News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politics

Lots Of Texans Voted, But The Blue Wave Never Made Landfall

Chanda Parbhoo looks at her cellphone while a conservative poll greeter stands in the background wearing Trump campaign clothing.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA News
Chanda Parbhoo, founder of South Asian American Voter Empowerment (SAAVE), coordinated several voter engagement events when early voting first began. She helped out as a poll greeter in front of Davis Public Library on Oct. 17, where a group of conservative poll greeters stood nearby.

Democrats and liberals hoped to turn the state of Texas blue in 2020. But from the presidency down to the Texas House, they faced disappointment.

That's despite lots of spending by organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, and numerous analysts and pundits predicting that the so-called “blue wave” would wash away conservative dominance.

Still, in many races throughout Texas, Republicans won by smaller margins than in previous years. And almost all of Texas' largest cities have become Democratic strongholds.

With all that in mind, why did Democrats not do as well as some had expected? And how did Republicans maintain power in the Lone Star State?

Takeaways From Democrats' Losses In Texas

MJ Hegar talks with a crowd of supporter around her.
Democratic Senate candidate MJ Hegar talks to supporters at an election watch party at the Riveter in Austin on Tuesday.

UNT political science professor Kimi Lynn King said to understand the Democrats' losses in Texas, it's important to look at former El Paso Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke and his narrow defeat to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in the 2018 U.S. Senate race.

Cruz won with 50.9% of the vote, while O'Rourke had 48.3%. It was the closest Senate race in Texas since the late 1970s.

“I think perhaps we should look at the O’Rourke bid in 2018 as an anomaly rather than the leading indicator,” she said. “People may have made a mistake thinking that [the tight race] had magically shifted us, because he was within two points [of victory].”

In some ways, King said, the 2020 election is “more of the same.” She pointed out that folks have been predicting the “blue wave was coming” since 2006. And yet, it’s still not here.

“We have not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate [in Texas] since Jimmy Carter,” she said. "He too was a little blip in the pan.”

Democrats also did a poor job of handling the “incumbency effect,” King said. That’s understanding that in national elections, the candidate already in office nearly always wins.

“If you look at what happened across Texas, what we have is classic incumbency effect, because of name recognition, which can drive so many of those races,” King said.

Races like the U.S. Senate featuring Democrat M.J. Hegar and longtime Republican Sen. John Cornyn. He easily defeated his opponent. King believes Cornyn's extended tenure in Texas politics aided his victory. She also thinks the Democrats' misallocation of money helped Cornyn take down his rival.

“Money can’t buy you love,” she said. “The reality is that if you look at where the Democrats dumped money, there needs to be a serious reconsideration of what they are thinking.”

King said throwing money at media and television advertisements might have been the wrong strategy for Democrats, especially if their ground game wasn’t up to par. One place where the ground game might have truly been lacking is the Rio Grande Valley where Biden trailed significantly behind Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“If you look at the Rio Grande Valley, the Democrats missed a huge opportunity down there,” King said. “Whether or not that was the Trump Hispanic ground game turning people out during the middle of a pandemic — that’s not clear. But what is really clear, is that Texas Hispanic Republicans are truly the key to Texas Republican control going forward.”

King said it's time for Texas Democrats to have a reckoning about how they look at certain demographics. She said they can't just count a Latino voter as a Democrat without first understanding what issues pushed that voter against the party and toward the Republicans in this year’s election.

Takeaways From Republicans' Victories

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn looks away from the camera with a wooden wall behind him.
Allison Shelley
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

Despite a good night for the Republican Party in Texas on Tuesday, TCU’s political science professor James Riddlesperger says "the reality is Texas is becoming more and more purple all the time.”

He pointed towards President Trump’s small margin of victory in Texas in 2020 — 6 points — and compared it to his victory in 2016.

“Texas is clearly less-reliably Republican than it was years ago,” he said. “I mean, Trump won by 9 points four years ago. Mitt Romney won by 16 points four years before that. And so, we can see that there’s a trend towards being more competitive. There’s no question about that.”

Still, Riddlesperger said it’s not possible to say if this trend will continue on and look similar four years from now. But he, like King, said the key is going to be Texas’ Latino voters.

“Look, whether the Democrats can carry 75% of the Latino vote or 60% of their votes will tell you the future of the Democratic Party,” he said. “Or the Republicans can continue to make inroads among Latinos. And then, the Republican Party could persist in its dominance on Texas politics moving forward.”

Riddlesperger admits understanding Latino voters will be tough for both parties. Surveys show many Latinos tend to be in favor of government services like healthcare, education and more spending on government programs. But, he said, certain Latino voters are conservative on social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.

“It’s always been a difficult thing to typecast Latino voters, because we don’t know which one of those things is going to be more important in terms of their voting patterns,” he said. “The large number of Latino voters who are conservative Christians — Catholics, Pentecostal and Protestants — tend to be more attuned to the social issues than they are to other issues.”

Voter turnout may be another positive sign for Republicans in this year's election, according to Riddlesperger.

“For 50 years, maybe for 70 years, we have said in Texas and generally in the U.S. that higher turnout benefits Democrats,” he explained. “That simply is just no longer the case.”

Riddlesperger said the demographics of the voters who support the two political parties have also changed.

“The Republican Party used to be the part of 'the educated.' The Democrats used to be the 'blue collar' workers. But the fact is that switched,” he said. “It used to be that Republicans could count on their voters turning out. That’s not the case though.”

Both parties will have to adjust to a world where turnout no longer determines which party will be on top, he said.

Got a tip? Email Hady Mawajdeh at hady@KERA.org. You can follow Hady on Twitter @hadysauce.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting