Analysis: Mike Collier lost, but outdid Beto O'Rourke in most Texas counties

Beto O'Rourke, the Texas Democrat who got most of the attention in this year's general election, got more votes than any other Democrat on the statewide ticket. But one of them out-performed O'Rourke in 171 counties.

Mike Collier, then-Democratic nominee for Texas comptroller, at the state Democratic convention in Dallas on June 27, 2014. Collier ran for lieutenant governor in 2018.

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Mike Collier, the Democrat who ran for and lost the race for lieutenant governor last month, wasn’t the star of his party’s ticket. But by some measures, Collier did better in this year’s general election than Beto O’Rourke.

In 171 of the state’s 254 counties — counties O’Rourke famously visited during the campaign — Collier got more votes than the Democrat at the top of the ticket.

In terms of wins and losses, it wasn’t enough of a difference to make a difference: Texas Republicans won all of the statewide races. With this year’s victories, they’ve now done that a dozen times in a row, starting in 1996.

But the Democrats lost by smaller margins than usual. The state didn’t turn blue, as some of their most exuberant partisans had hoped, but it edged toward the purple territory that marks a swing state. Texas hasn’t had margins like this at the top of the ballot since 1998 — 20 years ago.

Overall, O’Rourke got more votes than Collier (or any other statewide Democrat) — more than 4 million of them in the general election. Justin Nelson, the party’s candidate for attorney general, got 3.9 million — coming in with 147,534 fewer votes than O'Rourke. Collier and Kim Olson, who ran for agriculture commissioner, weren’t far behind him.

O'Rourke beat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, his Republican opponent, in 32 counties; by that measure, he outdid his Democratic ticket-mates. Nelson won in 31 counties, Olson in 30, Collier in 29 and so on. Lupe Valdez, the party’s candidate for governor, won in just 20 counties, the least of any of the statewide non-judicial candidates.

The flip of that: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott won more counties — 234 — than any other Republican at the top of the ballot. Cruz won the fewest, with 222.

Valdez only got more votes than O'Rourke in two counties, outdoing him by one vote in Wheeler County and by three votes in Loving County, where she had nine supporters and he had only six. She was, by the numbers, the biggest loser of the night, finishing 1.1 million votes behind Abbott. O'Rourke’s deficit — 214,921 votes — was the smallest of the statewide Democrats (or, if you prefer, Cruz skated by on the thinnest ice of the Republican winners). Nelson, running against Attorney General Ken Paxton, finished fewer than 300,000 votes behind, out of almost 8.4 million votes cast.

The results were red, just like they have been for years. But they weren’t deep enough to comfort the majority party. Abbott’s was the biggest win. George P. Bush, the state’s land commissioner and the heir to one of the biggest names in Texas political history, beat Miguel Suazo by almost 900,000 votes.

Republican incumbents with perceived weaknesses or without Abbott’s finances or Bush’s name didn’t do as well as they might have expected.

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, whose contest didn’t get much attention, won by almost 600,000 votes. He and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, who won by a similar margin, were the exceptions.

Paxton managed to win in spite of three pending felony indictments. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller survived in spite of four years of attention-grabbing episodes — some intentional, some not. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a favorite of the GOP’s most fervent base voters, was in the middle of the pack, running about 400,000 votes behind Abbott, and only about 400 votes ahead of Cruz.

It was enough. Winning is winning, etc. And one election isn’t a trend.

Democrats increased their strength in urban Texas. Republican strength in suburban parts of the state was considerably weaker than it has been. Most of the rural areas went the other way, giving Republicans even bigger shares of the vote than usual.

That was one of the big takeaways from the U.S. Senate race, but there were some cracks in that lesson — 171 of them. Collier didn’t win his race, or even do as well as Democrats above him on the ballot. But he did get more votes than the Democrats’ new star in two-thirds of the state’s counties.

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