Monday, September 14, 2020

Can The GOP Lose Texas In 2020?

This is not one those election years when the issues seem esoteric and disconnected from real life. This one is about the issues each voter is struggling with every day, about threats to personal and economic health, to the family and friends and institutions that stitch together into what we all refer to now as normal life. 

What’s happening nationally with the coronavirus — in terms of the issues at stake, problems with response, what it means for family, schools, commerce, recreation, voting, culture, retirees, life and death itself — is reflected in Texas politics today. 

The referendum on the ballot this year is whether voter sentiment against Trumpism in Texas, as across the nation, has reached a tipping point favoring a new political direction for the nation — and Texas. The political question for Texas Democrats is whether they have rebuilt enough of a political ecosystem across the state, or at least up and down the increasingly left-leaning urban/suburban corridor between Houson and Dallas / Fort Worth, that they can turn out a winning share of voters. 

Texas Republicans on the ballot this year are looking at cracks in their political base as the Republican advantage in this reliably conservative state is at risk because of a volatile president, a weak economy, and a Covid-19 pandemic allowed to run rampant by national and state Republican leaders. Republicans can read election results as well as Democrats, and they can clearly read the trend was not their friend from 2012 to 2018. 

Republicans have good reason to fret Texas may be slipping from their grasp sooner - as in this year - rather than later.

First, every poll conducted in Texas this year, including post Labor Days polls, show Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is running dead even with incumbent Republican Donald Trump, a sea change difference from past elections. 

Second, turnout enthusiasm among left-leaning Texans is at the highest levels this century. In the March primaries, Democratic turnout was higher than Republican turnout, and turnout for the Democratic primary runoff contest between retired Air Force pilot MJ Hegar of Round Rock and state Sen. Royce West of Dallas to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November, set a new record for runoff ballots cast.

Last, but not least, as demographics have shifted in Texas over the last decade Democrats have become increasingly successful at turning out voters and winning competitive races. Where Republicans were winning elections up and down the ballot by two-to-one margins ten and fifteen years ago, their win margins in 2018 were in the low single digits, when they won, and Democrats flipped several long held Republican districts.

Texas Republicans on the defensive in their national fortress.

In 2012, Barack Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney in the national election for president of the United States, but lost Texas to Romney 41.4 percent to 57.2 percent. While, Hillary Clinton received more popular votes than Republican Donald Trump  nationally in 2016, Trump won more Electoral College votes and, therefore, won the national election. Clinton lost the Texas popular to Trump, but by a more narrow margin of 43.2 percent to 52.3 percent compared to Obama’s Texas loss to Romney in Texas.  

U.S. 2012 2016 Change
Republican 60.9M 47.2% 60.3M 47.3% -0.6M +0.1%
Democrat 65.9M 51.1% 60.8M 47.7% -5.1M -3.4%
Other 2.2M 1.7% 6.0M 5.0% +3.8M +3.3%
Total 129.1M 100% 127.1M 100% -2.0M -1.5%
Table 1. The nationwide popular vote
for U.S. president.

As the above table shows, overall national turnout was down slightly in 2016 compared to 2012. As a result, Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump received as many votes in 2016 as Mitt Romney did in 2012. However, Trump's share of the popular vote stayed about the same as Romney's - 47.3 percent compared to 47.2 percent - while Clinton's share of the popular vote dropped markedly to 47.7 percent, compared to Obama's share of 51.1 percent. The third-party and independent candidates, on the other hand, won a combined 5.0 percent of the vote, compared to only 1.7 percent four years earlier. In the aggregate, then, Trump had about the same amount of support from the electorate as Romney did, but Clinton's share of the popular vote decreased by about 5 million votes.

Texas has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, and the Republican candidate always does better in the share of the popular vote in Texas when compared to the nation as a whole. Mitt Romney's margin of victory in Texas in 2012 was 15.8 percent, or 19.7 points better than his national average. 

In 2016, Donald Trump had a 9.1 percent margin over Hillary Clinton, which was 9.5 points above his national win average. While Democrat Beto O’Rourke lost the popular vote for Texas’ U.S. Senate seat to incumbent Republican Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm election, he further narrowed the Democratic loss margin for a statewide federal office compared to Clinton’s 2016 Texas loss to Trump.

All TX COs 2012 2016 Change 2018 Change
Republican 4,569,843 57.2% 4,685,047 52.2% 115,204 -4.9% 4,260,553 50.9% -424,494 -1.3%
Democrat 3,308,124 41.4% 3,877,868 43.2% 569,744 1.9% 4,045,632 48.3% 167,764 5.1%
Other 115,884 1.4% 406,311 4.5% 290,427 3.1% 65,470 0.8% -340,841 -3.7%
Total 7,993,851 58.6% 8,969,226 59.4% 975,375 0.8% 8,371,655 53.0% -597,571 -6.4%
Reg Voters 13,646,226 100% 15,101,087 100% 1,454,861 11% 15,793,257 100% 692,170 5%
Table 2. Popular Texas vote for President
and U.S. Senator.

While 2016 national turnout was down, turnout in Texas was up by 12 percent and was almost a million votes higher than in 2012. However, that was on an increase of 1.5 million (11%) more registered voters in Texas. 

In contrast to the national results, Trump received more votes in Texas in 2016 than Romney did in 2012, but Trump’s share of the vote was lower than Romney’s because the base of 2016 registered voters increased by 1.5 million. The number of votes for the Democratic candidate, Clinton, was substantially higher, again in contrast to the U.S. as a whole, but Clinton's share of the vote was only 1.9 percent higher than Obama's - a gain from 2012, but not a dramatic one. 

