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Why The Winter Storm Probably Won’t Help Democrats Turn Texas Blue

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Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT News
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Lines for voting on day one of early voting for the 2020 elections at the Southpark Meadows shopping center in South Austin.

Many Texans continue to deal with the aftermath of February’s deep freeze, as water outages and high electric bills continue. But memory is a fickle thing and it’s unclear whether politicians in the state will pay a price for the ways they handled the storm.

Reporter Alex Samuels of the politics website FiveThirtyEight has been wondering what Texas voters will remember when they head to the ballot box in 2022 and 2024. Samuels told Texas Standard that several structural aspects of politics in Texas will make it difficult for Democrats to take advantage of anger over incumbent Republicans’ uneven response to the winter storm.

The results of the 2020 election, Samuels says, indicate that Texas is not primed for a blue wave. Additionally, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott remains relatively popular in the state, especially among Republicans. And even if Democrats were able to chip away at Abbott, based on his performance after the storm, there’s no obvious standard-bearer for the party other than former congressman and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. Samuels says O’Rourke’s popularity currently ranks below Abbott’s.

Samuels says redistricting, which is controlled by Republicans, also won’t help challengers in 2022 and beyond.

Democrats in Texas look to what happened in Georgia – the election of two Democratic senators and energizing of a progressive voter base – as a model for what they hope could be accomplished in the Lone Star State. Some are also eager to embrace O’Rourke, who has hinted he might run for governor in 2022, and who was seen providing assistance to those affected by the storm last month.

“It’s definitely fair to say that Democrats are not giving up on the hope that they could flip the state,” Samuels said.

But newly competitive areas of South Texas could help Republican efforts, Samuels says. Hidalgo, Cameron and Maverick counties “were pretty heavily for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But then in 2020, Biden only won those districts by a few percentage points.”

Like Republicans across the country, members of the Texas GOP are not united. Abbott has taken criticism from state party chair Allen West for mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions in the state.

“What we found is that in polling, a majority of Republicans – I believe anywhere between 70% and 80% – have stuck with Abbott for the most part. And he still has a massive war chest heading into next year.”