Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Half-empty? or half-full?

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa hailed the failure of the full slate as a victory, citing “the best statewide margin in a generation.”

In his concession speech, O’Rourke was — as ever — optimistic.

"I am as inspired and hopeful as I have ever been in my life,” a hoarse O’Rourke told a crowd of thousands in his home city of El Paso. “Tonight's loss has done nothing to diminish the way I feel about Texas and this country."

One source of Democratic optimism: single-digit victories for a handful of Republican incumbents who swept into office by double digits in 2014.

Even as Gov. Greg Abbott easily won a second term, winning some 56 percent of the state, other top incumbent Republicans trailed him significantly. None struggled more than Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has served most of his first term under indictment for securities fraud. In 2014, Paxton won his first term by 21 percentage points; this year, that margin of victory was about divided by four.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who heads a socially conservative faction of the Republican Party, won another term on the dais with a single-digit lead — about a third of his 19-point victory in 2014. Patrick, a champion of “school choice” — programs that would give Texas families subsidies to send their kids to private schools — has drawn the ire of many education-minded voters, thousands of whom pledged to block-vote for his opponent, Democrat Mike Collier.

“Somewhere the Republicans are toasting, but their hands are shaking,” Collier told a thinning but enthusiastic room of supporters at the Driskill Hotel in Austin late Tuesday night. “I ain’t going nowhere.”

And he marched off the stage to a crowd cheering: “I like Mike! I like Mike!”

Other bright spots for Democrats came in the U.S. House and the Texas House, where Democrats knocked off powerful Republicans. O’Rourke didn’t quite topple Cruz, but he carried Democrats to victory in battlegrounds suburbs, particularly around Dallas, where a slate of Texas House Republicans and one powerful U.S. House member, House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, were unseated.

Texas’ congressional delegation — the second-largest in the country after California — has ever-so slightly shifted its tilt toward the center. Democrats picked up three seats, knocking off Sessions and Houston-area U.S. Rep. John Culberson.* That took the delegation from a lopsided 11–25 split favoring the Republicans to a tighter 13–23.

And in the Texas House, Democrats picked up a dozen seats, bringing the minority party to a level it hasn’t seen in a decade. And the minority party positioned itself to carry ever-so-slightly more influence in the upcoming race for speaker of the Texas House.

In the Texas Senate, Democrats knocked off two Republican incumbents, Konni Burton and Don Huffines, both from battleground North Texas. But a close race that ultimately favored state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, means Texas Republicans continue to hold the powerful 19-seat advantage that will allow them to bring bills up for a vote on the Senate floor without any Democratic support.

Texas Democrats were poised to flip four major appeals courts, taking back majorities in the judicial districts that serve Austin, Dallas and Houston. The 5th Court of Appeals, based in Dallas, has not elected a Democrat since 1992; on Tuesday, the 13-member court was set to elect eight Democrats, including a Democratic chief justice.

But if Texas Democrats achieved little more than a crack in the dam, its placement was noteworthy. O’Rourke led battleground suburban counties like Williamson and Hays. And he cut down Republicans’ traditionally hefty margins in reliably red counties, coming neck-and-neck with Cruz in Tarrant County, suggesting the state is purpling faster than many expected.

O’Rourke’s historic margin could change the national calculus on the country’s second-largest electoral prize during the 2020 presidential run.

The Texas Democratic Party certainly seemed to think so. Hinojosa said Tuesday night’s results have “definitively shown Texas is in play in 2020.”

Time will tell.

*Culberson's seat, the radio tells me this morning, is one Republicans have held for 50 years. No longer.

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