As with the rest of nation in 2016, Texas saw a substantial increased in votes for third-party candidates. Polling in 2016 found a sizable block of voters who strongly disliked both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton voted for the Green Party candidate on the left and the Libertarian Party candidate on the right. That third party switch over voter was largely subtracted from Clinton‘s Texas margins, not Trump’s. 

Does the change in the Republican margin of victory from 15.8 percent in 2012 to 9.1 percent in 2016 indicate Texas voters are becoming a less Republican-leaning electorate? The strong third party vote in 2016 muddies the waters on this question, so we must include some data point on how the top of the ballot Democratic and Republican U.S. Senate candidates performed in the 2018 midterm election to help answer the question.

A simple breakdown of turnout for the top of the ballot Republican and Democratic federal candidates in Texas in 2012, 2016, and 2018 clarifies the state’s political trend. Texas — or at least the urban/suburban corridor from the Houston to San Antonio to Austin to Dallas / Fort Worth metro areas — clearly moved left from the 2012 through the 2018 election cycles. 

Texas voter turnout for the 2018 midterm surprisingly rivaled turnout for the prior two presidential elections. The top of the ballot federal Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke outperformed both Obama in 2012 and Clinton in 2016 while incumbent Republican Sen. Cruz underperformed both Romney in 2012 and Trump in 2016.

Tables 3 and 4, below, tell the tail of two states by breaking out the statewide election results presented in Table 2 into urban/suburban verses mostly rural views of voter sentiment. These tables show the quickly growing urban/suburban Texas quickly trending blue and the population stagnant rural Texas remaining unmovingly red.

Table 3 shows the aggregate data for the state's 12 most populous central Texas urban/suburban corridor counties: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Montgomery, and Williamson in the Houston to San Antonio to Austin to Dallas / Fort Worth corridor, plus populous urban/suburban Hidalgo County in the Rio Grand Valley.

12 TX COs 2012 2016 Change 2018 Change
Republican 2,415,158 50.1% 2,369,914 43.0% -45,244 -7.1% 2,178,387 41.4% -191,527 -1.5%
Democrat 2,332,583 48.4% 2,868,351 52.0% 535,768 3.6% 3,037,488 57.8% 169,137 5.8%
Other 75,635 1.6% 276,987 5.0% 201,352 3.5% 42,328 0.8% -234,659 -4.2%
Total 4,823,376 59.6% 5,515,252 60.2% 691,876 0.7% 5,258,203 54.4% -257,049 -5.8%
Reg Voters 8,096,161 100% 9,157,387 100% 1,061,226 11% 9,662,819 100% 505,432 5%
Table 3. Aggregate popular vote for top federal candidates in
Texas' 12 most populous counties.

Table 4 shows data for the other 242 mostly rural counties.

242 TX COs 2012 2016 Change 2018 Change
Republican 2,154,685 68.0% 2,315,133 67.0% 160,448 -0.9% 2,082,166 66.9% -232,967 -0.2%
Democrat 975,541 30.8% 1,009,517 29.2% 33,976 -1.5% 1,008,144 32.4% -1,373 3.2%
Other 40,249 1.3% 129,324 3.7% 89,075 2.5% 23,142 0.7% -106,182 -3.0%
Total 3,170,475 57.1% 3,453,974 58.1% 283,499 1.0% 3,113,452 50.8% -340,522 -7.3%
Reg Voters 5,550,065 100% 5,946,442 100% 396,377 11% 6,130,438 100% 183,996 5%
Table 4. Aggregate popular vote for top federal candidates in
Texas' 242 mostly rural counties.

Romney won the 2012 aggregate vote of the 12 most populous urban/suburban counties and the 242 rural counties represented in Table 3. While Republican Romney won the 12 counties over Obama by a slim margin of 50.1-48.4 percent in 2012, Trump lost the 12 counties to Clinton 43-52 percent in 2012. By 2016 the electorate of the 12 counties was quickly changing as increasing numbers of people relocated to those counties from other (blue) states.

In 2018 Texas' incumbent Republican senator, Ted Cruz, experienced an even larger loss to Democrat Beto O’Rourke (41.4-57.8 percent) across the 12 counties on historically very high midterm turnout that rivaled presidential year turnout levels. Beto actually won 76 house urban/suburban and rural districts to Cruz's 74 mostly rural districts. Beto won every house district currently held Democrats, plus several Republican-held districts as well.

12 Counties Romney REP Obama DEM Trump REP Clinton DEM Cruz REP Beto DEM
HARRIS 49.3% 49.4% 41.6% 54.0% 41.3% 58.0%
DALLAS 41.7% 57.1% 34.6% 60.8% 33.1% 66.1%
TARRANT 57.1% 41.4% 51.7% 43.1% 49.2% 49.9%
BEXAR 47.0% 51.6% 40.8% 54.2% 39.6% 59.5%
TRAVIS 36.2% 60.1% 27.1% 65.8% 24.6% 74.3%
COLLIN 65.0% 33.5% 55.6% 38.9% 52.7% 46.5%
DENTON 64.9% 33.4% 57.1% 37.1% 53.7% 45.5%
EL PASO 33.1% 65.5% 25.9% 69.1% 25.0% 74.4%
FORT BEND 52.9% 46.1% 44.8% 51.4% 43.6% 55.7%
HIDALGO 28.6% 70.4% 28.0% 68.5% 30.6% 68.8%
MONTGOMERY 79.7% 19.0% 73.5% 22.4% 72.3% 27.0%
WILLIAMSON 59.4% 37.9% 51.3% 41.6% 48.0% 50.8%
12 COUNTY TL 50.1% 48.4% 43.0% 52.0% 41.4% 57.8%
Table 5. Popular vote for top federal candidates in each of
Texas' 12 most populous counties.

