- Greg Abbott has defeated Beto O’Rourke in the gubernatorial race. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton have also been reelected.
- In the closely contested South Texas U.S. House races, Democrat Henry Cuellar has won, and Democrat Vicente Gonzalez has defeated Republican Mayra Flores. Meanwhile, Republican Monica De La Cruz has defeated Michelle Vallejo.
That’s All, Folks!
Ben Rowen, 6:00 p.m.
Thanks for following along yesterday and today!
Texas Democrats’ streak of 28 years without a statewide victory will be extended at least another two years, as Republicans from Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton on down the ballot cruised to victory. The GOP held serve in South Texas, picking up one U.S. House seat but losing another it had held for the last six months, while Democrat Henry Cuellar of Laredo won comfortably in a third race in which Republicans had invested heavily. In Harris County, Lina Hidalgo and Democrats staved off a GOP offensive to expand their control of Texas’s largest county’s government.
With the major races called, we’re going to wrap up live blogging. But we’re not done covering the election. Be sure to follow our website in the days ahead for more reporting and analysis on the midterms.
How Did Lina Hidalgo Beat the GOP’s Big Money? Knocking on 160,000 Doors, for Starters?
Mimi Swartz, 5:35 p.m.
Anyone interested in seeing an alternate vision of Texas’s future not produced by the Republican party should have been at the victory party Wednesday afternoon for Lina Hidalgo, now reelected to be the Big Boss of Harris County. Yes, County Judge Hidalgo won in a squeaker over her opponent, Alexandra del Moral Mealer—50.8 to 49.2 percent—but she also won against a massive Republican effort to unseat her and take Harris County back under Republican control. The opposition raised more than $10 million—making this one of the most expensive county races in the U.S., according to county commissioner Rodney Ellis—with funds from the likes of developer Richard Weekley, of Texans for Lawsuit Reform fame; Farris Wilks, of far-right fame; and, as Hidalgo referred to him in her victory speech, “a furniture salesman,” a.k.a. Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, whose pricey commercials during the World Series had seemed destined to sink Hidalgo’s campaign.
Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat, did her part to do Hidalgo in as well, indicting several of her staffers over what was or was not (depending on which side you were on) a politically awarded contract as well as falsely insisting that Hidalgo favored defunding the police. And then there was the Houston Chronicle‘s controversial endorsement of Mealer. “They came at us with everything they had,” the 31-year-old Hidalgo said, in a speech that displayed a battered-but-victorious politician’s very long memory. Anyone who thinks Hidalgo too demure for settling scores shoulda been there. “Unity prevailed over division, truth over lies, decency over vitriol,” she said, to rousing applause.
But morality and good thoughts didn’t get Hidalgo elected. What was most important about this victory was how it could serve as a template for—yes—future Democratic victories. Sure, Hidalgo had help from Beto O’Rourke and his organization. And she had $3.6 million in campaign contributions, which used to be a lot of money. But it was the organizing efforts of several local groups that really pulled off the victory. “The only thing that beats that much money is organizing people on the ground,” said Ginny Goldman, a longtime community organizer in Harris County. Included in those groups were the Texas Organizing Project, various local “little d” democratic clubs, local labor members of the AFL-CIO and other unions, and a host of progressive organizations that have worked for years on equitable housing, voting rights, reproductive rights, immigrants’ rights, climate protections, and more.
According to Goldman, the former executive director of TOP and an adviser to the campaign, these disparate groups came together to get Hidalgo elected along with county commissioners Lesley Briones and Adrian Garcia, winning a Democratic majority for the top county leadership, which might put an end to the clown car that has been the commissioner’s court for years. “Every year we’ve been increasing turnout,” Goldman said of the organizing that has taken place under the noses of the powers that have been. “When these people vote, the entire community changes.” In Harris County, Hidalgo has long been the most obvious candidate for change. “Lina embodies the electorate that has sat on the sidelines: women, single women, immigrants, Latinos, communities of color,” Goldman said. “She reflects the future of the state.”
At the victory party, a huge blackboard to the right of what looked like a photo op for every Democratic politician in the county—Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee had claimed her usual spot beside the biggest winner—told the story. While Mealer relied on her money for huge campaign signs and World Series commercials—and, in one case, a banner-trailing airplane—the coordinated campaign tried human contact, and it worked. The groups, led by TOP and labor, had more than one thousand volunteers who knocked on around 160,000 doors, made 1.2 million phone calls, and sent 1.2 million text messages. Overall, they made about 3.5 million contacts, with some of the county’s 2.6 million registered voters obviously enduring multiple approaches. “If what we have been building over a decade can withstand ten million dollars, we really have built something,” said TOP’s co–executive director, Michelle Tremillo.
A Texas Political Veteran’s Thoughts on What’s Next for the Dems
R.G. Ratcliffe, guest author, 3:07 p.m.
The mantra I often heard from Texas Democratic politicians in 2018 was: Texas is not a red state. It’s a nonvoting state. So they registered voters and made “get out the vote” calls, and they lost in 2020. Rinse and repeat in 2022. In fact, this has been the basic Texas Democratic party formula since the party last won a statewide election in 1994. And election after election, the party’s candidates usually end up with about 43 percent of the statewide vote. The only time they do better is when the Republican ticket is topped by a candidate many find loathsome, such as Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Even then, the Democrats lose.
Texas Democrats now have four years to figure out how to do something differently or risk losing control of the state until 2040. That’s because the 2026 election will choose the statewide officials and most of the legislators who will oversee state and federal redistricting after the next census. If they remain Republican, then they will draw districts that minimize the Democrats’ ability to win down-ballot races.
Republicans were once the minority party in Texas. They didn’t take over the state government just by aiming at the top. They spent a couple of decades winning seats in the Legislature, while simultaneously knocking off county judges and sheriffs and a group of rural legislators who were known as the WD-40s—white Democrats over the age of forty. Democrats keep counting on one superhero candidate at the top of the ticket to save them. Disappointment follows.
Beto O’Rourke is on the road to becoming the Adlai Stevenson II of Texas politics with his two major election losses. Most of the time, candidates like him would be relegated to the realm of has-been politicians striving to maintain some level of relevance. But O’Rourke has some things going for him that would make him the perfect Democratic party chairman at this point in time. (Current chairman Gilberto Hinojosa is a nice guy. But in Texas, nice guys end up with about 43 percent of the vote.) O’Rourke is charismatic in person and on TV. Plus, he has a demonstrated ability to raise beaucoup bucks. Through the October reporting period, Beto had raised $66 million. The Texas Democratic party raised $4.8 million, with $2.6 million of that coming as transfers from O’Rourke’s campaign. If the party is really going to get ready for 2026, it needs that fund-raising prowess in the interim, not just at election time.
Once it has money, the party also needs to shift its messaging. The Democrats might take a page from the Karen Hughes playbook. Hughes, the Republican party executive director for much of Democrat Ann Richards’s tenure as governor in the early nineties, put out a fairly constant stream of criticism of the Richards administration—not of Richards herself, but of her policies and appointments. Only some of it got picked up by the news media, but enough did to act like water torture on Democratic voter support.
What kind of issues can Democrats highlight to reverse the trends, particularly in the rural districts where the party gets clobbered? Sweetwater, forty miles west of Abilene in a county that went 81–17 for Abbott, has a wind-turbine blade on the highway at the edge of town reading, “Welcome to Sweetwater.” Democrats can remind voters there that Republican energy policies, such as cutting government subsidies for wind and solar energy projects, would harm their wind-farm industry. Across rural communities, Democrats can also make hay of the GOP’s push for a private-school voucher system. There are few private schools in rural Texas, while the public schools there could suffer from a decline in state funding. As the king said, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”
Focused messaging has been a shortcoming of the Texas Democrats, but they could follow Governor Greg Abbott’s example. For the past several years Abbott has made himself available to local TV stations for live interviews with their anchors. It gets him before the voters in an environment where he can usually control his message. Beto could easily fill that role for Democratic messaging.
Having two viable parties in a state makes for good policy for all the people in that state. But Democrats can’t count on winning by magically turning out voters who don’t vote. If they don’t turn things around in the next four years, they are looking at a bleak dozen years beyond.
With One More Republican, the State Board of Education Gears Up for a Heated Debate Over How History Is Taught
Bekah McNeel, guest author, 2:31 p.m.
Like every other statewide governing body, the State Board of Education will again have a Republican majority. The current board is made up of six Democrats and nine Republicans, and only one seat was seen as a potential flip going into Tuesday night. And flip it has.
In District 2 (Brownsville), where Democratic incumbent Ruben Cortez Jr. chose not to run again in order to vie for the Texas House of Representatives, the razor-thin margin between Republican LJ Francis and Democrat Victor Perez remains unofficial, with Francis the projected winner.
All of the incumbents running in the general election appear to have held their seats. They will be joined by Democrats Melissa N. Ortega and Staci Childs, as well as Republicans Julie Pickren, Evelyn Brooks, and Aaron Kinsey.
But the party makeup may be less telling than the disposition and particular issues of concern for the six new members as they look ahead to what will undoubtedly be a contentious revision of the state social studies standards—including how Texas and American history are taught to elementary- and middle-school students.
Brooks and Kinsey both defeated incumbents with public-education backgrounds in the Republican primary by running further to the right. Kinsey identified “critical race theory” and the premature sexualization of children as major concerns, and cast himself as an outsider—“not an ISD guy,” as he put it—who would stand up to the establishment. Brooks was one of several SBOE candidates to sign the Texas First Pledge, put forth by the Texas Nationalist Movement PAC. Pickren also signed. The pledge includes a promise to oppose “any attempts to devalue and denigrate the Texas Revolution and the role of independence and the preservation of rights as the primary motivation for those who fought in the revolution.” That will come up in the social studies review.
A potentially strong voice on the left will be Ortega, who holds a PhD in teaching, learning, and culture from the University of Texas El Paso, where she teaches in the women’s and gender studies department. Childs, a former teacher, has vowed to use her on-the-ground knowledge to improve curricula.
Under chair Keven Ellis—a Republican who ran uncontested—the board has moved away from the culture wars and extremism of past boards, making marked progress in science and health curricula. As the board members dive straight into the social studies standards review, we’ll find out whether the steady hands prevail or whether disruption is back on the docket.
