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Why Dallas-Fort Worth Is A Key Battleground In The 2020 Election

Christopher Connelly
A voting location at Bedford Public Library.

The suburbs throughout North Texas are some of 2020’s premiere political battlegrounds. With the primary vote underway, Republicans are picking their nominees to run in the November general election – for local offices, and for seats in the Texas House and in Congress. 

Aside from the inevitable handful of runoff primaries, the nominees will begin a sprint after the March 3 primary toward the general nomination, with a lot at stake.

Texas, like the rest of the country, has been growing increasingly diverse, and the days of all white suburbs have long since closed. Suburbs throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth region — particularly in the Mid-Cities and north of Dallas – are some of the nation’s most diverse cities. The increasing racial and ethnic diversity in DFW’s suburbs is a product of new people moving in from around the country and around the world, as well as lower birth rates among white Texans.

The generational makeup of the suburbs is changing, too. The oldest Millennials are getting ready to hit their 40s, and they’ve been buying houses, having kids and becoming the new suburbanites.

North Texas has added more than a million new residents since 2010 and many have landed in the suburbs, making them denser and more populous – and more city-like – than ever before. Population growth in Denton, Collin and Rockwall counties outpaces that of Dallas County. Those coming in from other U.S. states come from a range of places, many more liberal-leaning than Texas, which could scramble the state’s political maps.

Republican Party of Texas chairman James Dickey, though, cautioned that those arriving from liberal-leaning places shouldn’t be counted on to support liberal candidates.

“Some of our strongest, most vibrant activists are folks that have fled the oppressive, over-taxed, over-burdening, low-opportunity regimes being run in places like California and New York and we are thrilled to have them here,” Dickey said.

Wherever they came from, both parties have been running voter registration efforts to target these new arrivals.

That helps account for the 2 million additional voters on the rolls since the last presidential election. In 2016, 14 million Texans were registered to vote. Today, more than 16 million are.

Young people are especially eager to participate, and have been registering at a fast clip over the last few years said Cliff Walker, deputy executive director for the Texas Democratic Party. It’s the generation that’s grown up doing active shooter drills in high school, he said, who are wondering what climate change will mean for their futures and many of whom have at least one foreign-born parent.

“Federal action or non-action on some of these issues that they care deeply about is very personal to these folks, so I think we’ll see them turn out in a major way and have an outsized impact on the election,” Walker said. “And that makes the electorate more Democratic.”

The greatest prize for Democrats this year is not at the top of the ticket this year, but centers on nearly two dozen competitive seats in the Texas House. Democrats are targeting 22 Republican-held seats throughout the state that were narrowly won by Republicans in 2018. Ten of those seats are in North Texas.

The reason Texas political observers are so focused on the capitol building in Austin instead of Washington this year is that Democrats are just nine seats away from winning back a majority in the Texas House. The last time they controlled the lower chamber was in 2001. The opportunity comes after Democrats began chipping away at the robust majority Republicans secured in the early 2010s. In the last two elections, Democrats have flipped 16 seats in the state House.

It’s a particularly important election for state legislative races because the Legislature will redraw the state’s political maps for state and congressional districts in 2021, when the state is also expected to gain up to three new seats in Congress.

If Democrats can get a seat at the table, they are more likely to win more seats in future elections. If Republicans can keep their majority, they can draw more favorable maps, as they did in the last round of redistricting when they were able to maximize Republican voter power by diluting the impact of Democratic votes.

“Having a Democratic speaker in the Texas House is going to make it much more likely that we can have fair maps,” said the Texas Democratic Party’s Walker.

Still, Walker said his party is better positioned than ever to win more than just the state house. He hopes to see a Democrat dethrone U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, and says recent polls show President Donald Trump is vulnerable in Texas and could lose the state. He won by just nine points in 2016, the smallest victory by a Republican president in two decades. They’re also targeting key Congressional seats, including in North Texas.

The Democratic gains across Texas in recent years have been a boon for Democrats, and the feeling of competitiveness can enliven an electorate used to losing, Walker says.

Republicans find the competitiveness invigorating, too, according to GOP chairman James Dickey. Republicans across the state have used it to bolster fundraising, launched a massive voter engagement project, and have been building a more diverse slate of candidates, he said.

“My message for everyone every single election is that you have to run like you’re down ten points, and you need to make sure you clearly communicate to the voters that you know and you want to earn their votes,” Dickey said. “I love that donors, activists, candidates, office holders all got a reminder that we need to earn every voter’s vote every time.”

Voters who live in North Texas – especially those in the suburbs – will have to wait until November to know which party will represent them in Austin and Washington. But in the meantime, they should expect an onslaught of political ads in the mail, on TV, online and at their doorstep, because this is one place where the political future of the state will be decided.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.