Davis, a North Texas Anglo who came to prominence as a champion of late-term abortion, never was especially well-positioned to do that,” Wilson wrote.

As it turns out, the most influential woman in this campaign might be Abbott’s San Antonio mother-in-law, Lucy Segura Phalen.

She starred in a TV commercial and is at least partly credited for Abbott’s strong showing among Hispanic voters. He’s virtually tied with Davis among Hispanics in the Tribune poll.

Abbott also wins women voters.

“If Democrats ever thought that Texans as a whole were going to embrace progressivism, they were kidding themselves,” Wilson wrote.

“Even Davis has tried to run away from her more decidedly leftist stances.”

Meanwhile, one of the strongest Democrats in the poll is Cleburne agricultural commissioner candidate Jim Hogan, an anti-politician who promised not to campaign, advertise or ask for any money.

Against Stephenville Republican Sid Miller, Hogan has 35 percent.

In other words, by staying home, he is polling better than most Democrats.

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