Analysis: Blue Hopes Drowned by a Sea of Red
Texas voters reasserted themselves in the face of ballyhooed Democratic voter turnout efforts: This remains — emphatically — a Republican state.
The 2014 general election in Texas unfolded just as the political forecasters — professional and amateur alike — were predicting 18 to 24 months ago.
Texas is a Republican state.
The Democratic president of the United States is unpopular, and a drag on candidates from his party.
Without incumbent Republicans defending the statewide offices they have held for many years, challenges based on their records in office were blunted.
The Republican bench — the list of seasoned candidates ready to run for top state offices — is deeper than the Democratic bench. And the conservative political climate leading into this election year persuaded many of the state’s rising Democrats to stay out of this year’s elections and hope for better times ahead.
Redistricting favors incumbent parties and leaves only a few races for Congress and the Legislature competitive in November.
Nothing significant changed.
The Republicans running for statewide office beat the Democrats running against them, just as expected. Greg Abbott swamped Wendy Davis in the race for governor, leading a Republican flood that drowned every Democrat running for statewide office.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn won a relatively easy re-election bid, becoming the second-ranking member of a new Republican majority in that body. The whole Texas slate followed, each with a double-digit win: Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick, Attorney General-elect Ken Paxton, Comptroller-elect Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner-elect George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner-elect Sid Miller and Railroad Commissioner-elect Ryan Sitton.
Only one race for Congress amounted to a real general election battle, just as expected. In CD-23, U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, and Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, battled in the state’s only swing district.
Only one race in the Texas Senate — for the seat left open when Davis decided to run for governor instead of re-election — was really up for grabs. Republican Konni Burton defeated Democrat Libby Willis there.
And only about a dozen races for the 150-member Texas House could be called competitive.
The surprises this election year, such as they were, came in the primary elections, when many of the Republicans who won statewide office this year faced their stiffest challenges. Abbott, with his massive campaign treasury, drew only weak opposition. Bush, with that famous political name, scared away all but one Republican opponent, David Watts, who was both underfinanced and inexperienced.
Everybody else fought to get out of the GOP primaries. Patrick beat three sitting statewide officials to get the nomination for lieutenant governor. Paxton had two well-financed opponents. Four Republicans ran for comptroller, five for agriculture commissioner, and four for railroad commissioner.
After those races, November turned out to be relatively easy. But there were flashes of life among the Democrats. Davis and fellow Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, who ran for lieutenant governor, rode a dramatic June 2013 battle over abortion and women’s health care legislation to the top of the Democratic ticket.
They presented Republicans with unexpectedly energetic opposition, able to raise enough money to pose a real threat. And some of the campaign-trained veterans of Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns had decided to try to turn Texas into a swing state. Battleground Texas, they said, would be a long-term effort to engage Democrats in the state who voted infrequently or not at all.
Their efforts to turn out new Democratic voters were all but invisible in the wake of the red political wind that swept the state. According to exit polling from CNN, Abbott had majorities among men, women and Anglo voters, while Davis prevailed among minority voters.
And whatever they were doing at the top of the ticket was not enough to buoy Democrats down the ballot. The concerted vote production efforts by Democrats in Dallas County, for example, were not enough to produce wins for their House challengers to Republicans in swing districts there in spite of strong straight-ticket Democratic voting in Dallas.
Though it worked closely enough with the Davis campaign to move its headquarters to Fort Worth from Austin during the elections, Battleground Texas and other groups were unable to stave off the Republicans in her Senate district there. Davis has won two elections there when Obama was at the top of the ballot and turnout was high, but the district votes more Republican in off years, when turnout drops. The vote producers couldn’t push the numbers up, and Burton, the Republican, won handily.
In the House, Republicans needed to pick up five seats to get to a supermajority — 100 of the 150 members. They didn’t get there, but they brought their majority to 98 with wins from Wayne Faircloth in HD-23, which includes Galveston; Rick Galindo in San Antonio’s HD-117; and Gilbert Peña in Harris County’s HD-144.
At the end of it, the executive branch had been restaffed with a fresh set of officeholders, and the congressional and legislative delegations had some new faces but about the same mix of Republicans and Democrats.
Just like you might have predicted had this been on your mind a year or two ago.
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