Representative Kenny Marchant of Texas announced on Monday that he plans to retire, becoming the fourth Republican House member from Texas in recent weeks to head for the exits rather than face re-election in 2020 in a state that is rapidly becoming more competitive. A Fourth Texas Republican Congressman Will Retire in 2020:
Rep. Marchant, who was first elected in 2004, won his suburban Dallas district by comfortable margins for over a decade, but last year he prevailed by only three points against a Democratic opponent who had relatively modest financial resources. Rep. Marchant, a low-key member and reliably conservative vote, sits on the influential Ways and Means Committee.
After a generation of dominance in Texas, Republicans are now facing the same challenges as their counterparts in other parts of the country: By linking themselves to President Trump and his incendiary brand of nationalist politics, they are alienating the sort of suburban voters who were once among the Republican Party’s most dependable supporters.
And such political shifts are giving Democrats hope that they can make even more gains next year, when Mr. Trump will be on top of the ticket. Their prospects have gotten a considerable lift in the past two weeks as Representatives Pete Olson, Will Hurd and K. Michael Conaway, all Texas Republicans, have announced their retirements.
In addition to the three competitive Texas seats held by the House Republicans who are retiring, Representatives John Carter, Mike McCaul and Chip Roy could also face hard-fought races.
Even Republicans now concede that Texas may be in play. ‘Take Texas seriously’: GOP anxiety spikes after retirements, Democratic gains:
“The president’s reelection campaign needs to take Texas seriously,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said in an interview. He added that while he remains optimistic about the GOP’s chances, it is “by no means a given” that Trump will carry Texas — and its 38 electoral votes — next year or that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) will be reelected.
(Texas controls 38 votes in the Electoral College, a number without which Trump would be unlikely to reach 270 and win a second term. Texas Republicans fear Trump could lose the state in 2020.)
The suburbs are where Texas Republicans are most vulnerable, Cruz said, noting that O’Rourke made inroads in 2018 in the highly populated suburbs outside Dallas and Austin, and in other urban areas.
U.S. census data show Texas is home to the nation’s fastest-growing cities, and an analysis last month by two University of Houston professors predicted that “metropolitan growth in Texas will certainly continue, along with its ever-growing share of the vote — 68 percent of the vote in 2016.”
“Historically, the cities have been bright blue and surrounded by bright red doughnuts of Republican suburban voters,” Cruz said. “What happened in 2018 is that those bright red doughnuts went purple — not blue, but purple. We’ve got to do a more effective job of carrying the message to the suburbs.”
For a state that once elevated the Bush family and was forged into a Republican stronghold by Karl Rove, it is an increasingly uncertain time. Changing demographics and a wave of liberal activism have given new hope to Democrats, who have not won a statewide elective office since 1994 or Texas’s presidential vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Recent Republican congressional retirements have stoked party concerns, particularly the surprising Thursday announcement by a rising star, Rep. Will Hurd, that he would not seek reelection in his highly competitive district, which stretches east from El Paso along the Mexican border.
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Beyond the strong turnout for O’Rourke last year, Democrats point to other 2018 contests as evidence of an upswing, including two U.S. House seats that flipped from red to blue and more than a dozen state legislative gains.
“The demographics are moving in our favor, the numbers are moving in our favor,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat. “We’ve said that for many years, but I believe we’re getting close.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has opened four field offices in Texas, more than in any other state, as it targets up to six GOP-held seats. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), chairman of the committee, called it “ground zero” in a recent interview.
There has been much written over the past several years about how demographic changes may turn the reliably Republican state of Texas blue by 2024. See, Democrats could win Texas by 2024 if current trends continue:
Texas continued its streak of electing Republican presidential candidates, but the final numbers give Democrats a glimmer of hope for winning statewide in the future.
But it may be that Democrats are ahead of this demographic curve in 2020. Latinos could turn Texas blue in 2020 if enthusiasm holds, some say:
[In 2018] Latino turnout matched that of the 2016 presidential election, when turnout is generally higher.
That has Latino voter mobilization groups and political experts confident that enthusiasm around the 2018 race, paired with natural population growth, is likely to make Texas a truly competitive state by 2020 and maybe even a shade of blue.