Table 5 shows that while Obama won Dallas County handily in 2012, Romney won neighboring Tarrant, Collin, and Denton Counties by relatively large margins, making those four North Texas metro counties Republican when aggregated together. In 2016, Clinton made gains in all four counties, and while Tarrant, Collin, and Denton Counties remained Republican, the group of four tipped slightly more Democratic in 2016. Beto improved on the blue trend in 2018.

A similar situation existed in the Houston area. In 2012, Obama and Romney virtually tied in Harris County, but Romney won Houston’s suburban Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties. In 2016, Harris and Fort Bend counties went for Clinton, while Houston's other suburban counties - Montgomery, Galveston, and Brazoria - remained red, but with Clinton gaining ground in each. In 2018, Beto improved on the blue trend in these counties too.

In the Austin metro area, Obama won Democratic stronghold Travis county in 2012 and lost suburban Republican Hays and Williamson counties. Clinton lost Hays and Williamson counties in 2016, but improved on Obama’s performance in Williamson and Hays Counties. Clinton lost Hays County by just 0.9 percent. Beto then flipped Williamson and Hays from red to blue in 2018.

While Beto significantly outperformed the last two Democratic presidential candidates in those 12 counties, he performed no better than Clinton and only slightly better than Obama across the other 242 mostly rural counties. Table 4 shows the win loss ratio between Republicans and Democrats relatively unchanged in the mostly rural 242 other Texas counties that include the Anglo-majority areas of the Panhandle, West and East Texas, and far north Texas. 

The significant thing to note is Republican performance across the 242 rural counties is largely stagnant from 2012 through 2018. Republican performance improved only slightly from 2012 to 2016, and then declined in 2018 while Democratic performance also remained steady across those counties. The rural Texas electorate does not seem to offer turnout expansion opportunities for either party, while Democrats are growing increasingly dominate in the rapidly growing urban/suburban 11 county corridor of Central Texas, plus in Hildago County and the extended Rio Grand Valley region. 

Included the 242 mostly rural less populous counties represented in Table 4 are 23 blue counties — many, the Hispanic-majority counties in south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley region — that voted for Clinton and Beto where both out performed Obama’s 2012 wins.

Democrats have taken control of every big city in the state over the past decade—a process that began in Dallas County in 2006, when Democrats swept into power. That trend increasingly spilled over into every sprawling suburban area surrounding the state's big cities, long the bedrock of Texas Republicanism. 

Sen. Cruz was able to beat Beto O’Rourke in 2018 only by trouncing him two-to-one in Texas' 219 rural Republican counties, where less than a one-third of the state’s voters live; meanwhile, Democrats captured six Republican-held state House seats in the outskirts of Dallas alone, plus six more in other suburban districts in 2018, while also giving Republicans heartburn in several suburban U.S. House districts where the GOP was routinely winning by 20-plus points just a few years ago. Democrats did flip two Republican-held congressional districts in 2018 midterm and came very close to flipping five more districts.

From 2012 to 2018 the total number of Texans registered to vote grew from 13.65 million to 15.8 million for an increase of over 2 million voters. Texas’ 12 most populous counties, plus the 23 smaller left-leaning counties, account for 1.5 million of those new registrations. Texas’ 219 solidly Republican rural counties grew by only about 0.5 million voters. 

This year, Texas voter registrations surged to nearly 16.4M before the June registration cutoff dated for the primary runoff elections in early July 2020. In the weeks before early voting begins this fall, The Texas Democratic Party is sponsoring a statewide program to register an additional one million left-leaning Texans to vote. The Republican Party is also busy trying to register additional voters. 

If the registration programs are even moderately successful the state’s registered voter count could stand at about 17 million after all the registration applications received by the October 5th cutoff date are processed. That’s almost 2 million additional registered voters than for the 2016 election, and about 1.3 million additional voters than for the 2018 midterm election. 

Most of the new voter registrations are from the state's newest residents relocated from other states, plus Latino, Black and Asian population voters, and younger Texans under the age of 35 – all of which vote heavily Democratic, when they can be motivated to vote. Three-quarters of those new voters reside in the urban/suburban corridor of central Texas that has been quickly trending left since the November 2012 presidential election.

The composition of the Texas electorate is changing with each new voter who relocates from another state and registers, and each new voter who turns 18 years old and registers, and each senior Texan that dies. We see that change reflected in the election results discussed above. 

Can Joe Biden beat Donald Trump In Texas?

All the national and state political pundits are looking to answer this question from a “top down” view of Texas politics, but the answer really comes from a “bottom up” view of Texas politics. 

The Texas electorate is unquestionably changing, but has it yet changed enough for a Democratic presidential nominee to to beat the Republican nominee this year? Biden’s Texas win depends on all the down ballot Democrats who are on a mission this year to flip Congressional and State Legislative districts long held by Republicans. If most or some of those down ballot Democrats win, and the rest at least hold their Republican opponents to very narrow wins, as Democrats did in the 2018 midterms, then they will likely carry Joe Biden over finish line just head of Donald Trump. 

Democrats are pushing hard to flip at least nine more Republican state house districts this year to take control of that legislative chamber in 2021 — when the state will redraw the lines of every state level election district for the next decade. Democrats believe they could be competitive in up to twenty-two Republican-held state house districts, which will force the Republican Party to defend a lot territory this year, in addition to trying to take back the twelve seats Democrats flipped in 2018. More on the legislative races later.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted ten congressional districts in Texas this year – in three of which incumbents aren't seeking re-election More on the congressional races later. The state also has a potentially competitive U.S. Senate race — more on that later, too.

