WELCOME TO THE NEW WORLD of Texas politics. The Republicans have it all now: every statewide office, solid majorities in both houses of the Legislature, and Speaker of the House (although that won’t be official until January). Yet that list doesn’t come close to capturing the magnitude of the GOP sweep. The Republicans didn’t just win; they crushed the Democrats. Not a single statewide race was close. Governor Rick Perry won reelection by eighteen points despite being outspent nearly three to one by Tony Sanchez. Of the 23 swing legislative races, Republicans won 18, most by decisive margins. In the governor’s race, Sanchez carried just seven counties north of Interstate 10. Sixteen votes in Fisher County, on the South Plains, prevented Perry from winning every county in the northwest quadrant of the state. A pretty good election analysis could be compressed into eleven words: “There are a heck of a lot of Republicans in Texas.”
The rout is all the more impressive because the Democrats mounted an all-out effort to regain their lost glory. They formulated a strategy based on the premise that a normal turnout of Hispanic voters in 1998 would have resulted in the election of two Democrats, John Sharp as lieutenant governor and Paul Hobby as comptroller. The low Hispanic turnout that year (somewhere between 12 percent and 16 percent of the total vote) was blamed on the absence of a prominent Hispanic on the ticket after Attorney General Dan Morales decided not to seek reelection. You know the rest: Sharp persuaded Sanchez to run, and Sanchez agreed to spend whatever it took to win; then, for good measure, Ron Kirk, the African American former mayor of Dallas, won a three-way primary to become the nominee for the U.S. Senate. The piece that completed the puzzle was the Bush factor in reverse: For the first time in three election cycles, George W. was not on the ballot. The game plan was perfect. Why didn’t it work? To see where the Democrats did wrong, let’s take a look at the numbers.
They alienated the white vote. The problem with any strategy predicated on minority turnout is that almost three fourths of the people who vote in Texas are white. Democrats typically need a