On Saturday, voters went to the polls in Texas for three mayoral run – off elections in McAllen, Fort Worth and Arlington. In all three, to conservatives pleasant surprise, all three right leaning candidates came out on top.
By far, the biggest surprise came out of the mayoral race in Hidalgo County, where the former Chair of the County GOP and current Commissioner of District One, Javier Villalobos, beat challenger by 206 votes. While hardly a stunning margin, and with less than 10K voters turning out, it is nonetheless notable in a city where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by almost twenty points. However, that said, the city is 85 percent Hispanic and like much of Southern Texas saw a notable shift to the right last year. The primary question like in 2020 is whether former Democratic Hispanics are being converted to the GOP or whether it is more conservative Hispanics being mobilized and coming out to vote more consistently. This is a good sign for either even in a low turnout, local contest.
In traditionally red suburban Dallas and Tarrant County, conservatives also faced down challenges in two open seat mayoral races in Fort Worth and Arlington. In Fort Worth, Mattie Parker, an aide to outgoing GOP Mayor Betsie Price, defeated Deborah Peoples by about 6,000 votes out of 88,000 cast. Like many suburban areas in Texas, Forth Worth has seen significant growth (2019 estimates peg its population at close to 800,000) and the city is majority – minority with a bare plurality being white. Plus, the fact the city was electing a new mayor for the first time in almost two decades after shifting to the left opened the door to a progressive candidate like Peoples winning.
People’s arguably ran as the most progressive of any candidate in the race and hammered home messages of reforming the police and bringing minority voices to the table. Unlike the standard conservative faire though, Parker did the same but also ran strongly on supporting the police. It is not hard to see shades of 2020’s “Defund the police” movement in this contest.
Finally, in Arlington, the more conservative candidate, Jim Ross, defeated Michael Glaspie. While Glaspie was hardly a doctrinaire liberal, and Ross has shown a willingness to buck the right – wing from time to time, like Fort Worth in 2020, the city had largely shifted to the left.
So what can we make of this? Well, first – off, the assumption Texas will or already is a battleground may be premature. The shift of Hispanics to the right combined with the question mark around suburban, college educated whites walking in lockstep with the Democratic Party makes this a distinct possibility. There is little doubt college educated whites loathed Trump but last year, especially in Texas, they maintained their down – ballot GOP allegiance. This time, yet again, it seems these voters still maintain conservative tendencies down – ballot.
Secondly, and nationally, the strong performance of conservatives in local races stands in stark contrast to the relative popularity of Joe Biden and the indecisive nature of special elections so far. Democrats have overperformed in dark blue districts in NM and LA, while the GOP has overperformed in a dark red LA district and light pink (TX – 6) district nestled in the suburbs of Dallas.
So, while Republicans should not rest on their laurels, their victories at the local level suggest swing voters can still be convinced to vote for the right kind of conservative Republican and the grassroots is energized.
Further, and more worrisome for Democrats, TX – 6 and these local elections suggest Democrats continued reliance on an upstairs – down stairs coalition, often results in struggles in turning out their voters consistently, in contrast to the increasingly downscale GOP coalition.
Lessons are buried in these results for both parties. But the question remains whether either will learn the right ones.