Even a modest investment in Texas by the Biden campaign could pay dividends by forcing Trump to divert money from other states, while benefiting the host of down-ballot Democrats by helping them turnout voters in their districts.

Joe Biden’s campaign understands his fate depends on the performance of all the down ballot Democrats and so is helping those Democrats flip their Republican-held districts. In addition to buy TV advertising time in Texas the Biden campaign has geared up campaign operations on the ground in the state.

Texas is an expensive place to advertise on television given its size and multiple media markets. While Biden insiders acknowledge the campaign is unlikely to spend the kind of vast sum a Texas full-court press would require, his campaign started running campaign ads on TV in early July – the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has done so in a quarter-century. Democrats running down ballot this year are relatively well funded, compared to prior years, and are able to also by TV advertising to increase the overall Democratic visibility.

Texas is also among the states Biden's campaign has targeted for a $280 million fall advertising blitz, part of a broader strategy aimed at putting Republican-leaning states, including Georgia, Iowa and Ohio, in play ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Texas, as of this writing, is a statistically tie between Biden and Trump, according to individual polls and the average of polls. Biden leads Trump among all “registered” voters by one point, and trails Trump by one point among all “likely” voters. But the polling conducted so far in 2020 does not include the newest voters registered this year as either “likely” or even "registered" voters. 

If Democrats register and turnout more voters than Republicans, which certainly looks more than possible this year, then Biden and the host of down ballot Democrats will win.

Can the GOP lose Texas' U.S. Senate Seat?

The Senate contest in Texas is turning into a horse race, with Democratic challenger M.J. Hegar polling within 4 percentage points of Sen. John Cornyn (40% to 44%) in the lastest Public Policy Polling survey of voters. 

Both Cornyn and Hegar released dueling post Labor Day campaign ads in their Senate race. Hegar, a former Air Force helicopter pilot dropped her first general election television ad, leaning on her heroic military experience to make a contrast with Cornyn. Hegar’s $1.5 million ad blitz is scheduled for the Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso and Harlingen media markets. 

Meanwhile, incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn released his second ad of the general election season after Labor Day. It discusses his claimed effort to end rape kit backlogs that make it difficult to bring predators to justice. His commercial is running in the Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin markets.  

Like Biden, Hegar's success on flipping the state’s senate seat depends on the Democratic team of Biden and down ballot Democrats turning out voters across all their districts and the entire state. 

Texas Congressional Districts

Of Texas’ 36 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats currently hold 13 seats and Republicans hold 23 seats. All 23 Republicans are defending against a Democratic challenger this year with the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) committed to help 10 of those Democrats flip their increasingly vulnerability GOP-held districts. For the 2018 midterm election, Democrats filed to run candidates in every Texas congressional district for the first time in 25 years, and Democrats have the full court press on again in 2020.

In addition to providing financial help, the DCCC has put organizers on the ground in Texas with the express aim of helping two Democrats hold the Houston and Dallas area districts they flipped from Republicans in 2018, and help the ten other singled-out Democratic congressional candidates flip their GOP-held districts this year.

Political scientist Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA, whose analysis of 2018 political landscape accurately predicted Democrats would flip 42 congressional districts that year, agrees with the DCCC’s assessment that the ten districts targeted by the DCCC are competitive - some more than others.

The ten GOP-held congressional districts targeted by the DCCC to flip are in or traverse Texas’ quickly growing urban/suburban counties:

  1. TX-2, which wraps around northern and western Houston, including parts of Houston and Kingwood, is held by first-term incumbent Republican Daniel Crenshaw. Crenshaw was first elected to represent the district in 2018, defeating his Democratic opponent Todd Litton 52.8-45.6 percent, with Beto earning 49 percent of the vote in the district. The Democratic nominee is Sima Ladjevardian, a prominent political advisor, attorney, philanthropist, mother of two, breast cancer survivor, and community leader. Ladjevardian was a prominent fundraiser for Hillary Clinton and a senior advisor to Beto O’Rourke. She founded Big Hearted Texas, which focuses on engaging and mobilizing the greater Harris County community and taking action on issues like human trafficking (Campaign website, Campaign Facebook, Campaign Twitter, and Personal Facebook);

  2. TX-3, north of Dallas in Collin County, is represented by former Texas state House and Senate veteran Republican Van Taylor. Taylor was first elected to represent Texas' 3rd Congressional District in 2018, defeating his Democratic opponent Lorie Burch by 54.2-44.2 percent with Beto earning 47.9 percent of the vote. The district is located within the southwestern quarter of Collin County. The Democratic nominee is Lulu Seikaly. Seikaly is the daughter of Lebanese-American immigrants who fled to America during the civil war of their native country. Her father is a pediatric specialist, and her mother is a registered nurse. Seikaly was raised in North Texas and earned a law degree from South Texas College of Law. Included in the most densely populated part of TX-03 are Texas State House Districts 66 and 67. Both of these state house districts are held by Republicans who won only very slim victories against their Democratic opponents in 2018. Like TX-03, HD66 and HD67 are targeted as flippable by Texas Democrats. In 2016, Hillary Clinton significantly out performed past presidential nominees in the precincts of those districts, winning many precincts for the first time, and losing the rest by from just a few votes to less than 100 votes. The Democratic nominees from these three key congressional and state house districts combining forces will have the “critical mass” force to flip all three districts in 2020 (Campaign websiteCampaign FacebookCampaign Twitter, and Personal Facebook);

