Democrats in Texas on Tuesday were supposed to be celebrating. Not fretting. But fretting they are now that a Democratic state senate district which supported Clinton by 12 points and has not had a Republican represent it since Reconstruction flipped in a special election. SD-19’s special election was brought on by Senate Democratic Minority Leader, Carlos Ureti, was indicted on 11 federal counts of fraud.
The district, largely Hispanic, encompasses much of South-Central and Southwest Texas taking in rural counties and some urban parts of Bexar County (San Antonio). Democrats, already fretting about Hispanics not turning out in the rural TX-23, now have even more reason to worry their supposed “base” of Hispanic voters just are not motivated to turn out in the era of Trump.
By all accounts Democrats had every advantage in this race. Beto O’Rourke was driving Democratic excitement at the top of the ticket. Total Democratic turnout in the primary equaled 59 percent of the vote compared to 41 percent for Republicans. But there was trouble brewing among Democrats as the primary between former state and US Rep. Pete Gallego and San Antonio state Rep. Roland Gutierrez grew contentious. In fact, despite all Democrats garnering 59 percent of the total vote, Flores won the biggest plurality.
By all accounts, the state GOP united behind Flores immediately. He received endorsements from Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and US Senator Ted Cruz. The state party started pumping in funds and organizing a ground game while the NRA and Texas Right to Life touted Flores conservative credentials. Patrick gave $175,000 of his funds to Flores, basically bankrolling his campaign.
Despite the district’s past low turnout, Democrats could not hide their dismay and surprise Tuesday night. Case in point, Democrats did not even try to argue the timing of the special election did not impact their chances until the day after the election issuing the statement the GOP stole the seat through a oddly timed special election. Yet, in special election after special election this cycle the timing has not impacted the party’s chances. In fact, it has seemed to help them.
This points to the inescapable fact Democrats, in the era of Trump, are not winning over vast swathes of minorities, particularly Hispanics, but being driven by white, college educated voters dislike of Trump and consistent support from black voters. Indeed, Democratic over-performance this cycle has been in largely white, formerly Republican suburban districts such as OH-12 and the now infamous PA-18.
The polls also indicate Democrats might be in trouble with Hispanic voters in multiple places. In Florida, Democrats assumed Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans were theirs for the taking. But, instead, in the open GOP held 27th, the Democratic candidate is struggling in a district Clinton carried 58-38. In the neighboring 26th, GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo is persisting in a district the President lost by double-digits. Statewide, Governor Rick Scott is running dead even with Senator Bill Nelson because he is running close to even among Puerto Rican and Cuban American voters.
Back in Texas, Will Hurd in the CD-23 is running ahead or even with Democrat Gina Ortiz in the only perennial swing district in the entire state. Arguably, Hurd might be in a better position than two of his fellow Republicans in suburban Dallas and Houston. Democrats scoff at these ideas but the data backing up such an assertion is not just limited to conservative Texas and swing state Florida.
In the heart of blue America, California, polls are showing Democrats are having issues motivating Hispanics and the state’s burgeoning Asian population. In three Democratic targets, the majority-Hispanic 13th, CA-25 and CA-39, all Republicans are shown remarkable resiliency with Hispanics. David Valado has a strong history with Hispanics in CD-13 while in CA-25 and CA-39 Asian and Hispanics are hardly a monolithic Democratic voting bloc.
Certainly, a single special election in Texas does not indicate Democrats cannot win a majority in Congress. Nor can they not win competitive Senate races in Arizona and Nevada. But they will likely do so on the backs of college educated whites as opposed to massive turnout from angry Hispanics and ethnic groups. Keep this in mind in the run-up to November and the nonstop bloviating from all sides.