I Hate Being So Right About Everything That’s So Wrong with Texas Politics
"Like a mirage, though, the notion of a working Democratic electoral majority in Texas keeps receding into the lifeless, barren future of a dystopian Cormac McCarthy novel."
The midterm elections I wrote about last week turned out pretty much the way I thought they would. If only I’d made a Mattress Mack-level bet on them.
The Texas Tribune headline this morning says it all: GOP victories show Texas is still far from turning blue. Democrats have not won a statewide race since 1994. (Trivia question: who were the three Democrats elected statewide in 1994? Put your answer in the comments.) Every two years, it seems, Texas Democrats pin their hopes on some theory of the electorate, only to be disappointed as Lucy once again pulls away the football.
For most of those years, Democrats have been waiting for Hispanics, now the largest demographic group in Texas, to vote in numbers corresponding to their population. More recently it was a blue “urban” Texas poised to overwhelm red “rural” Texas. This election, the hope was that women, enraged by the Dobbs decision and Texas’s draconian abortion laws, would turn out in decisive numbers. Like a mirage, though, the notion of a working Democratic electoral majority in Texas keeps receding into the lifeless, barren future of a dystopian Cormac McCarthy novel.
Last week, I ventured some predictions about the midterm elections, now mercifully concluded (except for all the election deniers). I had very low expectations of the People’s Wisdom and, sad to say, they delivered.
First of all, turnout. One word: impressive, but not the way Democrats hoped. The Democrats’ battle plan called for higher turnout among young voters, women and in urban areas. But gains among those groups did not provide the numbers that would change the outcomes. As of 9:00 a.m. this morning, 45.6% of Texas registered voters had voted in the Governor’s race, surpassing even 2018 (39.9%) levels. This may turn out to be one of the most important stories to tell in the postmortems of this election. Turnout in Travis County surged to 52.15%, very respectable for an off-year election but below 2018’s 61.78%.
As predicted, Governor Greg Abbott won re-election. As was not predicted, he cruised to victory, winning by a 55-44% margin as of this morning. Beto O’Rourke may take faint consolation in the fact that Abbott had to spend almost every penny of his war chest that was once thought limitless and impregnable, but I wouldn’t.
His fellow Hydra-heads, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Twice Indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton, were also re-elected as predicted. Patrick, who survived an unexpectedly-close race with Mike Collier in 2018, handily beat him this go-around, 54-43%. Paxton had about the same margin against attorney Rochelle Garza. I’d hoped that the Paxton-Garza race would at least throw up sone fireworks. I did take some comfort that, for a while at least, Paxton was losing his home Collin County to Garza.
The “lesser statewides” – Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, Ag Commissioner Sid Miller, and Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian – all won by double-digit margins, again as predicted.
Except for Hegar, the Republican statewides are the most mediocre collection of public servants this side of the Russian Duma. It’s sad that their victories were so predictable, and have been for so many years. But this is the result of GOP dominance of the Texas electorate, and Christian Right/Tea Party/MAGA dominance of GOP primaries.
Finally, in the Austin mayoral race, Celia Israel and Kirk Watson will advance to a December run-off, as I predicted.
Races to Watch
I also identified some races to watch, hoping to relieve the futility of watching the foregone statewide races.
South Texas congressional races – CDs 15, 28 and 34. There’d been much chatter about how President Donald Trump did better in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) in 2020. So, the GOP focused on three contiguous congressional districts this cycle, hoping to pick up at least two of them. But Henry Cuellar held on in CD-28 and Vicente Gonzalez recaptured CD-34. Republican Monica De La Cruz did win the open seat in CD-15.
Harris County Judge – This race was significant because Harris County is the third-largest county in the country (behind Los Angeles and Cook counties), and the largest by far in Texas. It has also been reliably blue for the last few elections cycles. It pitted incumbent Lina Hidalgo against new candidate Alexandra del Moral Mealer. Both candidates raised a ton of money, particularly Mealer. As of this morning, they were neck and neck, 50.7-49.3%, with a court challenge looming.
Presidio County Judge – incumbent Cinderela Guevara raised eyebrows and a few hackles last fall when she unexpectedly switched parties right before the filing deadline. I was intrigued because Presidio County is solidly Democratic, and I wondered why an incumbent Democrat would switch parties and leap into the unknown. Turns out challenger Jose Portillo, Jr. had decided to run against her, whether in the Democratic primary or a general election. Guevara may have calculated that financial support from Project Red Texas and typically insincere boosts from Greg Abbott might help her win re-election in spite of her party-switching. But no: she lost to Portillo with a final tally of 608 to 1,228.
A final thought
What did we learn, Palmer? (NSFW)