Greg Abbott Held Serve in the Valley. That’s Less Than He Promised, but a Good Sign for the GOP.
Ben Rowen, 12:41 p.m.
As Jack Herrera covered extensively on this blog, and on our website, the GOP went all in on the Rio Grande Valley this election cycle. Encouraged by Donald Trump’s improvement in the region in 2020, the GOP invested in community centers and massive voter-outreach campaigns there. Greg Abbott, who both declared his candidacy and declared victory in McAllen, was bullish on Republicans winning the region. Did the investment work?
No, and yes. In the four counties of the Valley, the governor lost by 15 points. That matched Trump’s performance in 2020. But running even with Trump’s numbers in the Valley is a good statewide sign for the GOP in a region that used to be so reliably blue. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke, running for Senate, won the Valley by 35 points, while Lupe Valdez, running for governor, won by 21.
Lina Hidalgo Ekes Out a Victory in Harris County
Michael Hardy, 10:16 a.m.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has narrowly won reelection over her Republican challenger, 38-year-old investment banker Alexandra del Moral Mealer. With all voting centers finally reporting, Hidalgo leads Mealer by 50.74 percent to 49.25 percent. In a concession tweet sent around 9:30 a.m., Mealer wrote, “While we did not accomplish our goal of changing leadership in Harris County, we were successful in elevating the profile of critical issues like the need to appropriately resource our law enforcement and criminal justice system.” Mealer had raised $8.6 million—a record for a Harris County race—largely from real estate developers, oil and gas companies, and powerful political groups such as Defend Texas Liberty PAC, which is funded by far-right GOP megadonors Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks.
Bolstered by an unprecedented influx of cash and hopes of a national red wave, the Harris County GOP seemed confident of victory. The Harris County Democrats, however, ran the table in countywide races, holding on to the seats for county clerk, district clerk, and treasurer. In a sign of the party’s strength, Democratic judge Lesley Briones unseated incumbent Republican county commissioner Jack Cagle to give Democrats a 4–1 supermajority on the commissioners’ court, the county’s executive body. That means Republicans will no longer be able to withhold the quorum needed to increase taxes—a tactic they recently employed to block the Democrats’ budget proposal.
Although Democrats retained their political monopoly in the greater Houston area—no Republican has been elected to a countywide position since 2014—their narrow margin of victory is likely to cause them some concern. Hidalgo underperformed Beto O’Rourke in the county by more than three points, indicating that a significant number of voters split their tickets. The county judge has been implicated in an alleged bid-rigging scheme to award an $11 million vaccine outreach contract to a politically connected vendor; three of her aides have been criminally indicted. Mealer tried to tar Hidalgo as corrupt, incompetent, and ineffective at preventing the crime surge that has dominated local news coverage for the past few years.
While Hidalgo had been seen as a rising Democratic star with potential statewide ambitions, her razor-thin victory in deep-blue Houston may tarnish her brand. After all, President Joe Biden won Harris County by 13 points just two years ago. Still, with Texas Democrats reeling from yet another Republican sweep of statewide races, Hidalgo’s victory offers a degree of much-needed consolation.
Did Ken Paxton Prevail in Spite of His Alleged Crimes, or Because of Them?
Christopher Hooks, 9:28 a.m.
The New York Times has published a write-up on Attorney General Ken Paxton’s triumph over his many enemies. Tuesday night he won by 11 points—more than double his margin of victory in 2018.
I’m not one of those pedants who corrects every Times piece he sees, but as our very own Forrest Wilder noted last night, I think the old gray lady might have got it a bit backward. “Despite scandals, Ken Paxton is re-elected Texas attorney general,” says the headline. A more accurate one might be “Because of his scandals, Ken Paxton is reelected Texas attorney general.”
Paxton was indicted on felony securities-fraud charges in 2015, and his senior staff, well-credentialed conservatives, quit or were fired in 2020 after they publicly accused him of taking bribes from a campaign donor. Meanwhile, his office has bungled sex-trafficking prosecutions in full view of the public.
In other words, Paxton is about as scandal-plagued as a politician can be. And yet his margins grew this year. His “persecution”—by the law and by right-thinking people—has fueled loyalty to him. His opponent, Rochelle Garza, an accomplished ACLU lawyer, ran on being cleaner than Paxton and less corrupt. No dice.
See You in the Morning!
Ben Rowen, 1:17 a.m.
Thanks, y’all, for following along today. We’re going to sign off for the night, and come back here bright and early with more coverage.
Here’s what we know now, as of 1:15 in the morning. Greg Abbott has cruised to victory over Beto O’Rourke in the gubernatorial race. With the exception of races for the state Supreme Court, which have not been called, Republicans have been declared winners in every statewide race, including Dan Patrick’s bid for lieutenant governor and Ken Paxton’s for attorney general.
The GOP, however, went just one for three in a trio of South Texas congressional races the party hoped to win. Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar defeated Cassy García in the Laredo-based Twenty-eighth Congressional District. In the Fifteenth, stretching from east of San Antonio to McAllen, Democrat Vicente Gonzalez defeated Republican Mayra Flores, who had held the seat for half a year after winning it in a special election. The GOP did pick up a seat in the Thirty-fourth, anchored in McAllen, where Monica De La Cruz defeated Michelle Vallejo.
There’s still a lot we don’t know, most notably the winner in the race for Harris County judge between Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo and Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer. We’ll be back tomorrow morning to continue updating you on those races, and to provide analysis of what all the results mean. See you then!
Checking in on Round Rock ISD
Christopher Hooks, 1:09 a.m.
Remember 2021? Yeah, the year before this one, that’s right. One of the big things back then was a fight about whether students were learning “critical race theory” in public schools, which they were not. People were pretty freaked out about it. In time, Republicans moved on to other, more propitious issues—abortion, the border, crime. But some folks continued to fight in the trenches and the school boards to return American education back to God-fearing principles.
One of the hot spots in that fight was Round Rock, a prominent part of the sprawling suburbs north of Austin. A group called Round Rock One Family—not a cult—ran a slate of candidates challenging incumbents it felt were insufficiently loyal to traditional values. The group took in a lot of money, including some $16,000 each from the state Republican party and from state representative Mayes Middleton, whose district is in the Houston area—nowhere near Round Rock.
The campaign, chronicled in depth by the Austin Chronicle, took on an intensely deranged character. The incumbents reported threats and harassment, and one opponent of the group reported receiving a manila envelope with four apparently used tampons inside—and that wasn’t even the most bizarre thing that happened. Honestly, the whole thing is kind of incomprehensible—but it boils down to some seemingly unwell adults being encouraged by, among others, the state Republican party, which would in previous years have expressed little interest in a school board race.
To cut to the chase: all three incumbents challenged by the insurgents are leading comfortably with two thirds of the vote counted. School board vice president Tiffanie Harrison was challenged by Don Zimmerman, a former city council member who became famous for his eccentric behavior. Harrison was leading the count, with nearly 44,000 votes to Zimmerman’s 25,000.
Round Rock was a particularly high-profile case, but not all the anti-CRT candidates around the state lost—far from it. As NBC reporter Mike Hixenbaugh flagged, a woman in Granbury who previously filed a police complaint against school librarians, causing a criminal investigation, won a seat on the Granbury school board. She beat a candidate who was extremely conservative in her own right. And the new judge of Tarrant County, Tim O’Hare, is a veteran of the school board wars.
For outsiders, it was often hard to figure out exactly what was going on in the CRT fight. Sometimes it simply didn’t make sense. But that didn’t really matter. It was a great way to get local conservative-leaning moms and dads (and concerned child-free thought warriors) involved in hyperlocal politics. It’s safe to assume we’ll be seeing the ripple effects of that for some time.
In Harris County, Lina Hidalgo Is “Cautiously Optimistic” of Victory
Michael Hardy, 12:33 a.m.
It was almost midnight when Lina Hidalgo took the stage at the Harris County Democratic Party’s watch party near downtown Houston. The 31-year-old county judge told the crowd of several hundred Democratic activists that she was “cautiously optimistic” about winning her tight reelection campaign against Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer. Hidalgo was leading Mealer by less than two points with all early votes counted and 103 out of 782 voting centers reporting.
Addressing the raucous crowd, Hidalgo accused Mealer of “pandering to the lowest common denominator” and of fearmongering about crime, repeatedly comparing her opponent to former president Donald Trump. As she has throughout her campaign, Hidalgo touted her refusal to take donations from county vendors—as opposed to Mealer, who raised a record $8.6 million from real estate developers, business interests, and oil barons such as Farris Wilks and Tim Dunn.
Hidalgo portrayed herself as an upstart challenging the “good old boys” she said control Harris County, along with the Republican-controlled state government with which she has been in almost constant conflict during her four-year tenure as county judge. “I believe we are going to win, because we have the people on our side,” Hidalgo declared. “But whatever happens, my conscience is clear.”
Monica De La Cruz Defeats Michelle Vallejo, Flipping a South Texas Seat for the GOP
Jack Herrera, 12:28 A.m.
The Associated Press has called the Fifteenth Congressional District, anchored in McAllen, for the Republican Monica De La Cruz. The State Farm insurance agent has flipped a long-term Democratic seat and will become the first Republican candidate to represent the Fifteenth in over one hundred years.
Republicans immediately celebrated the win as proof that the party is winning over Hispanic voters. But, before the election, they also worked to give a Republican candidate every possible advantage: GOP-led redistricting turned the seat that went for Biden by two points to one that would have gone for Trump by close to three points. Doing so meant carving out more-Hispanic, left-leaning neighborhoods in the southern part of the district and packing in whiter, more-conservative voters in the northern part of the district.
De La Cruz’s opponent, the thirty-year-old first-time candidate Michelle Vallejo, was endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders and ran on universal health care, climate-friendly jobs, and abortion rights—a stark contrast to De La Cruz, who celebrated Texas’s near-total abortion ban and who has claimed the South Texas Hispanics “don’t want handouts.”
Democrats Say Texas Is a Nonvoting State. They Proved It Again.
Ben Rowen, 12:06 a.m.
For the last two weeks, Texans have had the opportunity to vote for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and a host of elected officials who will make decisions that affect their lives, in what has been billed as one of the state’s most important elections ever. From where we stand now, it looks like around 8 million Texans heard those admonishments and went to the polls. That means more than 10 million Texans heard them, shrugged, and said, “Maybe next time.”