  3. TX-6, which stretches south from Dallas, is held by Ron Wright. Wright was first elected to represent Texas' 6th Congressional District in 2018, defeating his Democratic opponent Jana Lynne Sanchez by 53.1-45.4 percent, with Beto earning 48 percent of the vote in the district. The 2020 Democratic nominee is Stephen Daniel. Daniel, 42, who is an attourney, recruited Jana Lynne Sanchez, who ran against Wright in 2018, to serve as his campaign manager. The 42-year-old Maypearl resident is a board member of Friends of Maypearl, a community organization that focuses on "volunteerism, fundraising and sponsorship opportunities," according to the group's mission statement. Daniel is pushing a healthcare agenda he hopes will resonate with voters and says, "I believe healthcare is a big issue of mine, and I'm all for trying to fix the healthcare system which is not in good shape. As a lawyer, I've dealt with healthcare for so long that I feel like I have a certain education and expertise with it. I just think I can bring a lot of change, well-needed change, a deserved change to the folks who just want a fair and affordable healthcare system."(Campaign website, Campaign Facebook, Campaign Twitter, and Personal Facebook) ;

  4. TX-10, which stretches from Austin to the outskirt of Houston, is held by Michael T. McCaul. McCaul was first elected in 2005 and defeated his 2018 Democratic opponent Mike Siegel by 51.1-46.8 percent, with Beto earning 49.6 percent of the vote in the district. The 2020 Democratic nominee is Mike Siegel who challenged McCaul in 2018. Siegel’s career experience includes working as a public school teacher with Teach for America. He co-founded two nonprofit education organizations and serves as the executive director of Oakland Leaf. Siegel worked as a civil rights attorney and is currently an assistant city attorney in Austin. (Campaign website, Campaign Facebook, and Campaign Twitter);

  5. TX-21, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio and west for six counties, is held by freshman Republican Chip Roy. Roy defeated his 2018 Democratic opponent Joseph Kopser by 50.2-47.6 percent, with Beto earning 49.5 percent of the vote in the district. Democrats are eager to topple freshman GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Austin, a former chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz. The 2020 Democratic nominee is veteran and former senator from Fort Worth, Wendy Davis. Davis lost the 2014 governor’s race to Gov. Greg Abbott. As the party’s nominee for the general election, Davis is attracting national attention on the race to unseat her freshman opponent (Campaign website, Campaign Facebook, Campaign Twitter, and Personal Facebook);

  6. TX-22, which runs southwest from Houston, is held by Pete Olson, who is retiring. Olson defeated his 2018 Democratic opponent Sri Preston Kulkarni by 51.4-46.5 percent, with Beto earning 49.3 percent of the vote in the district. This open suburban house seat attracted 14 candidates for the Republican primary. Troy Nehls, after a primary runoff battle, is the Republican nominee. Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni, who fell just 5 percentage points short of defeating incumbent Olson in the 2018 midterm election, returns as the 2020 Democratic nominee. (Campaign website, Campaign Facebook, Campaign Twitter, and Personal Facebook) ;

  7. TX-23, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, is held by Will Hurd, who is retiring after this term. Tony Gonzales won the Republican Party’s primary runoff to become his party’s nominee. Gina Ortiz Jones is returning as the Democratic Party’s 2020 nominee. Jones is a U.S. Air Force veteran where she served as an intelligence officer in Iraq. She earned her master's and bachelor's degrees in economics and a bachelor's degree in East Asian studies all from Boston University. She also earned a graduate degree from the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies. Her professional experiences includes serving as director for investment at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and as the senior advisor for trade enforcement. (Campaign website, Campaign Facebook, Campaign Twitter, and Personal Facebook);

  8. TX-24, which straddles parts of Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties, is held by Kenny Marchant.  Marchant is retiring after eight terms and a very hard fought slim win in 2018, when he survived a challenge from Democrat Jan McDowell by just 3 points. Beto’s share of the vote in the district was 51.3 percent. Firebrand Tea Party Conservative Bethe Van Duyne, former mayor of Irving, Texas, from 2011 to 2017, former member of the Irving City Council from 2004 to 2010, and former regional administrator of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, won the Republican primary to become that Party’s nominee. Candace Valenzuela, a Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member is the Democratic Party’s nominee. Valenzuela, the daughter of a Mexican American mother and a Black father, is a young black Latina woman who represents the three cornerstones of the party’s electoral coalition. TX-24, home to one of America’s most diverse ZIP codes, is less than 50% white and has burgeoning Hispanic, Black and Asian American populations. Valenzuela is running as relatability candidate to the voters in her district, casting herself as more in touch with low- and middle-income voters than her conservative firebrand Republican opponent. The 24th now leans Democratic, according to Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an elections handicapper. The Cook Political Report, another prominent handicapper rates the district a toss-up. (Campaign website, Campaign Facebook, Campaign Twitter, and Personal Facebook);

  9. TX-25, which stretches from south of Austin to Fort Worth and includes the Fort Hood area, has been held by Roger Williams since 2013. Williams won another term in 2018, beating his Democratic opponent Julie Oliver by 53.5 to 44.8 percent with Beto earning 47 percent of the vote in the district. Oliver is returning as the 2020 Democratic nominee to again face Williams for general election. The 48-year-old Oliver, who has 20 years experience in health care finance, is campaigning on good paying jobs, fair taxes, ending political corruption and health care for every single Texan. (Campaign website, Campaign Facebook, Campaign Twitter, and Personal Facebook);

  10. TX-31, which runs from north Austin up to Temple, has been held by Republican John Carter since it was created in 2002. Incumbent Carter won his ninth term in Congress in 2018 against his Democratic opponent Mary Jennings "MJ" Hegar 50.6-47.6 percent, with Beto earning 48.8 percent of the vote in the district. Donna Imam is the Democratic Party’s 2020 nominee. The district, which includes Williamson County and the fast-growing suburbs of North Austin, as well as a portion of the area around Fort Hood, leans around 10 points Republican on average, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Imam, a computer engineer, has made climate change a top campaign issue, calling for a restoration of regulations that were rolled back by the Trump administration. She has also focused on the economic anxiety of middle- and working-class families, students, recent graduates and retirees on a fixed income. (Campaign website, Campaign Facebook, Campaign Twitter, and Personal Facebook);

All 10 of the congressional districts that Democrats hope to flip are at least partially suburban — and the voters in those suburban neighborhoods will decide whether the party can truly compete for the state’s Electoral College votes, flip the state’s senate seat, and take control of the Texas House.