“What we’re seeing is that it can be done as long as Democrats employ a strategy for reaching Latinos who aren’t registered and don’t usually vote,” Fraga said. “I don’t think it’s guaranteed, but a continued, all-hands-on-deck effort to reach young, Latino voters could make Texas fully competitive.”
In the 2018 midterm election, over 8.3 million Texans voted, almost 3.7 million more than the 4.6 million who voted in the midterms just four years ago. (In the last midterm election in 2014, only 28.3 percent of Texas voters went to the polls. Voter turnout in Texas is dead last in America, study finds.)
So what really happened in Texas? Let’s start with the basics:
The 2018 result took a familiar form, with Democrats winning in the cities and in South Texas, and Republicans winning everywhere else. But this basic map fails to reveal key changes that are shifting the electoral math in Texas.
As Democrats yearn to make Texas a swing state in 2020, they will be helped by major population growth in and around the state’s cities. The rising population of these metro areas combined with record turnout for a midterm, changed the electoral balance of the state in 2018 and may continue to shift it in the next few years.
Almost all of that new voting power came from in and around the state’s four big cities: Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.
Cruz beat O’Rourke by a margin of about 220,000 votes. It was a gratifying victory for Cruz and Republicans after Democrats had poured so many resources into the race, but it was also closer than many expected. By grabbing 48.3 percent of the vote, O’Rourke performed better than any Democrat had in a statewide race in Texas in a long time. Even though he won just 32 of the state’s 254 counties, O’Rourke’s margins within the state’s booming metro areas suggest that those parts of the state may be getting even more Democratic.
Not only did O’Rourke dominate Cruz in the state’s five most-populous counties, encompassing the urban cores of Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio, he also won a higher percentage of the vote there than Hillary Clinton did, suggesting that O’Rourke was a more effective candidate in these key zones than Clinton was. In future races, Democrats would be thrilled if their candidates can re-create O’Rourke’s margins[.]
A whopping 43 percent of all votes cast in Texas in 2018 came from these five urban counties. They represent the key to any Democratic hope in this state, and they are only becoming more significant; O’Rourke had to win big in these counties to have any shot at victory, and he did, taking 60.6 percent of the vote and putting himself almost 800,000 votes ahead of Cruz. For comparison, Hillary Clinton won 54.9 percent of the vote in these big counties and outpaced President Trump there by only about 563,000 votes.
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The geographic structure of the 2018 result shows where the battle lines will be drawn in the future. Democrats haven’t done well in rural areas, either this year or in the recent past, so they probably shouldn’t pin their hopes on better performances by their candidates in those areas. But they could continue to build their already-large advantage in urban areas: Democrats hoping to turn this state blue need the state’s urban areas to claim even more voting power, either through population growth, increased turnout, or a combination of both.
[I]n Harris County alone, 500,000 more people voted in the 2018 midterms than had voted in 2014. In Dallas County, 300,000 more people voted than in the last midterms, and in Travis, Bexar and Tarrant counties, 200,000 more people voted.
Indeed, aside from some noteworthy increase in voter numbers in suburban Dallas, the biggest white circles on the map above tend to hover over Beto country. Meanwhile, the darkest red counties — the places that carried Cruz back to Washington — have exhibited very little, if any, change in the number of votes cast compared to 2014. Those areas may be staunchly red, but they’re also staunchly stagnant too. O’Rourke almost won in 2018 by taking roughly 60 percent of the vote in the big five counties. This map suggests that if Democrats can repeat that feat as these places continue to grow, that may be all they need to turn Texas blue.
Before you get too excited, never forget that Texas is historically a low voter turnout state because historically Texas engages in systematic voter suppression to keep voter turnout low, particularly among minority voters.
And if that fact is not depressing enough for you, check out Politico’s deep-dive report on the paperless insecure voting machines that many counties in Texas will be using in 2020. How an election security push is running aground in Texas.
Despite all the warnings from national security experts and election experts that our elections are vulnerable to hacking from hostile foreign actors, too many Texas election officials appear to be unconcerned. This is gross malfeasance in office.
Trump in 2020: “Russia, if you’re listening, please rig the election for me.”