For the next few days, we will be discussing the eight million—how they broke overwhelmingly for the Republicans on the ballot, as Texas voters have for three decades; how in five cities they also voted to decriminalize weed; and how in others they voted for their hometowns to become “sanctuary cities for the unborn.”
But the other Texans—those who did not make their voices heard—are also important to consider. Not just because they, too, live in the state and are subject to its governance, but because Democrats must come to understand them if they hope to ever win another statewide election.
Texas Democrats have long said Texas isn’t a red state, it’s a nonvoting state. The truth is that it’s both. Operatives in both parties estimate that a slim majority of nonvoters in Texas would be Democrats if they cast ballots—but not nearly enough to overcome Republican majorities. And the Democrats have not shown any ability to get those voters to the polls. When I chatted with likely nonvoters this summer, many provided similar rationales for their conscientious objecting: neither party, they said, ever delivers on improving their material needs. Democrats will tell you they would offer plans if elected. The catch: they’re nowhere near being elected.
Vicente Gonzalez Defeats Mayra Flores
Jack Herrera, 11:53 p.m.
NBC News has called the Thirty-Fourth Congressional District for Democrat Vicente Gonzalez., who is up seven points with 98 percent of the vote in. He has ousted Congresswoman Mayra Flores, who will head home from Washington after just a few months in office (after she won a special election this summer). Flores was the first Republican to represent that district since Reconstruction, but the heavily Democratic region seems to have reverted to the norm after the brief dalliance with a far-right representative.
Texas Elects Its First Muslim State Reps
Forrest Wilder, 11:42 p.m.
One of the weird effects of having so many gerrymandered, noncompetitive districts is that interesting candidates and even historic firsts fly under the radar. Take, for example, the election of two Muslim Democrats to the Texas House. Salman Bhojani has been elected to a seat in North Texas anchored in the diverse Mid-Cities, between Dallas and Forth Worth. When Bhojani was running for Euless City Council a few years ago, former far-right state representative Jonathan Stickland seemed to have a panic attack, blasting out “EULESS RESIDENTS BEWARE,” adding that Bhojani was a “Muslim, lawyer, and a lifelong Democrat.” Tonight, in a press release, Bhojani said, “As an immigrant, my journey from mopping gas station floors to being the first Muslim and first South Asian ever elected to the Texas Legislature is proof that the American dream is still achievable—and I want every Texan to have the same opportunities I did.”
The other Muslim Democrat elected to the House tonight is Suleman Lalani, a medical doctor who will represent Fort Bend County, a patch of Houston-area suburbia that has reached near-mythical status in political science circles for its transformation from a conservative white community to a multiracial, Democrat-electing enclave.
Abbott Is Claiming a Republican Triumph in South Texas, Results Be Damned
Jack Herrera, 11:19 p.m.
During his victory speech in McAllen, a triumphant Greg Abbott made the claim that his campaign “planted our flag in South Texas” and proved “that South Texas is turning Republican.”
I think it’s fair to say that he pre-wrote that line. None of the three South Texas congressional races have been called, but so far, Democrats are performing better in the region than widely expected. In the Twenty-Eighth District, Congressman Henry Cuellar is very likely to win, with an eleven-point lead with 72 percent of the vote counted. In the Thirty-Fourth District, Congressman Vicente Gonzalez has a nine-point lead over Congresswoman Mayra Flores with 69 percent of votes in—meaning that Republicans will actually lose a seat in South Texas.
Republicans do seem likely to pull off one victory, though: Monica De La Cruz looks like she’ll beat progressive Democrat Michelle Vallejo. Republicans gave De La Cruz every advantage: the Legislature redistricted the Fifteenth to make it less Hispanic and more Republican, turning it into a district that would’ve gone for Trump by a couple points. In some ways, Vallejo winning would’ve been the bigger upset.
So why is Greg Abbott declaring victory? The simplest answer is that it’s good PR—same as his choice to declare his candidacy in McAllen as well, back in January. A non-negligible factor for why Hispanics tend to vote Democrat is convention and habit—which is to say, the sense that most Hispanics vote Democratic can subtly encourage Hispanics to vote that way. If Abbott and the GOP can break that taboo and push their message—Hispanics are going Republican!—that simple perception can help them win voters.
Henry Cuellar Defeats Cassy Garcia in South Texas
Jack Herrera, 11:12 p.m.
Even after an FBI raid on his personal home, even after a scorched-earth primary battle, even after an all-out Republican insurgency across South Texas, nine-term congressman Henry Cuellar cruised to victory over his Republican challenger Cassy Garcia in a Laredo-based district. The long-term South Texas iconoclast has been called the King of Laredo, and in this election, that border city again became his citadel. In Webb County, he dominated, winning over 70 percent of the vote—more than enough to fend off Garcia’s wins in the smaller northern counties of Guadalupe, McMullen, and Atascosa. With over 80 percent of the vote counted, Cuellar has close to a 14-point lead, 56.9 to 43.1.
Beto Held Lots of Rallies in Rural Texas. Rural Voters Didn’t Respond.
Forrest Wilder, 10:51 p.m.
Beto O’Rourke appears to have underperformed in rural Texas, despite making Texas’s small towns a focus of his campaign and regularly drawing crowds in deep red parts of the state. The votes are still being counted, but in the dozen counties I looked at—from Lubbock, in West Texas, to Llano, in the Hill Country, to Orange, on the Louisiana line—O’Rourke is losing by larger margins than he did against Ted Cruz in 2018.
For example, in 2018, O’Rourke “only” lost Lubbock County to Cruz by 29 percentage points; in vote totals so far this year, the El Paso Democrat is losing by 41. He’s also doing worse than Joe Biden did in 2020 outside the cities and suburbs.
We’ll have to wait for the final results to see if O’Rourke is faring particularly badly in Texas’s vast rural areas. It looks like he lost ground elsewhere, too—in some suburbs (Collin County, north of Dallas) as well as in big metro areas (Harris County). So maybe we shouldn’t read too much into his slide in the countryside; it could be it was just another down year across the board for statewide Texas Democrats. It’s happened before.
Ken Paxton Defeats Rochelle Garza in the Attorney General Race
Staff, 10:42 p.m.
Decision Desk HQ has called the attorney general’s race for Ken Paxton. With around 82 percent of the vote in, he leads Democrat Rochelle Garza 54.3 percent to 42.9 percent.
Dan Patrick Coasts to Reelection
Staff, 10:35 p.m.
Decision Desk HQ has called the lieutenant governor’s race for Dan Patrick. With more than 80 percent of the vote in, he leads Democrat Mike Collier 54.6 percent to 42.9.
Lina Hidalgo Clings to Narrow Lead as Harris County Results Trickle In
Michael Hardy, 10:30 p.m.
Around 9 p.m., a big cheer went up at the Harris County Democratic Party’s watch party at the Chapman & Kirby gastro lounge in Houston’s EaDo district. Local TV news had just displayed early-voting results showing Democratic county judge Lina Hidalgo two points ahead of her Republican opponent, Alexandra del Moral Mealer. With statewide Republican candidates enjoying comfortable leads, the crowd needed something to celebrate. But as same-day votes slowly trickle in, it’s far from clear that Hidalgo’s narrow lead is good news. In recent years, Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in early voting while Republicans have outnumbered Democrats in Election Day voting—partly because of former president Donald Trump encouraging his supporters to vote in person on Election Day.
Hidalgo is one of three Harris County commissioners up for reelection. Her Democratic colleague Adrian Garcia was ahead 51.4 to 48.6 percent in early-voting totals against his Republican challenger, former commissioner Jack Morman; incumbent Republican commissioner Jack Cagle was behind by 49.2 percent to 50.8 percent against his Democratic challenger, Lesley Briones, in a district that was heavily gerrymandered to advantage a Democrat. While the Democratic commissioner candidates are all hanging on to slim leads, the Harris County GOP is surely buoyed by so many close races in a county that voted for President Joe Biden by 13 points and hasn’t elected a Republican to a statewide office since 2014. At stake is the control of the five-member commissioners’ court, on which Democrats currently enjoy a 3–2 advantage.
There Was Hope for Democrats in Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 Loss. There Isn’t Much in His 2022 Defeat.
Christopher Hooks, 10:21 p.m.
When Beto O’Rourke launched his campaign to unseat Governor Greg Abbott, the question was whether this campaign would look more like his 2018 campaign against Senator Ted Cruz or Abbott’s 2014 race for governor against Wendy Davis. In 2018, O’Rourke harnessed a lot of energy, and attention, to rally the base against an unpopular incumbent who’d had a rough year, and he came within three points of unseating Cruz. In the 2014 gubernatorial election, Abbott windmill dunked on Davis, a former state senator who became nationally famous for filibustering against a restrictive abortion bill, and won by twenty points, riding on a wave of campaign cash, an apathetic public, and a national climate that favored his preferred issues, namely the border.
The answer tonight was: somewhere in between, but closer to 2014 than 2018. With some 60 percent of the vote reported, the race has been called for Abbott. He is winning by more than twelve points, a figure that could narrow some but not all that much. It could be that the most important factor here was that 2022, like 2014, was a midterm election during a Democratic presidency unpopular in Texas, instead of during an unpopular Republican presidency, as happened in 2018.
But that sells Abbott a bit short. Much to Democrats’ frustration, Abbott has remained fairly popular throughout his eight-year term. He also has an essentially unlimited pool of money to draw from. To do well in this race, O’Rourke needed to focus Texans’ attention on issues such as the electric grid, abortion, public ed, and property taxes. But as the race went on, the debate focused instead on issues on which Abbott enjoys a commanding advantage, particularly crime and the border. And on those other issues—with the exceptions of abortion and the environment—Abbott outpolled O’Rourke.
What is there left to say about O’Rourke? He was a bolt from the blue in 2018, appearing seemingly from nowhere—to a lot of Texans, El Paso is nowhere—and became a national media darling. Magazines loved him, Hollywood loved him, Democratic donors loved him. His campaign that year was the stuff of political fairy tales, and the shockingly close result gave a lot of Democrats hope that something different was coming—and that there was a new Texas down the road with radically different values. He captured liberals’ hopes at a time when they were desperate to believe the Trump era could be repudiated and moved past.
