Texas

The very bad, no good, terrible day for Texas Democrats

SAN ANTONIO (KXAN) — Texas Democratic elected officials had a chance to impact public policy coming out of the Texas Senate.

Now, it's likely they won't.

Tuesday, Democrats lost a majority Hispanic senate district and saw a poll of likely voters showing statewide gains may not be as large as they wanted.

The largest hit came from Senate District 19, which covers parts of south and west Texas. Earlier this year, the Democratic incumbent, Carlos Uresti, was convicted of multiple financial crimes and was forced to step down.

Then, Gov. Greg Abbott called a special election and a Republican made it to the runoff. That runoff between Republican Pete Flores and Democrat Pete Gallego was won by the GOP Tuesday 53 to 47.

In the past two general elections, the Democratic candidate won the district by 15 to 20 points. Flores will become the first Hispanic Republican to serve in the Texas Senate.

With two vulnerable incumbent GOP state senators in the Dallas area, this historically Democratic district was a must-win for Republicans to keep a super majority in the Texas Senate.

With three-fifths of the members in the Senate, Republicans don't need a single Democratic vote to pass a bill out of the chamber.

Statewide Republican leaders knew the importance of the District 19 election and helped Flores win.

Gov. Abbott ran digital ads and mobilized dozens of paid staffers to knock on doors in the district.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the GOP leader of the Texas Senate, put nearly $200,000 of resources into the race. U.S. senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz campaigned for Flores.

The state party apparatus and multiple local GOP elected officials lent their staff and volunteers to get the election victory. 

Similar resources were not brought into the electoral fight by high profile Democratic candidates — such as Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, Mike Collier, and Lupe Valdez — at the same level as the Republican incumbents.

The state Democratic Party mobilized resources and staffers but it was not enough to get the win. 

It showed in their statement after the loss. 

“Come November, no Democrat can sit on the sidelines and no campaign can take any vote for granted. We need to make sure that every voter understands what's at stake," wrote Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa.

He continued, “Governor Abbott stole an election, plain and simple. Republicans set a date that would guarantee low voter turnout, then Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Republican special interests poured money into the race, denying the people of West Texas and the U.S. Mexico border representation that shares their values."

Gallego served in the Texas House of Representatives for many years and was later elected to Congress from the Texas 23rd congressional district. However, the District 19 race marked his second defeat in as many years. He lost to Congressman Will Hurd in 2016 for the Texas 23rd. 

Republican leaders took this as a sign that the Hispanic voter-fueled rise in Democratic enthusiasm might not be as big as many thought. 

"All this talk about a blue wave? Well, the tide is out," said Lt. Gov. Patrick at the Flores election night celebration. 

The election happened on the same day a new Quinnipiac University Poll showed Sen. Cruz up by 9 points against O'Rourke in the U.S. Senate race. Nine points is the same measure Hillary Clinton lost the state by in the 2016 presidential election. 

Nine points is much larger than many predictions of the race beforehand. Staffers and campaign operatives told KXAN they believed Cruz was up by three to six points. 

The Hispanic pro-Beto numbers of the poll were also lower than expected. In the poll, Hispanic likely voters picked O'Rourke over Cruz 54 to 45. 

The poll also showed Gov. Abbott with a 19-point lead in his race against Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff. The assistant director of the poll said Abbott may be on his way to a landslide reelection. 


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