General elections in Texas will be less competitive than ever under the redistricting maps approved by the Legislature earlier this year. Lawmakers drew maps for the Texas House, the Texas Senate and the congressional delegation likely to leave only a handful of races in question after the party primaries each March.
Voters preferred Republicans in recent statewide elections in 100 of the state's 150 House districts, in 20 of its 31 Senate districts and in 26 of the 36 congressional districts in the Legislature's maps. The districts could change. A three-judge federal panel in San Antonio just finished a two-week trial challenges to the redistricting plans. A separate panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., is holding a conference with redistricting lawyers over a different set of challenges to the Texas maps. Those courts could make small or large changes to any or all of the maps, or leave them as they are.
But for now, voters, candidates, contributors, consultants and everyone else has only the Legislature's maps as a guide. Political professionals and candidates are making their plans according to these, knowing they can scramble later if need be. And the takeaway is simple: Texas has a strongly Republican map, and the political threats to incumbents, if any, will come in primaries and not in general elections.
One way to judge the new political terrain is to see how each district voted in the last two elections — the one for president in 2008 and the one for governor and other statewide offices in 2010. Our sister publication, Texas Weekly, runs the numbers to create the Texas Weekly Index — the difference between the average vote for Republicans and for Democrats in each district in contested statewide general elections in 2008 and 2010.
The notable characteristic of the maps is how strictly they corral partisans into districts where they're safe, for the most part, from the opposition party.
• Only three of the 150 districts in the Texas House are occupied by members whose partisan tags don't match the voting in their districts. And they're all marginal districts. Democrat Craig Eiland of Galveston is in a district where Republicans won by a scant 2.3 percentage points. Republican Aaron Peña of Edinburg's district voted Democratic by 3.1 points. And Republicans Connie Scott and Raul Torres of Corpus Christi are paired in a district where Democrats dominated Republicans by 7 points, on average.
• Only six of the 150 House districts were won by one party or the other by fewer than 10 percentage points. The action in those, unless voters change their behavior, will be in the Republican and Democratic primaries — not in the general elections. It's worth noting here that the Texas electorate is capable of mood swings, as evidenced in the two elections used for the basis of this: 2008 and 2010.
• Most of the districts in the House are very, very safe for the party in power: 72 Republican seats had indexes higher than 25, and 31 Democratic seats had numbers that high. In other words, 103 of the newly drawn legislative districts were carried by statewide candidates of the party in power by 25 percentage points or more.
• By the numbers, 100 seats have Republican indexes and 50 have Democratic indexes. Unless the maps change, or voters change, the Republicans will have a safe majority for the next decade. And it's safe to say that the winning candidates from both parties will be the ones who satisfy primary voters and not general election voters. There's no incentive for anyone to run to the middle of the road.
• Only one state senator — Democrat Wendy Davis of Fort Worth — represents a district where voters favored the other party in the 2008 and 2010 elections. Senate Republicans drew themselves 20 safe seats and left 11 for the Democrats.
• Of the 31 seats in the Senate, five held by Democrats and 16 held by Republicans had indexes higher than 25. Only two, both held by Democrats, had indexes lower than 10 percent.
• One congressional district — CD-23, held by Republican Francisco "Quico" Canseco of San Antonio — has an index of 10. By the numbers, that's the closest thing to a competitive general election district in the 36-seat congressional delegation.
• Four Democrats and 14 Republicans in the delegation will represent districts with indexes over 25.
The Index is the difference between the average vote for Republicans and for Democrats in each district in contested statewide general elections in 2008 and 2010. If it's red (a negative number), it's a Republican district. If it's blue, it's Democratic territory.
Example: in Smithee's HD-86, statewide Republicans beat statewide Democrats by an average of 63.1 percentage points in races featuring both parties in the 2008 and 2010 general elections. The statewide average is -17.1 percent. Choose whether you want House, Senate or congressional charts, and sort by district, ranking, party, TWI or by the names of the incumbents. The numbers are based on the maps approved by the Legislature and not yet approved by the federal courts: H283, S148 and C185.
For the TWI in interactive form — sortable by district, name, party, TWI and rank — check out the interactive tables below. Or you can grab the attached PDF version and print it out.