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In land of Cruz, GOP message is ‘We have to go with who we have’

Volunteers sell Republican merchandise at a tea party meeting. Conservatives in Texas are torn over Donald Trump, but tried to rally around him at the meeting.
Volunteers sell Republican merchandise at a tea party meeting. Conservatives in Texas are torn over Donald Trump, but tried to rally around him at the meeting.

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Texas

Electoral votes: 38

Population*

27,469,114

Population change since 2010: 9.2 percent

*Estimated, July 1, 2015

Race and Hispanic origin

Non-Hispanic white: 43.0 percent

Black: 12.5 percent

Hispanic: 38.8 percent

Education**

High school graduate or higher: 81.6 percent

Bachelor’s degree or higher: 27.1 percent

**For people 25 or older

Economy

Real median household income, 2015: $56,473

Per-capita income, 2015: $46,745

Unemployment rate, August: 4.7 percent

Poverty rate: 15.9 percent

Congressional delegation

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Republican, took office in 2002

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican, took office in 2013

U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, Republican, took office in 2015

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, Republican, took office in 1985

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, Republican, took office in 1997

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, Republican, took office in 2003

U.S. Rep. John Carter, Republican, took office in 2003

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, Democrat, took office in 2013

U.S. Rep. Michael Conway, Republican, took office in 2005

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, Democrat, took office in 2005

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, Republican, took office in 2001

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Democrat, took office in 2013

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, Republican, took office in 2011

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, Republican, took office in 2011

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert Jr., Republican, took office in 2005

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, Republican, took office in 1997

U.S. Rep. Al Green, Democrat, took office in 2005

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, Democrat, took office in 1993

U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Republican, took office in 2003

U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, Democrat, took office in 1997

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, Republican, took office in 2015

U.S. Rep. Eddie Johnson, Democrat, took office in 1993

U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, Republican, took office in 1991

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat, took office in 1995

U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, Republican, took office in 2005

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, Republican, took office in 2005

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebaur, Republican, took office in 2003

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, Republican, took office in 2009

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Democrat, took office in 2013

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, Republican, took office in 2005

U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, Republican, took office in 2015

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, Republican, took office in 2003

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, Republican, took office in 1987

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, Republican, took office in 1995

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, Democrat, took office in 2013

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, Democrat, took office in 2013

U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, Republican, took office in 2013

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, Republican, took office in 2013

Governor

Greg Abbott, Republican, took office in 2015

Four of Texas’ past six governors, going back to 1979, have been Republicans

State Legislature

Republicans control both chambers of the state Legislature.

Recent presidential voting history

2012

Mitt Romney, Republican: 57.2 percent

Barack Obama, Democrat: 41.4 percent

2008

John McCain, Republican: 55.5 percent

Barack Obama, Democrat: 43.7 percent

2004

George W. Bush, Republican: 61.1 percent

John Kerry, Democrat: 38.2 percent

2000

George W. Bush, Republican: 59.3 percent

Al Gore, Democrat: 38.0 percent

1996

Robert Dole, Republican: 48.8 percent

Bill Clinton, Democrat: 43.8 percent

Texas last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1976.

2016 presidential primary

Democratic winner: Hillary Clinton, with 65.2 percent of the vote

Republican winner: Ted Cruz, with 43.8 percent of the vote

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Reserve, www.govtrack.us, Ballotpedia, 270towin.com, Texas Tribune

Shifting South

This is the sixth installment of a weekly series by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the political currents that define our region. Today’s story, by Dan Chapman, probes the presidential race in North Carolina ahead of the November election. Future pieces will look at some of Georgia’s other neighbors.

29 days until vote

Monday marks 29 days until Americans vote in federal and state races on Nov. 8. All year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has brought you the key moments in those races, and it will continue to cover the campaign's main events, examine the issues and analyze candidates' finance reports until the last ballot is counted. You can follow the developments on the AJC's politics page at http://www.myajc.com/s/news/georgia-politics/ and in the Political Insider blog at http://www.myajc.com/s/news/political-insider/. You can also track our coverage on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GAPoliticsNews or Facebook at https://facebook.com/gapoliticsnewsnow.

Shifting South

This is the sixth installment of a weekly series by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the political currents that define our region. Today’s story, by Dan Chapman, probes the presidential race in North Carolina ahead of the November election. Future pieces will look at some of Georgia’s other neighbors.

29 days until vote

Monday marks 29 days until Americans vote in federal and state races on Nov. 8. All year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has brought you the key moments in those races, and it will continue to cover the campaign's main events, examine the issues and analyze candidates' finance reports until the last ballot is counted. You can follow the developments on the AJC's politics page at http://www.myajc.com/s/news/georgia-politics/ and in the Political Insider blog at http://www.myajc.com/s/news/political-insider/. You can also track our coverage on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GAPoliticsNews or Facebook at https://facebook.com/gapoliticsnewsnow.

A Mexican eatery in a neighborhood dotted with taquerias seemed an unlikely gathering spot for some of Houston’s most ardent conservatives, many who consider halting the flow of illegal immigrants their top priority.

But that’s where they gathered on a recent Wednesday, chuckling at an opening prayer to keep President Barack Obama safe “because he recruits more Republicans than anyone.”

