On Tuesday, the Lone Star State held the nation’s first midterm primaries. Early voting among Democrats had increased a whopping 65 percent while the GOP’s was a meager 15 percent. Of course, keep in mind 2014 was a horrid year for Democrats and their turnout that year was nothing to write home about.
So, what can we, and particularly, Democrats take away from the primary results. Well, first-off, while Democratic turnout was well above 2014 levels it was nowhere near where early voting numbers indicated it might be.
Early voting numbers had pegged 465,000 Democrats voting compared to 420,000 Republicans in the state’s 15 largest counties (including suburban Dallas and Austin). But, by the end of the night almost half a million more Republicans had voted in uncompetitive primaries compared to a Democratic gubernatorial election now headed to a runoff. Compared to 2014 the gap was a couple hundred thousand voters less but it indicated that many Democrats voting were existing and consistent partisans as opposed to new voters motivated to show up by Trump and Republicans.
Democrats had telegraphed their strategy of playing in primaries and it did not seem to pan out well. Laura Moser, the progressive candidate the DCCC attacked in Texas’s 21st district, finished second and made it to a runoff. A number of other headlining candidates who raised and spent the most money in purple or suburban districts either underwhelmed or did not even make it to a runoff.
Despite their underwhelming vote totals in statewide races results from some suburban races show Democrats have real shots at taking several GOP seats. In two key suburban races Democrats got their preferred candidates (or likely will).
Outside Dallas, Allred posted an unexpectedly large margin of victory in a crowded primary to set himself up as a clear favorite in May’s runoff before taking on Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, in a district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In suburban Houston, in another Clinton district, vulnerable GOP Rep. John Culberson will also have to wait until he sees who he will face. But, GOP primary turnout only exceeded Democrats by a narrow 5,000 (though the GOP primary was an afterthought while the Democrats was competitive). Democrats remain committed to targeting him.
Most concerning for one member, Rep. Will Hurd, who sits in the sprawling TX-23 that Clinton carried by four points, is Democratic turnout vast exceeded GOP turnout. Now, again, the Democratic primary was competitive and advanced to a runoff, but if any district was poised to flip in Texas it would be his.
Through it all the results indicate as districts become more diverse, affluent and educated GOP holds become less certain in the era of Trump. But, as Karen Handel’s victory in GA-6 showed, formerly stalwart Republican partisans who may not like Trump remain more loyal to the GOP down-ballot.
Perhaps, more pertinent to Texas than elsewhere is the context matters. Despite Texas being a diverse state the Lone Star State’s Hispanic population is more conservative than the nation as whole. Further, despite the state’s growing Hispanic population, many are illegals or still too young to vote meaning Democrats are a generation away still from winning statewide races.
Texas is a reminder despite Democratic enthusiasm the party still needs to top some mighty hills before it gain power in red bastions. It further is a reminder just how uphill a climb the battle for the Senate is (even assuming they win Nevada and Arizona). Likely Texas is a better state for Democrats than Texas and these primary results show their chances are not so hot.