What an interesting election we just had in Texas. Democrats actually decided to challenge Republicans for a lot more positions in the running of our state. Depending on your outlook, for the most part all is well with our world or it’s another bitter loss.
The most followed campaign was for U.S. Senate. Ted Cruz was challenged by an unexpected but engaging challenger, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke. (In fairness, shouldn’t it also be Rafael “Ted” Cruz?) Beto had so much going against him from the outset. Few people outside of El Paso had heard of him. The fact he was from El Paso may have caused some to question whether he was even qualified to run for a Senate seat in Texas, but, contrary to popular thought, El Paso really is a part of Texas. He is a Democrat in a very Republican state, and he ran as a liberal in a very conservative state. Beto had no large funding from PACs or things like that.
Yet he almost pulled it off. With 99 percent of votes counted, Cruz managed to remain our senator with a 50.9-to-48.3 percent win. The Libertarian candidate garnered .8 percent of the vote, which was a non-factor.
So what does this race tell us about Texas and Democratic chances in the future?
First, I believe this race was not an accurate indication of Democratic strength in Texas. Cruz is well-liked by his core group, roughly 45 percent of all Texas voters. However, he is not liked by a rather large segment of Texas voters. Cruz is a lightning-rod candidate, loved or hated with few between. Cruz understood this. Look at his campaign ads. He ran a campaign not about what he intended to do for Texas but, rather, how a vote for Beto was a vote to turn Texas into California. Beto hates the flag, wants to flood our state with illegal immigrants and seeks to impeach President Trump. The point of Cruz’s ads was not to encourage voting for Ted but to encourage enough voters to vote against Beto so as to tip the election in Ted’s favor. And it worked.
I find the more interesting results to be down the ballot. Here’s where I wonder what Beto’s campaign means for Texas. Did Beto have the coattails to boost down-ballot candidates or are Democrats really starting to contest elections in our state?
Looking at the governor’s race, it would seem that Beto’s effect was negligible. Greg Abbott won re-election with 56-42 percent against Democrat Lupe Valdez. Consider Abbott’s election in 2014 when he won by double-digits, not unlike Tuesday’s results. Other factors beg consideration, but this race would indicate that Beto had no coattails.
But look at other key statewide races and think again.
In 2014, Dan Patrick was elected to his first term as lieutenant governor, 58-39 percent. In Tuesday’s results, he was re-elected with 51 percent of votes cast — by comparison, a squeaker. The same is true of attorney general and agriculture commissioner. Ken Paxton won election as AG with a 59-38 percent total in 2014. This year, and under criminal indictment, he grasped victory with just over 50 percent of the vote. Sid Miller was elected to the ag commissioner post in 2014 by a 58-39 percent vote; this year, it’s 51-46 percent. In short, 2014 saw Republicans elected to office with close to 60 percent of the statewide vote. With the exception of Abbott, this year GOP votes were closer to 52 percent.
Is this attributable to the Beto phenomenon or is something else evolving in Texas? I believe it’s a little of both.
Beto was fortunate to run against Cruz, and Beto ran a very good campaign. He visited every county in the state, many more often than once. He ran a positive campaign, speaking about wanting to represent all Texans and saying what he wanted to accomplish as a senator. It was a valiant effort that just fell short.
Yet there’s also a rising dissatisfaction in Texas with the status quo and one-party rule. Texans are frustrated that property taxes keep going up and our public schools are being squeezed more and more. We’re frustrated that our state has increasingly washed its hands of public education. In the name of cutting taxes, Texas is also cutting things that many Texans believe a state government should fund — infrastructure, health care, education and the general welfare of our citizens. As more and more people move into our state, they bring with them a different way of seeing government. Many are not so interested in social agendas such as who gets to use which bathroom or how much legislators can “protect” women’s health by restricting abortion rights. They’re outraged with elected officials genuflecting at the altar of the gun-selling lobby known as the NRA while innocent children see their schools turned into virtual prisons to protect them.
Granted, not all Texans feel this way. A substantial number of Texans are pleased with the overall representation they get. But that number is shrinking as Texas becomes more politically, culturally and socially diverse each year. Don’t want to turn Texas into California? Guess what? Californians are moving to Texas, as are Michiganders, Ohioans, New Yorkers and others not locked into the Texas brand of conservative Republicans. And, ironically, state leaders have been urging them to move here and even bragging about it as part of the Texas economic miracle. Reportedly, a thousand outsiders move to Texas every day.
Beto’s campaign was, to some extent, a perfect storm of events that, even as it failed to catapult this dynamic, optimistic candidate into the Senate, nonetheless energized a growing segment of the electorate. The decided shift in down-ballot results prompts me to wonder if Beto knew something that the rest of us didn’t.
The next election should be very interesting.