“At a moment of crisis, where he got to choose whether he stood with Trump and the extreme version of his party or our medical community, [Abbott] picked Trump and the extreme version of his party, with thousands of Texans paying the price with their lives for it,” Johnson says.
That language is extraordinary: Since Abbott’s election in 2014, he has been so popular in Texas that few politicians in either party have openly tangled with him.
Democratic state-legislative candidates have been equally aggressive in challenging DeSantis’s performance in Florida. “There was not a single scintilla of science or leadership that was displayed, and as the president continued to be the denier in chief, our governor was standing right there next to him,” says Kayser Enneking, an anesthesiologist and the Democratic nominee for a GOP-held state House seat centered on Gainesville. “And our whole legislative Republican contingent had their heads in the sand equally. The legislature has been in lockstep” with the governor.
Read: The blue wave hasn’t crested
Ryan Tyson, a Republican pollster in Florida, agrees that approval for DeSantis and Trump alike has fallen amid the state’s surging case numbers. But he says that hasn’t yet translated into “voting intention” for Democrats. Although Floridians are uneasy about the outbreak, he says, other issues—such as Trump’s emphasis on “law and order” and warnings about urban disorder—also are resonating. And whatever the immediate mood, he notes, the GOP state House and Senate majorities are bolstered by a massive fundraising advantage over Democrats. “With the caveat that I think 30 days out we’ll know whether the bottom has fallen out for us or not, as of today, I could see us picking up two seats in the state House,” he says. Democrats flipping the chamber, he predicts, remains “a bridge too far.”
Similarly, Bill Miller, an Austin-based consultant and lobbyist who has worked for candidates in both parties, says that although the pandemic has hurt Texas Republicans, he believes Democrats will still fall short of taking the state House, largely because increased focus on the party’s national agenda closer to Election Day “will be problematic … in this state.”
Democratic strategists I’ve spoken with are more optimistic about their prospects, but they agree the GOP’s financial advantages in several targeted state Houses could prove decisive. Hausman said that in the most recent quarter, Democratic challengers in the targeted races raised only 60 percent, on average, as much as their Republican opponents in Texas, and just 30 percent what their opponents raised in Florida.
“There are no giveaways,” she said. “This is not going to happen naturally because of a Biden win. As it stands now, Democrats are not poised to win the big wins where it matters most unless they step up and invest the big resources that are necessary.”