Then came 2020. O’Rourke’s brief presidential campaign didn’t help his brand. But it was also a year of disillusionment for Democrats generally. Trump lost, but not by much, and it was clear there wasn’t going to be a return to the old status quo, or a push forward to new and better values. There would only be a continuation of a grinding, demoralizing politics. When O’Rourke ran in 2022, he conjured up that old hope for many of his followers. But he couldn’t break through.
One thing you can say about O’Rourke is this: he ran. That’s more than can be said about a lot of Democrats who have aspirations in the party. If he hadn’t run this year, the party might have ended up with an embarrassment, rather than just a losing candidate.
But this loss also isn’t one that points to a way forward, like his 2018 loss did. That year, several Republican statewide candidates won reelection by fewer than five points, and Democrats could argue they had a path to take back the state House in 2020. (They needed an anti-Trump landslide to make it happen, and that didn’t materialize.) But with this loss, not much can be said in favor of Texas Democrats other than that it wasn’t a truly humiliating landslide. Maybe in Trump’s second term, they’ll get another chance.
Mayra Flores May Be Heading Home From Washington After a Short Six Months in Office
Jack Herrera, 10:08 p.m.
With 53 percent of the vote counted, Democratic congressman Vicente Gonzalez is leading Republican congresswoman Mayra Flores by about 54 percent to 43 percent. After just a few months in office, Flores may have to pack her bags and head back to McAllen.
This has been one of the stranger races in Texas this year, because both candidates are incumbents. Flores won in a special election in June, after Democratic congressman Filemón Vela announced an untimely retirement. Gonzalez, meanwhile, currently represents the neighboring Fifteenth District, but decided to run in the Thirty-fourth after last year’s legislative redistricting moved his neighborhood into Vela’s district.
On paper, the Thirty-fourth is overwhelmingly Democratic: after redistricting, it would’ve gone for Biden by sixteen points in 2020. But Flores managed to win the special election in a bizarre turn of events that saw her run with no serious opposition. A talented social media star and vociferous right-winger, Flores was able to make a serious splash on the national stage after her win: in appearances on Fox News and other cable news shows, she explained how her background—as an evangelical Mexican immigrant who worked in the fields in her youth—informed her conservative values.
So far, it appears that that wasn’t enough for her to pull off an upset and end Gonzalez’s career in Congress. At the same time, even if Gonzalez manages to maintain his lead, the fact that Democrats have had to spend big to defend a district where they should have had a sixteen-point advantage is a dismal reflection on the party’s South Texas strategy.
Redistricting Worked! Only One Congressional Election in Texas Is Competitive.
Dan Solomon, 10:01 p.m.
Just two short years ago, Texas had eleven congressional districts in which the elections were decided by fewer than ten points—meaning that 30 percent of the state’s districts were competitive. While all votes have yet to be counted, so some of these margins will likely shift a bit, as of 9:25 p.m., we are down to just a single viable swing district.
In Texas’s Fifteenth Congressional District, Republican Monica De La Cruz holds a six-point lead with 66 percent of the vote counted. Otherwise, there’s no drama to be found. In the nearby Thirty-fourth, Democrat Vicente Gonzalez leads Republican Mayra Flores by ten points; in the Twenty-eighth, longtime Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar enjoys a thirteen-point lead; and in the Twenty-third, Republican incumbent Tony Gonzales leads by fifteen. And that is as close as it gets.
On the other hand, there are seven districts where one candidate leads by more than 50 points. This is what the congressional redistricting map was drawn to accomplish: packing Democratic voters into districts such as TX-9 (+56), TX-20 (+40), TX-30 (+56), TX-35 (+49), and TX-37 (an absurd +60), while putting previously vulnerable GOP incumbents into districts they could count on winning by 15 or more points.
At some point, demographics will change, political winds will shift, and demographics will change, so some of those districts may end up competitive again—but that probably won’t happen until around 2028. So it’s probably safe to learn your representative’s name in the meantime.
New Election, Same Old Problems in Harris County
Michael Hardy, 9:45 p.m.
Harris County is having yet another glitch-ridden election. Throughout the day, reports rolled in about long lines at polling places and malfunctioning voting machines. By midafternoon, at least twelve polling places apparently ran out of paper ballots. After several polling places opened late, the left-leaning Texas Organizing Project sued the county, leading a local judge to extend voting across the county for an hour. Then the Texas Supreme Court stayed the extension, leading to widespread confusion about whether votes cast after 7 p.m.—including those of voters who were in line before the deadline—would be counted. Harris County elections administrator Clifford Tatum first appeared to suggest that late votes would not be counted, then “clarified” that the provisional ballots would simply be set aside pending further court instruction.
Odus Evbagharu, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, told me that Tatum “has only been in the job two months. He’s had to restructure the office. He’s still getting used to the new machines.” Evbagharu blamed Senate Bill 1, the controversial voting law passed last year by the GOP-controlled Legislature, for requiring paper ballots—a source of much of the confusion about the county’s voting machines, which have been in service for a year and require voters to scan two pieces of paper, print them out, then scan them into a separate machine. Similar problems with the machines were reported during the March primary election.
With 2.6 million voters spread across nearly 1,800 square miles, Harris County is usually one of the last counties in the state to count its votes. Although early-voting results have been released, it could take many more hours for a picture of the same-day vote to emerge. Evbagharu suggested that it may take until tomorrow morning to know who won the tightly contested race for county judge between Lina Hidalgo and Alexandra del Moral Mealer.
Greg Abbott Has Defeated Beto O’Rourke in the Gubernatorial Race
Staff, 9:37 p.m.
Decision Desk HQ and NBC News have called the gubernatorial race for Greg Abbott. With 65 percent of the votes in, Abbott is leading 54.5 percent to Beto O’Rourke’s 44.4 percent.
Weed Is on the Ballot in Texas. And Weed Is Winning.
Forrest Wilder, 9:11 p.m.
So far, in the five cities where voters are deciding whether to decriminalize marijuana—the college towns of Denton and San Marcos; the military burbs of Killeen and Harker Heights; and Elgin, a town on the outer periphery of Austin—the pro-pot initiatives are passing overwhelmingly.
The numbers are further confirmation that Texans, generally regardless of partisan affiliation, are on board with relaxing Texas’s laws criminalizing weed. Will state legislators listen, though? City-by-city decriminalization would take a generation or two—something the Lege could do in a single five-month session.
Beto’s Winning Big in Hidalgo County—But That Could Still Be an “L”
Jack Herrera, 9:04 p.m.
With 44 percent of the vote in, Beto O’Rourke has a huge lead over Greg Abbott in Hidalgo County, the large county anchored in the border city McAllen—59 percent to 40 percent. If that margin holds, however, it will be a huge loss for Beto.
Let me explain: In 2018, O’Rourke won Hidalgo County with 68.8 percent of the vote. Coming back four years later with almost 10 percent fewer votes in Hidalgo isn’t a great look, especially considering O’Rourke lost that governor’s race. But the issue is even bigger than that: Hidalgo is over 92 percent Hispanic. And in 2020, it was one of the counties where former President Donald Trump experienced his greatest gains. Between 2016 and 2020, Trump improved his turnout in Hidalgo by more than 100 percent. Though Trump still lost the county by a slim margin, the result in Hidalgo became some of the strongest evidence for Republicans to boast that their party was winning over Hispanic voters.
Now, on Election Night 2022, Abbott will still likely lose Hidalgo County, but could significantly improve his margin from 2018. That’s a big deal for two reasons: it will solidify the argument that the GOP really is starting to make inroads with Hispanic voters, and it will entirely sink O’Rourke’s—or any other Democrat’s—chances of winning a statewide election in Texas. That’s because, to win Texas, Democrats don’t just need to win the Hispanic vote—they need to win big.
Democrats’ hopes of ever winning back Texas basically depend on them winning around 70 percent of the Hispanic vote. If Republicans can claw even a small percentage of the Hispanic community away—say, if they win 40 percent of the Hispanic vote and Democrats win 60—it will still be a huge win for the GOP. They will have built a firewall against Democrats’ statewide chances.
More Concerning Early Returns for Beto O’Rourke in South Texas
Christopher Hooks, 8:58 p.m.
In 2016, 2018, and 2020, there was a lot of attention on election results in a few counties where the political allegiances of voters seemed to be shifting. Key suburban counties outside the major urban cores that were once reliably Republican were becoming more Democratic. And in South Texas, border counties that used to safe repositories of Democratic votes seemed to be getting more Republican. A key question in this year’s election was whether these trends would intensify or retreat.
The most populous county in the Rio Grande Valley is Cameron County, home to Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke beat Senator Ted Cruz in Cameron County by 26 points, netting a “profit” of a little over 20,000 votes. In 2020, Joe Biden won Cameron County by only 13 points, reducing his net gain to about 15,000 votes. Right now, with 40 percent reporting, O’Rourke is winning by only 8 points, with about 4,000 votes more than Abbott. That will change as more election day results come in—but it doesn’t look great for O’Rourke. The smaller O’Rourke’s net gain is out of the RGV, the more votes he would have to make up elsewhere just to stay even, let alone win.
In suburban counties, things are a little more mixed, but they also look bad for O’Rourke. In populous Collin County, north of Dallas, home of much of the vast sweep of suburban cities that make up the DFW metroplex, Abbott is beating O’Rourke by 9 points with some 70 percent of the vote in. That’s not great. In 2018, Cruz won Collin County by 6 points, and in 2020 Donald Trump won by only 4 points. Williamson County, Austin’s equivalent of Collin, was a rock-ribbed Republican county until a few years ago. O’Rourke is up by three points with about 70 percent of the vote—that’s just a little better than Democrats’ previous margins.
Urban Texas Isn’t Taking Beto Over the Top
Forrest Wilder, 8:44 p.m.
So far, at least in early voting totals, Beto O’Rourke isn’t improving over his 2018 performance in Texas’s six most populous counties. In Travis (Austin) and Bexar (San Antonio), O’Rourke has 75 percent and 59 percent of the vote, respectively. That’s about the same percentage he ended up garnering against Ted Cruz in 2018. But early voting tends to favor Democrats, of course. And in Dallas, El Paso, and Harris counties, Greg Abbott is over-performing, relative to Cruz. Abbott is 10 percentage points ahead of Cruz’s performance in Hispanic-majority El Paso County, 5 in Harris, and about 2 in Dallas.
