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In the three much-discussed Texas congressional districts where Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and where Republican incumbents are defending their seats, Gov. Greg Abbott won handily in 2014.
The differences are important as the political world turns its attention to 2018: Donald Trump wasn’t on the ticket in 2014, and Texas Republicans do better in non-presidential election years.
The 2016 results, combined with the flagging popularity of the nation’s top Republican, have buoyed Democratic hopes of some wins in the biggest red state in America. Trump lost to Clinton in congressional districts represented by Republicans John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes and Pete Sessions of Dallas, and Texas Democrats are licking their lips at the prospect of wins there.
The numbers from recent elections offer some hope for both parties.
In 2016, the average statewide Republican candidate beat the average Democratic candidate by more than a dozen percentage points — 54.3 percent to 40.2 percent.
In 2014, the margin was bigger; the average Republican had 59.4 percent to the average Democrat’s 37 percent.
On one hand, that’s a trend in the direction of the Democrats, with the Republican margin being cut significantly in the most recent election. But Texas Democrats generally perform better in presidential years than in the midterms, when Republican strength is at its greatest. For Republicans, that’s the bright prospect — that this off-year election without Trump dragging the ticket will be an improvement over 2016.
Democrats, of course, argue that Trump — like many other mid-term presidents — will be a benefit to their candidates and that the election could be a negative referendum on the president’s performance. Add this: 2014 was also a midterm election, and Barack Obama’s unpopularity here was a positive for Texas Republicans that year — a boon to them in the same way Trump might be a boon the Democrats this time.
The Texas congressional delegation has 36 seats, with 25 in Republican hands and 11 in Democratic hands. That’s largely due to redistricting: 69 percent of the congressional delegation is Republican — much higher than the percentage of Texans who vote for Republicans in statewide elections.
In those GOP-held districts, the best Davis did in 2014 was 42.1 percent in CD-23, where Hurd is the officeholder. That’s also where Abbott got his lowest winning percentage of 55.9 percent.
Abbott’s best showing was 83.1 percent in CD-11, where U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Midland, is the incumbent. Davis got 15.2 percent of the vote in that congressional district.
Trump's highest Texas numbers were in U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry's CD-13: 79.5 percent, to Clinton’s 16.8 percent. Conaway's district was not far behind, at 77.5 percent.
The high mark for Davis in 2014 was in U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s CD-30 based in Dallas, where Davis pulled in 77.8 percent to Abbott’s 21.2 percent. That was one of 11 districts where the Democrat won; those are also the only districts held by Texas Democrats in the U.S. House.
Abbott’s best showing in a Democratic district was in CD-15, where the incumbent is U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen. The governor got 46.3 percent, while Davis got 51.4 percent.
Behind the numbers
- The 2016 averages include only the statewide races that had both Democratic and Republican contenders: president; railroad commissioner; Texas Supreme Court, places 3, 5 and 9; and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, places 2, 5 and 6.
- The 2014 averages include only the statewide races that had both Democratic and Republican contenders: U.S. Senate; governor; lieutenant governor; attorney general; comptroller; land commissioner; agriculture commissioner; railroad commissioner; Texas Supreme Court, chief justice, places 6 and 7; and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, place 3.
- Third-party and write-in candidates were not included in the averages. The raw numbers for election results by political district are available online from the Texas Legislative Council; the computations were done by the author.
- These are results from the last two general elections and are not predictions or forecasts of what might happen in the 2018 elections.