The Republican Party has been the dominant political force in Texas for decades, but in the aftermath of the recent midterm elections, signs of competition are starting to appear across the state’s political landscape.
Although Republicans held onto every statewide seat, and no Democrat has been elected to statewide office since 1994, the margins in key races were closer than they had been in several years. Matt Mackowiak, chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, said there are some worrying signs for Republicans in the midterm results.
“Democrats got further than they’ve been anytime in the last 20 years,” Mackowiak said. “If you look at lieutenant governor, agriculture commissioner and attorney general, those three races were all under five points and … U.S. Senate was the closest at 2.6 percent.”
Mackowiak attributed many of these gains to suburban areas where Republicans typically perform better.
“We always get beat badly in the urban areas,” Mackowiak said. “But there were some really poor results in some suburban areas in Tarrant County, in Fort Bend, Williamson and Hays. Even some of those other counties in (North Texas) that had been pretty strong Republican areas, like Denton and Collin, moved meaningfully in the Democratic direction.”
Government professor David Prindle said demographic changes in the state likely contributed to gains made by Democrats and noted Latinx and African American Texans are now roughly the same percentage of the state’s population as white people.
“Anglos tend to be much more conservative than Latinos and African Americans (and) tend to have much higher voter turnout rates,” Prindle said. “If Latinos and African Americans would turn out to vote at the same rate as Anglos, Texas might become a blue state, or at least purple.”
Mackowiak said Democrats were successful in part because they nominated candidates like El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke. He also said the absence of straight-ticket voting, where voters can opt to cast ballots for every Democrat or every Republican candidate, will hurt Democrats in future elections.
“What I think the Democrats have working against them is it’s a huge question about whether they’ll have someone like Beto again,” Mackowiak said. “He didn’t win his race, but he won a lot of other races. I mean (Democrats) flipped 12 state House seats, they flipped two state Senate seats, they flipped two congressional seats and they were pretty close to a lot of other seats.”
Despite an increase in participation by Democrats, many Republicans are confident their party still best represents Texas values.
In declaring victory against O’Rourke, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said in his election night speech that Texas voters chose him because Texas remains a conservative state.
“This election was a battle of ideas,” Cruz said. “It was a contest for who we are and what we believe in. It was a contest and the people of Texas decided this race …. The people of Texas rendered a verdict that we want a future with more jobs, more security and more freedom.”