Texas State House of Representatives Districts

After Texas Democrats flipped 12 seats in the State House of Representatives in 2018 — that we’re long held by Republicans — the current balance of house control stands at 83 seats held by Republicans and 67 seats held by Democrats. Democrats need a net gain of 9 seats in 2020 to gain outright majority control of that legislative chamber for the first time since 2001.

The Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee and Texas Democratic Party announced last December they targeted 22 Texas House battleground districts for 2020 with tens of millions of dollars to fund an unprecedented effort to flip those seats. These 22 house districts largely map over territories of the 10 congressional districts targeted for support by the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In the 2018 midterm election, Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic Party’s 2018 nominee for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s Senate seat, outperformed Cruz in 9 of the Texas state house districts - listed in table 6 - where the Republican house candidate won (mostly) by a slim margin. O’Rourke slightly underperformed Cruz by 0.14 to less than 3.64 points, and significantly outperformed the Democratic house candidate, in the next 9 house districts won by the Republican house candidate. The final 4 State House districts targeted by Texas Democratic are in urban/suburban population growth areas that have also been trending less Republican since 2012.

District
#
Incumbent Republican Key
County
2018
HD R
Win
Beto
Win
Loss %
134 Sarah Davis (2011) Harris 6.3% 21.34%
108 Morgan Meyer (2015) Dallas 0.3% 15.15%
112 Angie Chen Button (2009) Dallas 2.1% 9.63%
138 Dwayne Bohac (2003) Retiring Harris 0.1% 6.32%
66 Matt Shaheen (2015) Collin 0.6% 5.72%
67 Jeff Leach (2013) Collin 2.3% 5.50%
26 Rick Miller (2013) Retiring Fort Bend 5% 1.57%
64 Lynn Stucky (2017) Denton 8.3% 0.50%
121 Steve Allison (2019) Bexar 8.4% 0.35%
96 Bill Zedler (2011) Retiring Tarrant 3.7% -0.14%
54 Brad Buckley (2019) Bell 7.6% -1.16%
97 Craig Goldman (2013) Tarrant 8.3% -2.05%
14 John Raney (2011) Brazos 12.8% -2.26%
92 Jonathan Stickland (2013) Retiring Tarrant 2.4% -2.52%
93 Matt Krause (2013) Tarrant 7.7% -2.71%
28 Gary Gates Special (2020) Fort Bend 9.6% -3.14%
94 Tony Tinderholt (2015) Tarrant 8.6% -3.25%
126 Sam Harless (2019) Harris 9.7% -3.64%
32 Todd Hunter (2009) Nueces 100% -5.11%
29 Ed Thompson (2013) Brazos 100% -5.36%
129 Dennis Paul (2013) Harris 14.7% -8.78%
133 Jim Murphy (2007) Harris 16.2% -9.30%
Table 6. 22 State House Districts Democrats Targeted
To Flip Red to Blue

A generic poll of Texas House battleground districts conducted in August by Data for Progress shows Democrats leading by three percentage points, 45 to 42. The same poll shows former Joe Biden leading Donald Trump 49 to 42 percent across those swing districts.

Here are the details on state house districts that Texas and national Democrats have targeted as potentially flippable:

  1. HD 134 – In 2018, Republican Sarah Davis was re-elected to this suburban Harris County district by around 6 points, most likely due to some of her socially moderate views. (She is pro choice) This suburban district may have looked like the easiest 2018 pickup opportunity for Democrats, given Clinton carried this district in 2016 by over 15 points — a roughly 30 point swing towards the Democrats from 2012 when Romney carried it by almost the same amount. In stark contrast to Davis’ win, Beto easily carried this district by over 21 points, making this the only district in this entire list, to have voted for him by over 20 points. Ann Johnson is the 2020 Democratic nominee - Campaign website.

  2. HD 108 – In Dallas County, Republican Morgan Meyer won his district by only 220 votes in 2018, making him one of only two Republicans to currently represent Dallas County in the Texas State House. In addition to his very narrow election, Beto’s performance was notably strong here, winning by about 15 points, making this one of only two Republican held districts which he carried by double digits. Clinton also did really well in this district, winning it by over 6 points, in contrast to Romney who carried it by almost 20 points. Joanna Cattanach is the 2020 Democratic nominee - Campaign website.

  3. HD 112 – Angie Chen Button, the other Republican in Dallas County, was re-elected here in 2018 over Democrat Brandy K. Chambers by 2 percentage points — a little more than 1,100 votes. Clinton carrying the district by a little more than a percentage point and Beto carrying it by just under 10 points. The 2020 Democratic nominee Brandy K. Chambers, who also ran in 2018 - Campaign website.

  4. HD 138 – Republican Dwayne Bohac also looks extremely vulnerable, as he was re-elected to this Harris County district (Houston) in 2018 by a mere 47 votes, the closest margin for any Texas State House Republican in 2018. In 2016, this district was also incredibly competitive with Clinton carrying it by 36 votes, a large Democrat swing from 2012, as Romney carried it by almost 20 points. Beto won this district by over 6 points in 2018. Bohac decided not to seek re-election in 2020. Akilah Bacy is the 2020 Democratic nominee - Campaign website.

