AUSTIN (KXAN) — Below are five big takeaways from the midterm election in Texas.
1. Republicans: Work needed in urban and suburban counties
“While we recognize our victories, we know we have much work to do – particularly in the urban and suburban areas of the state,” wrote James Dickey, Chairman of the Texas GOP, the day after the election.
Examples can be found all over the state: Harris County, Dallas County, Travis County, Bexar County, El Paso County. Urban counties went overwhelmingly Democratic Tuesday night. Tarrant County used to be known as the most reliably conservative urban county in America. But Congressman Beto O’Rourke pulled more votes out of Tarrant County than Sen. Ted Cruz.
Democrats either won or were close in growing suburban counties like Hays, Williamson, Fort Bend, Denton and Collin. Republicans had suburbs in the bag in 2014. That’s not the case in 2018.
2. Democrats have a blueprint to win statewide
Congressman Beto O’Rourke spent 22 months gathering emails, phone numbers and valuable likely voter information. That database is now the most valuable political tool in the state. It helped him raise a historic amount of money – around $75 million – all from individual donations.
O’Rourke’s database helped paid staffers and volunteers find and bring out four million voters during a midterm election. If information is refined and broadened over the next two years, the next Democratic candidate could know who to call and where to look for the winning margin.
All this is dependent on Beto O’Rourke’s future use of the tool he built and who he allows to have access to it.
3. Candidates and tone matter
While some Republican candidates won by three, four and five points; Governor Abbott won by 14. He never ran a negative ad. He focused on the economy, security and education.
“Listen, we all want safer communities. We all want more jobs. We all want better schools and we all want to get our kids lives worthy of their promise. These priorities are bigger than any political party because first and foremost, we are Texans,” Abbott said at the election night party.
That’s far from the tone set by Sen. Ted Cruz and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who portrayed a difference in two ways of life, the one threatened by the other.
4. Texas is a competitive state
Four years ago, candidate Greg Abbott beat Wendy Davis by 20 points. Two years ago, candidate Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Texas by nine. This year, Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Rep. Beto O’Rourke by three points, and Texans noticed it before election day.
Political ads ran on TV and computers across the state. Yard signs stood in small-town neighborhoods and big city corners. Texans should get used to it.
5. 2020 election will be most important in a generation
2020 is when the U.S. census is taken to find out who lives where. Texas lawmakers elected in 2020 will draw the uber-important boundaries for Congressional districts, state House districts and state Senate districts. The process known as redistricting sets field for the political game to play out.
In a 2010 Tea Party wave, Republicans took a supermajority in the Texas House and continued control in the Texas Senate. Texas Republicans were able to draw district lines to protect their gains. Democratic groups filed suit and the lines were redrawn in 2012. Democratic groups still believed the districts stripped power from Democrats and minorities and continued a legal challenge. That fight only recently ended with most district lines intact.
The maps drawn in 2010 to 2012 led to only a handful of districts being competitive. Politicians could only focus on winning their March primary because the general election was going to be a piece of cake.
The makeup of the Texas legislature during the 2021 legislative session – after the 2020 elections – will set the tone and draw the district maps for the next decade.
Then it will be a Presidential year, elections that historically favor Democrats.
Texas is now more competitive than states like Missouri and North Dakota, where Republicans won by larger numbers. Democrats picked up two congressional seats and were within single digits in many others.
If the national Democratic Party believes Texas – and it’s 38 electoral college seats for President – is more competitive, they could pump in more money, a tide possibly raising all Democrat boats.
In addition, the more Republican money spent defending Texas diverts resources from other states the GOP could pick up.