Bottom line: If O’Rourke can’t make up a lot of ground in Election Day totals, he won’t do as well as he needs to in urban Texas.
Even in a Majority Hispanic Distinct, Race Is a Wedge Issue
Jack Herrera, 8:33 p.m.
The bitter clash between Republican Monica De La Cruz and Democrat Michelle Vallejo in South Texas is the most competitive congressional race in Texas. Their district, the Fifteenth district, anchored in McAllen, is over 80 percent Hispanic, and De La Cruz and Vallejo are both Latina. But still, both candidates have made not-so-subtle claims that there is only one real Hispanic candidate in the race.
In a recent Fox News appearance, Monica De La Cruz explained that Hispanics have a specific set of politics: “We love faith, we love our family, and we believe in the American dream and hard work,” De La Cruz said, repeating the frequent Republican claim that “Hispanic culture” makes Hispanics natural Republican voters. “And that’s why I think Hispanics are walking away [from the Democrats], because people like my opponent—who is a socialist—she believes in big government. Meanwhile, we, the Republican party, we believe in God.” (Quick fact check: Michelle Vallejo is not a socialist.)
Vallejo also appears to have gone after her opponent’s racial credentials: In her last TV ad cut before Election Day, Vallejo accused De La Cruz of focusing her fundraising in Washington and out of state instead of the district, and finished the commercial with line that likely drew an eyebrow raise from any Spanish speaker: “This November, we have a choice: los vendidos, o nuestra gente.” The phrase translates to “the sell-outs, or our people,” but the word “vendido” has an extra register, especially in a place like South Texas. “Vendido” is a word some Hispanics will use to accuse someone else of trying to be white; a race-traitor.
Political polarization is painful for many families, but it might prove particularly caustic in Hispanic communities, where a person’s politics can get tied up in their racial identity. In interviews, Republicans including De La Cruz have told me that Hispanics, as a rule, value faith and “hard work” in their politics. But at the same time, Republicans say they’ve faced brutal accusations that, because they vote red, they’re vendidos—sell-outs, traitors to other Hispanics.
With less than 60 percent of the vote in, the race between De La Cruz and Vallejo is too close to call; De La Cruz has a small lead. But one thing is clear: no matter the result of this election, political divisions in South Texas will continue to be keenly—and often painfully—felt.
In South Texas and the Suburbs, Bad Early Signs for Beto
Christopher Hooks, 8:24 p.m.
In 2016 and 2018, there was a lot of attention on election results in a few counties where the political allegiances of voters seemed to be shifting. Key suburban counties outside the major urban cores that were once reliably Republican were becoming more Democratic. And in South Texas, border counties that used to be safe repositories of Democratic votes seemed to be getting more Republican. A key question in this year’s election was whether these trends would intensify or retreat.
The most populous county in the Rio Grande Valley is Cameron County, at the southern tip of Texas. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke beat Ted Cruz in Cameron County by 26 points, netting a “profit” of a little over 20,000 out of Cameron. In 2020, Joe Biden won Cameron County by only 13 points, reducing his net gain to about 15,000 votes. Right now, with only early vote counted, O’Rourke is winning by only 8 points, with about 4,000 votes more than Abbott. That will change with Election Day results—but it doesn’t look great for O’Rourke. The smaller O’Rourke’s net gain is out of the RGV, the more votes he would have to make up elsewhere just to stay even, let alone win.
In suburban counties, things are a little more mixed, but they also look bad for O’Rourke. In populous Collin County, north of Dallas, home of much of the vast sweep of suburban cities that make up the DFW metroplex, Abbott is beating O’Rourke by 9 points with some 70 percent of the vote in. That’s not great. In 2018, Cruz won Collin County by 6 points, and in 2020 Donald Trump won by only 4 points. Williamson County, Austin’s equivalent of Collin, was a rock-ribbed Republican county until a few years ago. O’Rourke is up by three points with about 70 percent of the vote—which is just a little better than their previous margins.
In Early Voting, Ominous Signs for Lina Hidalgo
Forrest Wilder, 8:14 p.m.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, one of the few rising stars in Texas Democratic politics, is having a rough night so far. In early vote totals, she leads her Republican opponent, Alex Mealer, with a very small margin. Hidalgo has 50.7 percent of the vote to Mealer’s 49.3 percent —about 10,000 votes in all. Democrats tend to vote early at a greater rate than Republicans, so if that holds true in Greater Houston, it’s hard to see how Hidalgo holds on. Also troubling for Hidalgo, there appear to quite a few Beto O’Rourke/Mealer voters. That would be a big blow to Texas Democrats. Recall that Hidalgo stunned almost everyone in 2018 when she knocked off a popular Republican incumbent, Ed Emmett, when she was just 27.
Harris County is not just Texas’s most populous county, it is also a prerequisite for statewide political success. If Democrats are losing ground there, then they will have a hard time putting together an electorate that can compete across this huge state. And Hidalgo, young though she is, will have a difficult path back into public office, should she want it. On the other hand, the night, too, is young and strange things can happen.
The Bizarre Dynamics of a “Fajita Strip” District
Jack Herrera, 7:55 p.m.
We’ve gotten the first round of votes from the Twenty-eighth district.
With over 60 percent of the vote in, Republican Cassy García has a commanding lead in Guadalupe County, home of Seguin and the San Antonio exburbs: She has over 63 percent of the vote. However, Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar still has a healthy lead district-wide, 57.6 to 42.4, with 30 percent reporting.
This reflects García’s strategy and also the district’s comical geography. The Twenty-eighth district is sometimes called a fajita strip. It starts from the border in Laredo and winds all the way up to the San Antonio suburbs, more than 150 miles away. In Webb County, home of Laredo, Cuellar is basically unbeatable: He’s been called “The King of Laredo.” So García, like Cuellar’s progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros, has focused most of her campaigning in more northern counties around San Antonio, especially Guadalupe. So far she’s doing well up north, but tiny Guadalupe will not be enough to change the margin if Cuellar continues to dominate in Webb.
Checking In on Tarrant County
Ben Rowen, 7:28 p.m.
Earlier today I wrote about Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth and the GOP’s last battleground in the fight for (and against) the blue-ification of urban and suburban Texans. The second most populous county in the country that Trump carried in 2016, it voted for O’Rourke over Ted Cruz in 2018, and Joe Biden over Donald Trump in 2020. Since then, it has emerged an epicenter of book bans and calls to ban critical race theory in high schools, despite the thorny problem of those high schools not actually teaching CRT.
The early results? With 59 percent reporting, Greg Abbott is leading Beto O’Rourke 51-48. A county to continue watching as more results come in.
As We Wait on Harris County Results, Checking in on Stan Stanart
Michael Hardy, 7:14 p.m.
Stan Stanart can’t get no respect. During his eight-year tenure as Harris County Clerk, the elaborately coiffed Republican was subjected to merciless abuse on Twitter, where the hashtag #firestanstanart trended every election night—a reaction to Stanart’s apparently lackadaisical approach to reporting results. (With 4.7 million residents spread across nearly 1,800 square miles, Harris County has long been one of the last in Texas to report results.) In 2018, Harris County voters did fire Stanart in favor of his Democratic opponent, Diane Trautman. It was a blue wave election in the county, but Stanart’s hyperbolic attacks on George Soros, which the Houston Chronicle editorial board slammed as “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” probably didn’t help.
Now Stanart wants his old job back. He claims, not without reason, that elections have gotten even worse under Democratic control. “End long lines! End long waits! Bring back Stan,” his eccentric campaign website implores. But there’s a problem: the county clerk no longer oversees elections in Harris County. In 2020, the Democratic-controlled commissioners’ court created the new position of elections administrator, which is appointed rather than elected. Stanart is counting on Republicans taking back control of commissioners’ court—three of the five seats are being contested today—and eliminating the election administrator position, as they’ve promised.
This isn’t Stanart’s first attempt to get his job back. Two years ago he lost to Democratic county clerk Teneshia Hudspeth by nearly eight points in a special election called to replace Trautman, who had resigned for health reasons. Now Stanart is taking another run at Hudspeth, whom he blames for, among other sins, scrapping Stanart’s design for the county’s marriage license. There’s no public polling on the race, but barring a Nixon-like political resurrection it looks like Stanart’s days of overseeing elections are over. After tonight, to paraphrase our thirty-seventh president, Twitter won’t have Stan to kick around anymore.
It’s the 2022 Election. The 2020 Election Never Really Ended.
Christopher Hooks, 6:55 p.m.
It is now widely reported that former president Donald J. Trump is going to declare his campaign to become future president Donald J. Trump shortly after this election, giving Americans a vanishingly small window to relax before the next election cycle starts. But the reprieve was always illusory. Election cycles don’t start and end anymore. There is one ongoing election, and no one can say when it started and when it will end. (Some of us can’t even agree that it’s legitimate.) The 2022 midterm election in Texas was part of the ongoing story of the 2020 presidential campaign and the already-being-written story of the 2024 presidential campaign. Democracy is a hell from which we can never fully escape.
Joe Biden’s election in 2020 is the single largest fact coloring this election cycle. In the Republican primary this year, candidates were almost required to express a belief that the presidential election may have been stolen. Republican voters may hate the man, but the Texas GOP itself benefits when a Democrat is in office—particularly one as unpopular as Biden. (Biden’s approval rating sits at about 42 percent, and it’s a little lower in Texas.) During Obama’s first midterm in 2010, Texas Democrats experienced an unprecedented rout, and Republicans won a supermajority in the state House—101 seats.
Unsurprisingly, the White House has not made much of a footprint here. Biden was not asked to stump for Beto O’Rourke, and while Kamala Harris headlined a fund-raising dinner in Austin last month, candidates were not lining up to get her seal of approval. Republicans, however, couldn’t get enough of talking about Biden and how much their opponents wanted to hug and kiss him. That’s to say nothing of the ways they picked profile-raising battles with the administration—Governor Greg Abbott with his border wars, Attorney General Ken Paxton with his many lawsuits. (Even Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan got into a little spat on the more substantive issue of Medicaid funding.)