Speaker after speaker warned of Democratic voter fraud, trumpeted Republican crackdowns on immigration and urged skeptical conservatives — this is ground zero for supporters of Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz after all — to line up behind Donald Trump.

“Most of us are Cruz supporters, but at this point we have got to unite,” said Mark Ramsey, a member of the state GOP’s executive committee. “I finally put a bumper sticker for Trump on my car. It was time to cross that line.”

Texas is virtually assured to give its 38 electoral votes to Trump this November. But the same purply stew brewing in Georgia — a shrinking white majority and a fast-growing segment of minority voters — is magnified in the Lone Star State.

Mix in demoralized Cruz supporters and other anti-establishment voters at constant war with the state’s Republican hierarchy and it’s no wonder why some Republicans are worried about the party’s direction.

“It’s not the way we hoped we could go,” said Mary Lane, a Texas tea party activist who said she tries not to think about the presidential race and beyond. “We have to go with who we have, and I hope folks will get behind Trump, but I’m not really that confident.”

Democrats are realistic about their slim hopes to flip Texas in November, but they salivate at their long-term chances. If Democrats can seize Texas, it will give them a nearly insurmountable Electoral College advantage. And the party’s rising leaders are trying to leverage Trump — who is trailing Clinton in some polls of younger Texas voters — to press their case.

“Young Texans don’t align with Trump or the typical conservative ideals of today’s GOP,” said Celia Morgan, the president of the Texas Young Democrats. “Our generation is tech-savvy, inclusive and understands that we need a level playing field now more than ever. We’re poised to make significant changes here at home and across the country.”

A fleeting moment

Like their Georgia counterparts, Texas Democrats have had little to cheer in recent years.

Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to win the state four decades ago, and no Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas since 1994. Their latest hope — former state Sen. Wendy Davis — was crushed by Republican Greg Abbott in the 2014 governor’s race despite a wave of national attention.

That’s why many state partisans took the tighter-than-expected polls, the surprise Clinton endorsement by the conservative Dallas Morning News and Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump at the GOP convention quietly in stride.

Trump’s poll numbers have largely stabilized since then, and Cruz, with an eye on a potential 2020 bid, announced in September that he would vote for Trump. Texas Republicans are rallying, if reluctantly, around the GOP nominee.

Which is why Texas Democrats will be closely watching two other numbers in November: the turnout of Hispanic voters – and how many of them will vote in the blue column.

Hispanics make up arguably the state’s most influential voting bloc — some analysts say Latinos could become the majority in two decades — and some election officials are seeing a surge in voter registration applications.

All told, Hispanics could make up one in five voters in November. If they top that mark, and continue voting reliably for Democratic candidates, expect to hear plenty more about a swing-state Texas in the next decade.

“It would mean we’re starting to have a shift,” said Joshua Blank, the manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. “And if 70 percent of them vote Democratic, Republicans will have more challenges in a shorter time.”

Consider Ernest Rosales, a student studying the oil business, among a rising class of Hispanic Texans hoping to challenge the GOP hierarchy. He grew up in Venezuela before moving to Texas, and he fears similarities between Trump and Hugo Chavez, that country’s now-deceased populist leader.

“Chavez was pretty much the same as Trump when he started — look at the YouTube videos from 20 years ago — and I don’t want to see the same thing happen here,” Rosales said. “It’s not the right way to treat us immigrants. And I’m telling you, there’s going to be a big rise in immigrant voters because of that.”

But it’s far from a uniform bloc, and many immigrant voters are leaning toward the GOP.

Cris Kay, an immigrant from Spain, said there’s no chance she’d vote for Clinton. But she’s also skeptical of Trump’s plan for a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and his pledge to deport the estimated 14 million people in the U.S. illegally.

“I came here legally, and we’re all paying through the nose to support millions of illegals,” Kay said. “But the wall won’t stop them from finding other ways to come here. And we should give the good people who have been here a long time a chance to stay.”

‘I came the right way’

And some immigrants are willing to overlook Trump’s rhetoric because of his take-no-prisoners style. Sidnei Amaro, a musician who moved to the U.S. from Brazil in the 1990s, said he will either vote for Trump or skip the election.

“I am an immigrant, and I came the right way,” Amaro said. “There’s something about him. He’s a crazy guy — but he’s different. And Hillary just seems corrupt. Still, there’s no easy answer.”

That sentiment — there’s no easy option — seems to echo among GOP activists.

Trump and Cruz were unusually bitter rivals in the Republican primary, and Trump insulted Cruz’s wife, suggested that his father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and implied the senator had a history of infidelities. Some of his loyalists are still seething.

“How am I feeling? Cruz is our hometown boy and we’ve been supporting him forever. We’re really torn,” said Norma Jeter, a Houston activist who sends a daily email blast to about 1,000 Republican subscribers.

“But at the same time, I like the things that Trump says he is for, and we can only hope and pray that he means it.”

Elvie Kingston, an influential tea party leader in east Texas, also still laments Cruz’s defeat, but she said “more and more people are getting Trump-icized because they know what the alternative is.”

Besides, she said, she reminds Texas conservatives they’ve been in the same predicament before.

“I tell people to hold your nose and vote for him,” Kingston said. “After all, we did it for John McCain.”

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