The prospect of a 77-year-old democratic socialist leading the Democrat ticket in 2020 may have urban liberals excited, but Democrat candidates in swing states are panicking.
“There is overall uncertainty which is growing. The real fear for Texas D’s remains Sanders,” Bill Miller, a longtime Austin lobbyist who has worked with both Democrats and Republicans, tells POLITICO. “‘We’d be f–ked’ — that’s what they’re saying. The drain at the top goes down to the bottom.”
“The R’s are on their knees praying every day for Bernie,” Miller said.
“Sanders is a complete disaster and Warren is a complete-disaster-lite,” said Texas-based Democrat consultant Jeff Hewitt tells POLITICO. “At the end of the day, most of us want to win.”
A Buttigieg victory is “not helpful” to the party’s goals in Texas, he said. But “he doesn’t hurt them as much” like Sanders.
Texas is an especially pivotal battleground. Not only are Democrats just nine seats away from seizing a majority in the state house, Trump won Texas’ 38 electoral votes by just nine percent over a weak Hillary Clinton.
That’s less than the 16 percent margin Mitt Romney won over President Barack Obama in 2012 and the 11 percent margin John McCain won by over Obama in 2008.
Incumbent U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, who has higher approval ratings in Texas than Trump, was reelected by just a two percent margin over Beto O’Rourke.
Many polls show a tight race in Texas, with Trump stuck under 47 percent and leading various possible Democrat nominees by less than five percent.
While polls show Sanders performing as well as, and sometimes better than, other Democrats, it’s generally believed his harsh socialism makes it harder to win over undecided voters. Sanders may have the same “floor” in polling as other Democrats, his “ceiling” is lower.
“You gotta be realistic and practical about issues that are facing people in rural areas,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a conservative Democrat whose district stretches from the Southern border to San Antonio, tells POLITICO.
“If Sanders is at the top of the ticket, he said, Democrats in Texas will have to distance themselves from his far-left ideas to win over moderate voters in potential swing districts,” POLITICO reports.
That could mean the best-case scenario for Democrats is Texas goes back to where it was in the 1980s, when voters supported the Republican presidential nominee, but often voted Democrat in state and local races.
But a more likely scenario is a 1984-like wipeout when the Democrat presidential nomination went to the stridently liberal Walter Mondale, and the party suffered an electoral college wipeout that took many congressional and state house seats with it.