Races To Watch: Texas and California
Still on a search for political races that matter on the ground here in the Southwest, I’m looking at races in our two biggest states: Texas and California.
In Texas, the race to watch is the one in the 23rd Congressional District. The enormous district stretches in a huge swath along 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, from San Antonio down to El Paso. Some 66 percent of the population is Latino. The race for a congressional seat there pits Republican incumbent Representative Raul “Quico” Canesco against Democratic challenger Pete Gallego, and currently Gallego has a narrow lead. For decades this district has been safely in Democratic hands, but the 2010 elections saw a reversal when voters put Tea Party candidate Canesco in the seat. That election is said to have been a “wake-up” call for Democrats who have long taken their electorate for granted. Now both the Republicans and Democrats are pouring national funds into this bellwether contest, expected to demonstrate whether or not Latinos can actually make a difference in the election. Today Latinos make up 38 percent of Texas’ population, but by 2040 they are expected to be the majority. If they vote, and how they vote could determine the political future of this historically red state.
When it comes to tracking races in Southern California that illuminate our changing demographics, its hard to pin down one that is most representative. I enjoy watching the battle between incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray, a hard-core anti-immigration force, and relative newcomer Democrat Scott Peters who is striking a more moderate tone in his campaign. We’re talking two wealthy white men here, running in a suburban coastal district, so on its surface it certainly doesn’t appear to be reflective of any kind of changing demographics. But even the Los Angeles Times is marking it as the “new look of Congressional politics."
Bilbray is a multi-term incumbent, but this is a newly drawn district, in a region of the country that’s seen a fair amount of growth in terms of Democrats. In Bilbray’s old district, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 10 percentage points. In this new district, the vote is split fairly evenly between Democrats, Republicans and Independents. So, much to the surprise of the Republican Party, the race between Peters and Bilbray is now extremely close and has become extremely negative.