As Democratic presidential candidates are descending on Houston for their next debate, their party is more competitive in Texas than in decades.
Several congressional and legislative seats are in reach, and there’s even talk a Democrat could outpoll Donald Trump, which would reverse a 40-year trend. Tarrant County is a huge part of that; it’s been the state’s largest red county but is solidly purple these days.
Two native sons, Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke, will be among the 10 candidates on stage Thursday, both looking for a breakthrough. And the Texas primary is rapidly approaching. It’s the second-biggest prize available in the nominating contest, and our voters will start going to the polls just four weeks after Iowa kicks things off early next year.
And yet, Thursday night’s debate could hurt the cause far more than help. Democratic candidates have spent months leaping over each other to get further to the left on issues that matter most to the state, immigration and energy chief among them.
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Texas may be trending in a new direction, but it’s not suddenly Massachusetts. So here’s what we hope to hear from the 10 candidates — and some advice, in case they don’t want to squander the moment.
Immigration: We don’t expect a lot of tough talk on border security. Frankly, we’ve heard enough of that from the current president. But Texans do want a president who will ensure both order and compassion in our immigration system.
Democrats need to spell out how they would finally overcome gridlock on the issue and lead the nation to a comprehensive approach that address border security, the status of those here illegally, and how to craft the immigration system the nation needs as part of a modern workforce.
We expect any Democratic successor would have a very different approach from Trump. If that includes reversing asylum policy and allowing claimants to stay in the U.S. while their cases are considered, we need to hear how you’ll help manage the flow of migrants from Central America.
What will you do to ensure facilities are adequate? How will your administration ease the burden on local communities in Texas, including our schools?
Energy: No industry is more important to Texas, and talk of eliminating fossil fuels within 10 or 12 years strikes us as all hat, no cattle.
One of your frontrunners, Elizabeth Warren, says she’d shut down the fracking industry on day one. Thousands of Texans would be suddenly unemployed, and the entire nation would see a drastic spike in energy costs.
Hydraulic fracturing has its flaws, but it has fueled tremendous economic growth, especially in the Fort Worth-area’s Barnett Shale. Threats to shut it off are a quick way to lose the argument here.
But Texans are open to change. We’ve led the way on wind power. Talk sensibly about the long-term transitions needed, not unrealistic steps that would cripple our economy.
Defense: Democrats typically want to rein in military spending, and that sets off alarm bells for Fort Worth leaders and workers. We hope you’ll show commitment to the programs and companies that have done much to maintain the nation’s robust defense. And we’re eager to hear your plans to help veterans, particularly with health care, and support active-duty families. There’s a lot of both in Texas.
Simply put, your party has an unprecedented opportunity in Texas. More Texans are listening to you than in the past. But they need to hear a balanced message, or many may quickly tune out.