But it seems unlikely that Republicans will perform as well as they did in 2010—even though they have brand-new district lines drawn to maximize their advantage. That’s partly because the state has changed a lot in the intervening years. But it’s also because of the other fellow on the ballot in 2020. Trump overshadowed the election this year in a big way. Before the all-important Republican primary in March, he appeared in Conroe, playing to a large audience and putting his stamp of approval on a slate of statewide candidates—all of whom won. And before early voting started in the general, he held another rally near Corpus Christi, where Republican candidates up and down the ballot (though not Abbott) flattered Trump and sought his approval.
The Trump era had the same effect in Texas that it had in the rest of the country. Rural voters and those with lower education levels voted even more Republican than before, while many suburban voters and those with higher education levels split from the GOP, and the trade put the party in a bad spot in several different parts of the state. Trump is not on the ballot this year, but the GOP is contending with some of the more unpopular consequences of his presidency, chief among them the repeal of Roe v. Wade, which plays about as badly in the suburbs as upzoning.
There’s a vicious cycle here. Texas Republicans needed Trump this year to win their primaries and turn out voters who respond very strongly to him and not so strongly to the party itself (or to its ideology). In obtaining his help, they solidified Trump’s position as el jefe of the GOP. And in doing so, they made it more likely that Trump wins his 2024 primary. In 2010, the tea party wave helped the GOP figure out its political future, one that was radically disconnected from the legacy of George W. Bush. This year, the party has remained joined at the hip with its once and future king.
Now that results are starting to come in, you can track them here.
What Makes Rural Texas So Overwhelmingly Republican?
Ben Rowen, 6:36 p.m.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, Texas circa 2022 is an overwhelmingly urban state. Our thirty most populous counties account for around 80 percent of the state’s population. But that doesn’t mean that rural voters can’t still sway elections. In 2018, when he ran against Senator Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke won those thirty big counties by a margin of 8 percentage points—while losing statewide by a margin of 2.6 percentage points. Why? In the other 224 counties in Texas, Cruz won by a margin of 47 points. The Democratic party’s brand in rural Texas, and particularly rural West Texas, is not just tainted: it’s toxic.
Since the 1980s and 1990s, when rural Texas flipped Republican, Democrats have by and large not even tried to compete there. In 55 mostly rural counties across the state, the Texas Democratic party does not have a local chair. In the other 199 counties, fewer than forty chairs told Texas Monthly they were doing door-to-door canvassing when we reached out.
Last year, Jon Mark Hogg, a former Democratic chair in Tom Green County (home to San Angelo) co-launched the 134 PAC, which is trying to build the party in the 134 counties west of Interstate 35. When we talked earlier this year, he shared an anecdote underscoring how little Democrats have tried in rural Texas. In 2020, Hogg ran for the U.S. House in the single reddest district in Texas; he knew he would lose, but he figured that part of the party’s path to becoming competitive was giving rural Texans a Democrat to actually vote for.
Using the Democratic party’s canvassing app, Minivan, Hogg decided to go door-to-door in his district, and he was directed to a group of households that the app had flagged as potentially leaning Democratic in Eden, Texas, a metropolis with a population of 1,100. But he couldn’t find the houses, so he spent twenty or so minutes circling the neighborhood. Eventually, a local came to his car and asked him if he was lost. Hogg showed the man the address he was looking for. The local told him he was already there: the street had just changed names two decades ago. No one had updated the Democrats’ map.
What’s the Matter With Tarrant County?
Ben Rowen, 6:18 p.m.
In 2016, Fort Worth’s Tarrant County was the most populous urban county in Texas—and the second-most populous in the country—to break for Donald Trump. It went narrowly for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke in 2018—and then, in 2020, went for Joe Biden. Republican legislators heavily targeted the city in redistricting last year, cracking Tarrant County into a number of districts that divided its voters of color. Democratic state senator Beverly Powell’s district, for example, changed from one Biden carried by nearly eight percentage points in 2020 to one that Trump would have won by thirteen. Powell, seeing the writing on the wall, decided not to seek reelection.
As is the case nationally, Texas is experiencing an urban shift to the left and a rural shift to the right. In Tarrant County, the right wing sees the potential for a final big-urban-area holdout, and the county has emerged as a center of book bans and the movement to root out critical race theory from high schools where it isn’t taught. More-moderate Republicans are starting to break from the party as a result. In September, Republican county judge Glen Whitley endorsed Democrat Mike Collier over Dan Patrick in the lieutenant governor’s race. Former Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price, a Republican who had lost a bid to replace Whitley as county judge, encouraged voters to split their tickets and vote for some Democrats. How Republicans, and specifically Patrick, perform in the county will be something to watch tonight.
Some East Coast Races to Watch for Clues While We Wait on the Texas Results
Dan Solomon, 6:00 p.m.
The true avocation of any political junkie is trying to get a sense of the results before votes are tallied. Accordingly, there are a few places outside Texas we can observe as early as 6 p.m. to get a feel for how the handful of races here that could by any stretch be called “competitive” are likely to shake out. While voters in, say, Atlanta and New York aren’t identical to ones in Texas, we can learn some broad political trends from how they vote.
By 6 p.m., we should have a good chunk of results from Georgia. The two statewide races there are likely to be close, so it’s entirely possible the early results won’t tell us much. If they indicate a stronger-than-expected showing for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams or Democratic senator Raphael Warnock in his reelection bid, however, that might augur more drama in the statewide races in Texas than the polls have indicated. If Republicans Brian Kemp and Herschel Walker appear to be coasting to wins, on the other hand, you can probably expect the same for Texas’s statewide GOP incumbents (which is all of them).
Another election worth following is New York’s governor’s race, the earliest results of which should start coming in at 7 p.m. New York is typically a Democratic stronghold, but the governor’s race has been surprisingly competitive this election, with some polls finding the race to be within the margin of error. If incumbent governor Kathy Hochul looks like she’s going to win, there’s nothing to be gleaned about Texas from watching this race—but if Republican Lee Zeldin appears to be on track for an upset, it’s all but impossible to imagine New York electing a Republican governor the same night that Texas elects a Democrat to any statewide office.
Where might Texas Dems look for positive signs? They can see whether Democrat Val Demings is performing better than expected in her Florida Senate race against Marco Rubio (or if Charlie Crist is doing the same against governor Ron DeSantis), or Senate contender Cheri Beasley has a shot at an upset over Republican Ted Budd in North Carolina, or Democrat Tim Ryan beats expectations against J.D. Vance in Ohio’s Senate race. If Democrats run strong in any of those races, we are probably in a different political environment than we expected, and our definition of “competitive” might well expand accordingly.
In the handful of already-competitive House races in Texas—all of which are in South Texas—we can also look for clues in the outcomes of a few East Coast House races. For example, Pennsylvania’s Seventh Congressional District, which includes Allentown, doesn’t have much in common with South Texas demographically. But politically, it’s also a historically Democratic-leaning district that is essentially a toss-up, which should sound familiar to folks watching Texas’s Fifteenth and Thirty-fourth Congressional Districts. According to the polling experts at FiveThirtyEight, if PA-7 goes blue, TX-15, where Republican Monica De La Cruz faces Democrat Michelle Vallejo, shifts from “toss-up” to “lean D.” Adding a second Democratic victory in almost any of the close East Coast races—which include ME-2, NY-19, PA-8, PA-17, RI-2, and VA-2—shifts TX-34, between Republican Mayra Flores and Democrat Vicente Gonzalez, to “lean D” as well, according to the various Nates.
Statewide Issues to Watch
Keeping the Lights On: The Low Bar Abbott Limboed Under
Ben Rowen, 5:39 p.m.
When Beto O’Rourke announced a run for governor nearly a year ago, the odds were stacked against his success. Greg Abbott had raised more money than any governor in U.S. history, and O’Rourke’s favorability was in the tank after he face-planted in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. But there was one consistent source of optimism in his campaign: Governor Abbott had overseen the catastrophic failure of the electric grid during the February 2021 winter storm. In a super-polarized political world, failure is often excused—as long as the GOP incumbent is owning the libs and his shortcomings don’t affect his own party members. A failure to keep the lights on, however, was a screwup that could presumably penetrate even the most partisan right-wing psyche. Republicans, after all, buy lamps too.
Keeping the lights on was a low bar that Abbott failed to clear, but it appears he’s been able to limbo under it. Amazingly enough, by this fall, poll after poll found that Abbott outperformed O’Rourke on the issue of the grid. Part of that has to do with the grid failing more than a year and a half before the election, and subsequently withstanding this year’s relatively mild winter and scorching summer. Elephants never forget, unless they’re Texas Republicans.
Abbott’s weathering of the grid failure also speaks to how tainted the Democratic party’s brand is in much of Texas. The only issue on which O’Rourke outpolled Abbott in a September UT-Tyler poll was “bringing people together”; in an October UT poll, Abbott led on every single issue except abortion, for which he was tied, and the environment.
But there’s a third factor that seems to be in play: nihilism about the ability of the government to provide anything. Texans, it seems, have turbocharged JFK’s admonishment. No longer do they ask not what the country can do for them, they don’t expect it to do anything either.
Who’s Afraid of Violent Crime?
Michael Hardy, 5:18 p.m.
Violent crime spiked dramatically across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. While crime rates have leveled off or declined in many communities over the past year, public safety remains a major concern for many voters. Republicans have tended to blame increased crime on bail reform efforts, soft-on-crime judges and prosecutors, and an anti-police backlash in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd. Democrats, on the other hand, cite lax gun laws, as well as a surge in gun sales during the pandemic.
While criminologists disagree about what’s really to blame, politicians, particularly on the right, have seized on rising crime as a potent campaign issue. In large, increasingly liberal cities such as Houston, Fort Worth, and Dallas, Republicans see the widespread fear of crime as their ticket back to political relevance after years of losing ground to Democrats. In Harris County, for instance, Republican county judge candidate Alexandra del Moral Mealer has tried to pin rising crime on incumbent county judge Lina Hidalgo.
It might work: a recent University of Houston poll found that crime and public safety was the top issue for voters in the hotly contested county judge’s race. But statewide polling presents a more ambiguous picture. An October poll conducted by UT-Austin’s Texas Politics Project found that just 4 percent of likely Texas voters said public safety was their biggest concern. (The top issues were immigration, the economy, and abortion—in that order.) Eighty-six percent of Texans reported feeling very safe or somewhat safe in their neighborhoods. Still, 65 percent of Texans said public safety was “very important” to their vote, with a sharp distinction between the attitudes of Republicans (73 percent of whom said public safety was very important) and Democrats (57 percent) and independents (55 percent).
