Texas 2020 Election News

Analysis: In a leaked memo, a peek at Texas GOP’s concerns

Political plans aren't necessarily clever or novel, as a recently leaked memo from the Texas GOP illustrates. But they do provide some insight into what worries the plotters.

President Donald Trump exits Air Force One at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

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The initial Republican and Democratic players for the 2020 elections will be on record at the end of this last day of candidate filing: Which races have candidates, which candidates look strong and weak, what does the political battlefield look like?

Republicans still hold the big offices and majorities in the congressional and legislative delegations, which means they’ll be defending what they’ve got while Democrats are trying to take it away. That merits another look at a Republican Party of Texas memo that leaked right before Thanksgiving.

The memo, first reported by The Dallas Morning News’ James Barragán, says a lot of things that wouldn’t have been surprising coming from sources other than inside the Texas GOP. Things about a disruptive president, Democratic gains in the Legislature, efforts to diversify the Republican Party and the problem of getting people to the polls — and to the bottom of their ballots when they vote.

But it is a map of sorts, showing some of the concerns of the party that has dominated state politics for more than two decades.

It’s all spelled out in the memo, which was described after it became public as a draft, an unofficial document, a set of talking points — everything but a game plan. That’s the caveat.

Whatever you want to call it, here’s what it said.

Texas Republicans are worried about the legislative seats they’ve lost recently.

They’re apprehensive about the effects Donald Trump might have on voters and on the candidates below him on the ballot, “given the polarizing nature of the president.”

They’re also thinking about how to get voters to keep voting after the first race or two in the first general election since the state got rid of straight-ticket voting.

And they want to counter the idea — “the narrative driven by the Democrats” — that the GOP isn’t diverse. It wasn’t connected to the memo, but the alacrity of the response last week when state Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, said some of his opponents were running because they are Asians in a place with a lot of Asian voters, illustrated the concern. Local party officials disowned Miller quickly, the governor withdrew his endorsement, and Miller apologized and dropped out of his reelection race within a day.

The memo listed a dozen state House Democrats the Republicans hope to defeat in 2020. Since the Democrats took a dozen seats from the GOP in 2018, it’s not hard to figure out which ones the Republicans would like to have back in their column.

Of those 12 new incumbent Democrats on the list, eight beat Republicans in the general election and four won elections in which Republican incumbents had stepped aside or had lost their own primaries.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s barely political science. The best time to challenge incumbent officeholders is in their first reelection attempt — before they’ve built a record of success and broad supporter and donor bases.

It’s not a surprise that the Republicans are going after those Democrats, trying to win their seats back. The Democrats will be trying to defend those fresh incumbents and build on their wins, saying openly — and who knows, maybe in memos of their own — that nine additional members would give them a majority in the Texas House for the first time since 2002.

Getting rid of straight-ticket voting, which all but a handful of states have already done, was a Republican initiative in the 2017 legislative session. It might save some GOP candidates in counties where Democrats win at the top of the ballot. But ending it is causing some heartburn in both parties.

The plans laid out in the memo are conventional pre-election stuff. Raise money. Build websites attacking opponents. Figure out how to counter what the other party is saying. Find some voters and get them to the polls, and to the bottom of the ballots — with an eye out for those “never-Trumpers” who might not show up, hurting the ticket.

Nothing surprising. It was just weird to see it written down and leaked before a big election year.

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