  5. HD 66 – Republican Matt Shaheen was re-elected to this Collin County district by under 400 votes in 2018. This district has been trending blue, as Mitt Romney carried it by almost 24 points in 2012, while Trump carried it by just over 3 points in 2016. Shaheen’s 2018 Democratic opponent, Sharon Hirsch lost by just 391 votes. Beto won this district by slightly less than six points in 2018. Hirsch is the Democratic nominee again in 2020. Campaign website

  6. HD 67 – Republican Jeff Leach was re-elected here in 2018, winning this Collin County district by just 2.2 points. This district is quite similar to neighboring HD 66, although Trump did a few percentage points better here. Beto won this district by slightly less than six points in 2018. Lorenzo Sanchez is the 2020 Democratic nominee. Campaign website

  7. HD 26 – This Fort Bend County district (just southwest of Houston) looks to be heavily trending blue, going from 27 point Romney win to Trump winning it by just under 5 points. In 2018, Beto carried this district by about 1.5 points, and incumbent Rick Miller was re-elected by just under 5 points. Miller dropped his reelection plans on Dec. 3 after facing backlash for his racist remarks about his opponents. For the 2020 election Jacey Jetton is the Republican nominee and L. Sarah DeMerchant is the Democratic nominee. Campaign website

  8. HD 64 - Beto narrowly carried the district centered around Denton, northwest of Dallas, by less than a percentage point (under 400 votes), while Republican Lynn Stucky won the district in 2018 by 8 percentage points. Trump won it by over 14 points. Beto’s performance is arguably strong enough to warrant the district as at least a toss up with a well funded Democratic candidate. Angela Brewer is the 2020 Democratic nominee. Campaign website.

  9. HD 121 – Beto narrowly carried the district located north of San Antonio, by less than a percentage point (under 400 votes), while Republican Steve Allison won the district in 2018 by 9 percentage points. Trump won HD 121 by a little more than 8 points. Beto’s performance is arguably strong enough to warrant the district as at least a toss up with a well funded Democratic candidate. Celina Montoya is the 2020 Democratic nominee. Campaign website

  10. HD 96 – Bill Zelder was re-elected in 2018 to this district in Tarrant County by under 4 points. Beto came extremely close to carrying this district, losing it by under 100 votes. Again, this is a notable “blue trend” improvement for Democrats over 2016 for a district Trump won by over 11 points. Zelder, yet another who read the blue writing on district walls, also decided to not seek re-election in 2020. Joe Drago is the 2020 Democratic nominee - Campaign website.

  11. HD 54 – Republican Brad Buckley won this open seat race by less than 8 points in 2018. Unlike most of the other districts on this list, HD 54 is not located in a major urban area (it is located about halfway between Austin and Waco), and does not show a lot of the other same signs of trending blue. For one thing, this district changed very little at the presidential level between 2012 and 2016, with Romney and Trump both carrying the district by about 7 points, and Buckley’s 2018 margin of victory wasn’t substantially lower than previous Republican representatives, unlike a lot of the other districts. However, Beto did quite a bit better here, as he lost this district by just over a point, indicating that it will be competitive in 2020. Likeithia Williams is the Democratic nominee for 2020. Campaign website

  12. HD 92 – Republican Jonathan Stickland was re-elected here in 2018, winning this Tarrant County district by just 2.4 points. Beto lost this district by about 2.5 points with the 2018 Democratic candidate actually outperforming Beto by a fraction of a point. After Stickland’s narrow 2018 reelection to this district that is trending blue, he decided to not seek re-election in 2020. Trump carried it by about 14 points, while Romney carried it by about 24 points. Jeff Whitfield is the 2020 Democratic nominee. Campaign website

  13. HD 93, HD 94, and HD97 – These Tarrant County districts are very all similar in terms of presidential and statewide results to the nearby blue-trending HD 92. However, in all three of these districts, Republicans were re-elected in 2018 by larger margins (between 7 to 9 points). HD 97 is likely be the most competitive of the three, given that Trump did a few points worse, winning it by just under 10 points. Lydia Bean is the 2020 Democratic nominee for HD 93 - Campaign website. Alisa Simmons is the 2020 Democratic nominee for HD 94 - Campaign website. Elizabeth Beck is the 2020 Democratic nominee for HD 97 - Campaign website.

  14. HD 14 – In 2018 Republican John Raney won re-election to this Brazos County (Texas A&M Univ. / College Station) district by 12.8 percent. Beto lost this district by 2.3 points, improving on the performance of the 2018 HD14 Democrat and past federal office candidates. The 2020 Democratic nominee is Janet Dudding - Campaign website

  15. HD 28 – This Fort Bend County district has been trending blue, going from an over 29 point Romney win to a just over 10 point Trump win. Beto lost this district by around 3 points, further improving on these margins for Democrats. Republican John Zerwas was re-elected here in 2018, by a little more than 8 points. Zerwas resigned effective Sept. 30, 2019 and there was a special election for his seat. Republican Gary Gates defeated Democrat Elizabeth Markowitz in the special general runoff election for Texas House of Representatives District 28 on January 28, 2020. Markowitz is again the Democratic candidate for the November 2020 election. Campaign website

  16. HD 126 – In 2018 Republican Sam Harless, won this open district in northwestern Harris County by just under 10 points. This is another district showing signs of becoming more Democratic, going for Romney by over 25 points in 2012 to voting for Trump by just under 10 points in 2016. Beto lost this district by less than 4 points in 2018. Natali Hurtado is the 2020 Democratic nominee - Campaign website.