In Hispanic South Texas, Abortion Could Decide Elections—for Democrats
Jack Herrera, 5:01 p.m.
For a long time, politicians on both sides of the aisle have given credence to a presumption that Hispanics—especially in South Texas—overwhelmingly oppose abortion rights. This year’s midterms, the first elections in Texas in the post-Roe era, could put that widespread belief to the test.
As I noted earlier this year, the idea that Hispanics tend to oppose abortion is based on faulty and outdated data. Polling from recent years—including in Texas—shows that a significant majority of Hispanics support abortion access in all or most cases. In June, researchers with the University of Texas asked Hispanics specific questions about when abortion should be legal or illegal. In every instance—from “the woman is married and does not want any more children” to “the woman became pregant as a result of rape”—a healthy majority of respondents argued that abortion should be legal.
South Texas is the most heavily Hispanic region in the state, and it’s also where the only competitive congressional races in Texas will be decided. Republican candidates like Congresswoman Mayra Flores—running in the Thirty-fourth, a district anchored in Brownsville—have made opposition to abortion a key aspect of their platforms. And indeed, there is evidence that abortion could be a deciding issue in Flores’s race and others—but in the other direction. A recent Change Research poll, which was commissioned by Planned Parenthood, found that 74 percent of Hispanic women in South Texas support abortion rights in all or most cases. Of the Latinas surveyed, 63 percent said they would vote for candidates who support abortion rights.
We Ask, One Last Time: Will There Be a Dobbs Effect?
Dan Solomon, 4:46 p.m.
The conventional wisdom around how the abortion issue polls has shifted more than once during this election cycle, in ways that have often been hard to parse. In the summer, following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, things started to look pretty good for Democrats, as a “Dobbs effect” looked like it might turn 2022 into an “asterisk election.” As summer turned to fall, the story shifted—now, we were told, economic anxieties, especially around the prices of gas and groceries, had supplanted abortion in voters’ minds.
While we wait for results, let’s take a moment to consider the possibility that abortion may not be the sort of issue that fades from Americans’ consciousness. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights org, in 2020, there were nearly a million abortions performed in the U.S., and roughly a quarter of all American women will have an abortion by the time they’re 45. That is a large number of voters for whom abortion actually is an economic issue (kids are expensive). The pro–abortion rights voting bloc also includes those for whom an unwanted pregnancy is an ever-present possibility, those who opted to carry their pregnancies to term but who understand on a fundamental level what a life-changing decision abortion is, and the partners of those who’ve needed abortion care.
We don’t know yet how much this will influence the election tonight, but we do know that in elections held since the Dobbs ruling, Democrats have done surprisingly well. An August ballot referendum that would have paved the way for an outright abortion ban in Kansas failed overwhelmingly, and Democrats have taken a handful of special elections, often outperforming Biden’s 2020 numbers by a sizable margin. Could the energy that motivated voters in, say, reliably red Alaska to send a Democrat to Congress have dissipated since the summer? It’s certainly possible, just as it’s possible that the wider midterm electorate could consist of different voters than those who show up to a summer special election—but it’s premature to dismiss the possibility out of hand. Dobbs remains the biggest wild card in this election.
What About the Nonvoters?
Ben Rowen, 4:27 p.m.
If nonvoters were a political party in Texas, they’d win every election by a landslide. Even in 2020—the year of the highest-ever raw turnout in Texas history, with the highest turnout percentage in decades—at least eight million Texans who were eligible to vote did not cast ballots. To put that in perspective, the top vote-getter that year, U.S. Senator John Cornyn, won his Senate race with just shy of six million votes.
Democrats have long seen opportunity in those millions of nonvoters. The belief that those who don’t cast ballots are Democratic-leaning is treated as nearly axiomatic, supported by a rough demographic analysis of the nonvoters, who are disproportionately Hispanic, young, non-college-educated, and poor. But there’s evidence that Democrats can’t bank as heavily on nonvoters as they think.
For one, there are a lot of Republicans who don’t cast ballots in the state. Using sophisticated modeling based on consumer habits (e.g., Does a Texan shop at Whole Foods or Cabela’s? Are they a Sierra Club member? Do they subscribe to Guns and Ammo magazine?), political operatives of both parties believe that around 45 percent of the nonvoters lean Republican.
But what about the other 55 percent? Unfortunately for the Democrats, the less politically engaged someone is, the harder it is to draw them to the polls. And Texas Republicans historically have done a much better job of overcoming that challenge and getting low- propensity voters to the polls. Take 2020, for example, when Democrats registered 150,000 more Texans than the Republicans, but the GOP convinced 26,000 more new registrants to actually vote for its candidates.
Will this election buck historical trends? Probably not. I traveled the state late this summer talking to nonvoters about why they weren’t planning on voting. Some reasons were bizarre: one woman, a cashier in Pecos, told me she’d heard the expression that one vote can make a difference and worried about that power, given that she might choose incorrectly. But by and large, most nonvoters—including many former Democratic voters—told me neither party offered anything that would change their lives.
How the nonvoters would vote if participating in elections were mandatory is an academic question. The question that matters is: how are low-propensity voters casting ballots this year? As I wrote earlier this morning, the early-vote turnout has been low. Thirty percent of early voters had no prior primary-election history. Given the breakdown of early voters who have voted before (40 percent Republican, 29 percent Democratic), 70 percent of voters with no prior primary-election history would have to have voted for Democrats for the party to have won the early vote.
How Republican Gerrymandering Took (Most of) the Fun Out of These Elections
Michael Hardy, 4:08 p.m.
This will be the first general election conducted using the new electoral districts created last year by the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process that occurs after every census. Drawn behind closed doors and using highly sophisticated computer models, the new maps guaranteed that most incumbents, both Republican and Democratic, remained in safely red or blue districts. As opposed to past redistricting efforts, this one seemed designed less to maximize Republican seats than to lock in the current Republican advantage. (Republicans currently hold 24 of 36 congressional seats, 83 of 150 state House seats, and 18 of 31 state Senate seats.) That meant drawing safe—i.e. uncompetitive—congressional, legislative, and State Board of Education districts for incumbent officeholders.
As a result of this gerrymandering, Texas has few truly competitive races. Polling suggests that only 3 of the state’s 38 congressional seats are too close to call. All three are in South Texas: the races between incumbent Republican Mayra Flores and Democrat Vicente Gonzalez (strangely enough, also an incumbent), Republican Cassy Garcia and longtime incumbent Democrat Henry Cuellar, and Republican Monica De La Cruz and Democrat Michelle Vallejo (running for an open seat). Although South Texas has been heavily Democratic for decades, the GOP is spending vast resources to gain a foothold there.
Unless an unforeseen Democratic wave manifests itself, Texas legislative races are similarly uncompetitive. That’s quite a contrast with 2020, when Democrats believed they were within striking distance of flipping the state House of Representatives; this year, they’re just hoping to hold on to the legislative seats they currently control. As has become typical in Texas, most of the real political action came in the spring primary—when a small number of hard-core activists chose their party’s nominees—rather than in today’s general election.
Are Texas Officials Preparing to Challenge the Results in Harris County?
Michael Hardy, 3:55 p.m.
After Texas’s five biggest counties voted for Joe Biden in 2020, former president Donald Trump—despite his easy victory statewide—demanded that the state conduct a “forensic audit” to root out alleged voter fraud. The Secretary of State’s office quickly agreed to audit four counties: the two largest led by Democrats (Harris and Dallas) and the two largest led by Republicans (Tarrant and Collin). The audit’s first phase turned up nothing unusual, but the second phase revealed what the Secretary of State’s office called “serious breaches of proper elections records management” in Harris County, home to Houston.
Local political leaders have described the alleged issues as, at worst, sloppy bookkeeping. They point out that Harris County has a new elections administrator and a different voting-machine system. But Secretary of State John Scott, a Republican appointed by Governor Greg Abbott, decided to dispatch a group of election monitors to the county, accompanied by a “task force” from the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton. In response, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, county attorney Christian Menefee, and Houston mayor Sylvester Turner made a joint request to the U.S. Department of Justice to send federal monitors to ensure that Scott’s and Paxton’s teams don’t interfere with the election. The state’s actions, they wrote, “appear designed to chill voters’ trust in the election process in Harris County, and to disrupt and intimidate local election workers.”
The DOJ has agreed to send monitors to the county. “State officials have shown that they can’t be trusted to be a good faith partner in Harris County’s elections,” Menefee said in a press release on Monday. “Having impartial federal election observers at the polls and in the room when the votes are being counted will help protect the integrity of our election and keep the state’s interference to a minimum.”
Because of its size, Harris County has long been one of the last counties in Texas to report its election results—prompting unfounded accusations of electoral chicanery from conspiracy theorists. The county also has large Black and Hispanic populations, which have in the past been targeted by GOP poll watchers. Civil rights activists worry that the actions of Scott and Paxton will provide cover for further harassment and intimidation of minority voters and poll workers. Given the tight race for Harris County judge, these activists also worry that Scott and Paxton are laying the groundwork for contesting the election if Hidalgo, the Democratic incumbent, prevails.
Lege and Local Races
Progressives Try Out a Hy-pot-thesis
Forrest Wilder, 3:41 p.m.
Many years ago, some former colleagues and I had a parlor game: which would come first in Texas—same-sex marriage or marijuana legalization? The U.S. Supreme Court, of course, rendered the question moot in 2015 by legalizing marriage equality. Seven years later, same-sex couples can still get married in Texas, but pot remains illegal. Texas is now one of just thirteen states that lack comprehensive medical marijuana programs. (Thirty-one states currently prohibit nonmedical use.)
Other red states, including Oklahoma and Mississippi, have been forced by their voters to set up medical marijuana programs; even in the most conservative of states, statewide ballot initiatives have proven a big success. (Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota all have legalization measures on this year’s ballot.) Polling in Texas consistently shows strong support for relaxing the state’s decades-old marijuana prohibition. But Texas is notoriously suspicious of direct democracy, making it very difficult for organizers to gather enough signatures to get propositions on the ballot.