  17. HD 32 – This district located around Corpus Christi has never actually been contested by the Democrats after its current district lines were drawn. Republican Jacey Jetton won the 2018 election for the district uncontested by a Democratic opponent. Beto lost this district by 5 points in 2018, with Trump having won it by almost double that margin in 2016, and Romney carrying it by about 15.5 points in 2012. Eric Holguin is the 2020 Democratic nominee. Campaign website

  18. The 2020 Democratic nominees running in HD 129 and HD 133 in the Harris County metro area, and in HD 29 in the Brazos County (Texas A&M Univ. / College Station) area are also included on the list 22 Democratic candidates receiving funding and other support from the the state party and PACs. Kayla Alix is the 2020 Democratic nominee for HD 129 - Campaign website, Sandra Moore is the 2020 Democratic nominee for HD 133 - Campaign Facebook, and Travis Boldt is the 2020 Democratic nominee for HD 29 - Campaign website.

  19. HD 89 – Republican Candy Noble won this open district in Collin County in 2018 by 19 points, which seems pretty Republican safe. However, this district is worth mentioning due to it’s trend towards the Democrats. It went from voting for Romney by almost 35 points to voting for Trump by 25 points, and Beto lost it by about only 12 points. Ray Ash is the 2020 Democratic nominee. Ash, a U.S. Army veteran, earned a degree in business and accounting from Rider University in 1981 and a law degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in 1986. Campaign website

In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats won 12 districts previously held by Republicans. For the 2020 election, Republicans have targeted those seats to win them back. Republicans can be expected to challenge those freshmen Democrats in all 12 House seats:

  1. HD-45 (Driftwood) - Erin Zwiener (2019)
  2. HD-47 (Austin) - Vikki Goodwin (2019)
  3. HD-52 (Round Rock) - James Talarico (2019)
  4. HD-65 (Carrollton) - Michelle Beckley (2019)
  5. HD-102 (Richardson) - Ana-Maria Ramos (2019)
  6. HD-105 (Irving) - Terry Meza (2019)
  7. HD-113 (Garland) - Rhetta Andrews Bowers (2019)
  8. HD-114 (Dallas) - John Turner (2019)
  9. HD-115 (Carrollton) - Julie Johnson (2019)
  10. HD-132 (Katy) - Gina Calanni (2019)
  11. HD-135 (Houston) - Jon E. Rosenthal (2019)
  12. HD-136 (Austin) - John Bucy (2019)

Summary

Heading into the home-stretch of the general election, Texas Democrats have multiple reasons to be upbeat, beginning with the latest polls showing Democratic nominee Joe Biden is statistically tied with incumbent President Donald Trump. Texas has shifted into battleground territory this year with national Democrats channeling money and resources into the states to help flip Texas from red to blue - or at least purple.

My problem with national, and even state, political pundits handicapping Joe Biden’s, MJ Hegar’s, and all the other down Democratic candidates’ chances of winning their individual races is they compartmentalize the each statewide campaign and each district as stand-alone silos. But that is the wrong perspective. 

Texas Republicans have controlled Texas politics over the last quarter-century because they built a political ecosystem with strong feedback loops of support for every candidate up and down the ballot. Texas Democrats have lost elections over the last quarter-century because candidates had no ecosystem, no strong feedback loops of support to carry them over the win line. Texas ranks dead last, or almost dead last, election to election because Democrats have not been able to turn out their portion of voters.

It was impossible for Democratic candidates on ballots here and there around the state to individually build the critical mass of voter support they needed to win election. But that started to change in 2006 when Democrats in Dallas County started to rebuild their county-level political ecosystem to help local candidates win and flip Republican controlled elected offices — and win they did. 

The mass influx of left-leaning voters relocating from other states to Texas’ urban/suburban counties, added to the diverse left-leaning next generation of urban/suburban Texans coming of age to vote has supercharged Texas Democrats’ ability to rebuild the Party’s political ecosystem throughout the states’ urban/suburban corridor counties from the Houston metro area to the DFW metroplex. It was that ecosystem that that allowed Democrats to flip two congressional districts and 12 state house districts in 2018. That Democratic ecosystem in 2020 has spread and strengthened in the two years since the 2018 election.

Whether or not Joe Biden wins the state’s 38 electoral college votes, or Air Force veteran MJ Hegar flips Republican John Cornyn's U.S. Senate seat, Democrats are well positioned to pick up a net gain in Texas’ congressional seats and take control of the state’s House of Representatives for the first time this century.

If Biden does win the state’s 38 electoral college votes, and Hegar does take over Texas' U.S. Senate seat, credit must be given to the still growing Democratic ecosystem of congressional and state legislative candidates, the County and Precinct Chairpersons county by county,  and the entire infrastructure of state and national Democratic organizations and PACs all executing hard fought campaigns across Texas. 

The record turnout of voters for the 2018 midterm election and the number of GOP districts Democrats flipped that year is evidence Democrats may well have the momentum to flip more districts in 2020 - and perhaps flip the entire state for the top federal candidates, Biden and Hegar.

It’s been a long time coming for this state, which has gone 44 years without giving the state’s electoral college votes to the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, Jimmy Carter, and 32 years since electing a Democrat, Lloyd Bentsen, to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. But unlike previous years, when Texas Democrats have enthusiastically rallied around just one, or a slim few, popular candidate(s) on the ballot, this year is pivotal as Texas Democrats have a functioning get out the vote ecosystem that comes with fielding candidates for most of the offices listed up and down ballots across the state.

So, “Can The GOP Lose Texas In 2020?” The answer is yes, if Democrats can boost voter turnout from the state’s usual presidential year sub-sixty percent levels to sixty-eight percent, or more — and the Party might just have the political ecosystem this year to do it and flip the state red to blue.

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