Instead, activists have made very modest gains with the Legislature and focused on city-by-city efforts to pass decriminalization measures. This election, voters in five Texas cities—Killeen and Harker Heights in north-central Texas; Denton in North Texas; and San Marcos and Elgin in the Austin area—will decide whether to eliminate enforcement of low-level marijuana offenses. The scattershot effort is led by Ground Game Texas, an organization founded by two former Democratic candidates for Congress, Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel. Lone Star State progressives have long sought to capitalize on the disconnect between popular opinion on marijuana decriminalization and Republican resistance to all but the most incremental changes. Ground Game’s premise is that putting decriminalization (and other popular policies) on the ballot will juice turnout and then get low-propensity voters to also cast their ballots for Democrats.
“Our Bell County campaigns [in Killeen and Harker Heights] could help one or two Democrats win their races for county commissioner,” Oliver told me in an email Monday. “Our San Marcos campaign could boost [Democratic state representative] Erin Zwiener’s re-election and a progressive candidate for District Attorney. And our hope overall is to add thousands of additional votes among young and infrequent voters who will turn out to decriminalize marijuana and then vote up and down the ballot.”
We’ll look to see if there is any discernible effect in Bell and Hays counties. But it’s hard to see how a few local ripples will have much of an effect on what could be a Republican tidal wave. The total population of all the five cities is about 450,000 in a state of almost 30 million. Another scenario: the weed measures pass, and Dems get slaughtered locally anyway.
In Harris County, the GOP Makes a Last Stand
Michael Hardy, 3:19 p.m.
With a population of 4.7 million, Harris County, whose seat is Houston, is the largest county in Texas and the third-largest in the United States. Like the state’s other major urban areas, the county has been trending Democratic for years—so much so that no Republican has won a countywide race since 2014. In 2020, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump here by 13 percentage points. But the race for Harris County judge, the county’s top executive, has been fiercely contested. Houston’s traditional business establishment is desperate to unseat a young progressive Democrat who refuses donations from county vendors.
Four years ago, Lina Hidalgo, a 27-year-old graduate student, narrowly unseated moderate Republican incumbent Ed Emmett. Breaking from the county’s long-standing tradition of business-friendly technocratic leadership, Hidalgo has governed as an unapologetic progressive. Her aggressive measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic infuriated local and state Republican leaders.
Republicans are pinning their hopes for retaking the county on another political novice, 38-year-old Alexandra del Moral Mealer. Mealer boasts an impressive résumé—she graduated from West Point, served in Afghanistan as a captain in the Army bomb squad, and earned a joint JD/MBA from Harvard before moving to Houston to work as an investment banker for Wells Fargo. Mealer has proved a formidable politician and fund-raiser, collecting a record $8.6 million in donations since July 1 compared to Hidalgo’s $2.4 million. Among her biggest donors are Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale ($448,000), real estate developer Richard Weekley ($400,000), and Fidelis Realty Partners CEO Alan Hassenflu ($350,000). Defend Texas Liberty PAC, a group funded by right-wing Texas oil barons Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, kicked in $100,000.
Polls suggest that the race is a dead heat.
Two other county commissioner seats are also being closely contested, which means that the Democrats’ 3–2 majority on the commissioners’ court could be in jeopardy. Other Harris County races on the ballot include the district clerk, county clerk, and county treasurer—all positions that are currently held by Democrats.
Not Much Is at Stake in the Texas House. The GOP Is Still Spending Heavily.
Christopher Hooks, 3:00 p.m.
The Texas House is vitally important in determining what goes on in state government, but the 150-seat chamber rarely changes very much on Election Day. The GOP primary is of more importance. The two outcomes that could really shake things up in a general election—Democrats winning a majority, or Republicans winning a supermajority—are usually both out of reach, and this year is no different. The changes that do take place in the general election are often pretty subtle, as senior members in leadership positions yield to younger members and one faction of the house gains or loses ground.
But there are some important races to watch, if only to get a sense of how politics in the state is changing. Republicans hope to contest several districts in South Texas currently held by Democrats. Democratic incumbents Abel Herrero and Oscar Longoria should be safe—Biden would have won both their districts by more than ten points had they existed in 2020—but an especially large red swing could knock them off. An easier pickup for Republicans is House District 37, anchored in Brownsville, which was made significantly more Republican during redistricting (Biden would have only won there by two points). It’s an open seat, thanks to Democratic incumbent Alex Dominguez’s failed bid for state Senate. Democrat Luis Villarreal, a former legislative aide, hopes to beat Republican Janie Lopez, a school board member who has been heavily supported by groups across the Republican coalition.
Elsewhere, Republicans have some easy pickups in suburban areas thanks to redistricting. Democrat James Talarico’s current district north of Austin, HD-52, will likely go red (he’s left for a safer district), as will Michelle Beckley’s district northwest of Dallas, HD-65. In Bexar County, Republican John Lujan will hope to sneak back into the House in a district, HD-118, that has been made significantly more contestable for him. And outside the urban areas, there’s Tracy O. King in South Texas, who has long been the last of the white conservative rural Democrats, once a thriving breed. Year after year, King has managed to evade not only Republican opposition but Democratic primary challengers in a heavily Hispanic district. But he’ll face a tough challenge this year: House District 80, which includes Uvalde, has been redrawn from one that voted for Biden by 7.5 points to one that would have voted for Trump by 4.3 points.
In Dallas, Republican mapmakers have tried to protect two notable incumbents from blue-ifying suburban voters. Morgan Meyer’s House District 108, which includes leafy Highland Park, went for Biden by fourteen points, and Angie Chen Button’s House District 112, which includes Garland, went for Biden by nine points. Their representatives were top targets for Democrats in 2018 and 2020, but both held on. Now they’ve been gifted redrawn districts that Trump would’ve won, although by less than a percentage point. They’re probably safe, but if tonight sees an unprecedented left-wing lurch by suburban voters in Texas, they could be at risk. Commuters of the world, unite!
Democrats have been much less focused on the state House this year than in 2020—their hopes are focused on the top of the ballot. Even still, the gap between the resources available to Republican candidates and their opponents has been striking. In the last month of the race alone, Lujan reported $1.2 million in donations compared to his opponent’s $239,000. Lopez reported $735,000 to her opponent’s $57,000. And in HD-70, another suburban Dallas district held by a retiring Republican, Republican Jamee Jolly reported a whopping $1.4 million to her opponent’s $221,000. Much of the high totals for GOP candidates are because of “in-kind” donations, which here means other organizations working on behalf of the campaign. But Democrats can’t count on the same thing. They have to hope they can draft on Beto’s success.
The Imaginarium of Dan Patrick
Christopher Hooks, 2:39 p.m.
In 2015, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took control of a Texas Senate that was pretty receptive to him—but it wasn’t entirely his, even after he changed the rules of the body to reduce the number of senators needed to pass a bill from 2/3 to 3/5. (In 2021, following some unexpected Democratic victories in state Senate races, he reduced it from 3/5 to the somewhat comical and irreducible fraction of 18/31, or 58 percent of the Senate. Measure twice, cut twice.)
The Texas Senate of old had a much-cherished and not-entirely-imagined tradition of independent thinking and debate, and Patrick, who had been seen as as an upstart right until he started to run the place, was viewed with some residual distrust and suspicion by the old-timers. They remained willing to block some of his priorities, particularly on school vouchers, and more-egregious culture-war bills involving abortion and gay rights. This was intensely irritating to Patrick not because these bills would otherwise have passed, but because he wanted to put the onus of killing them on the slightly more moderate House. If Senate Republicans could pass these bills unanimously, Patrick would have much more leverage.
Those rebellious old-timers . . . well, the pack has been thinning for a while now, until one day it was mostly just Kel Seliger. Seliger was a likable oddity, a pretty pragmatic conservative—and the only Jew in the Senate for much of his career—who somehow represented the reddest part of the state: Amarillo and the Panhandle. He opposed Patrick’s school-privatization initiatives. He also sparred with Patrick, sometimes bitterly and in public. When Patrick ally Senator Charles Schwertner got in trouble for (maybe) sexting a college student, Patrick gave him a slap on the wrist—he said he was “deeply concerned.” But when Seliger told a Patrick underling to kiss his “back end,” Patrick basically called Seliger a pervert and stripped him of his committees.
Seliger is retiring, and he will be replaced by Kevin Sparks, a generic Trump- and Patrick-endorsed conservative. Also retiring is Jane Nelson, the longest-serving Republican in the chamber. She was a Patrick ally, but her replacement will likely be more pliable too. In other races, Patrick is hoping to put allies over the line, including Pete Flores, who briefly held a South Texas seat from 2018 to 2021 before picking a more promising Hill Country district this year.
Of the 18 to 20 Republicans who are likely to be in the Senate next session, only one—Robert Nichols—will have served in the Senate before Patrick got there in 2007. And many of them will have never known any lieutenant governor besides Patrick. The younger ones are more ideologically right-wing, but they’ll also, just as importantly, be inexperienced and more easy to push around. Which is great news for Lieutenant Dan, and maybe not so great news for everyone else.
U.S. House Races
Wesley Hunt and Greg Casar Go National
Dan Solomon, 2:17 p.m.
Calling elections before voting has concluded is gauche, but in Texas’s Thirty-fifth and Thirty-eighth Congressional Districts—which have D +21 and R +12 partisan leans, respectively—it’s a safe bet. The Austin and San Antonio voters who make up the Thirty-fifth won’t be electing a Republican, nor will the west Houston suburban voters in TX-38 be electing a Democrat. That’s the whole point of gerrymandering!
The candidates who’ll win those seats, Democrat Greg Casar and Republican Wesley Hunt, are both newcomers to the national stage whom we’re likely to hear a lot from over the next few years. That’s one of the advantages to running in a safe, newly redrawn district—the lack of risk in speaking out makes it easy to raise one’s profile. So let’s take the hours before votes are counted in the handful of competitive races in this state to get to know the new faces in two of our least competitive districts!
Hunt ran his first campaign for the U.S. House in 2020, when he challenged Houston-area Democrat Lizzie Fletcher in Texas’s Seventh Congressional District. Fletcher won that race by about three and a half points, but when it came time for redistricting, the GOP legislators drawing the maps ensured that one of the two new seats allocated to Texas would end up a safe one for Hunt to claim. Enter TX-38, a stretch of the western side of Houston drawn to pack Trump voters into a district that resembles a juggalo face-paint pattern. Hunt easily won the primary to claim the nomination—he soared over the 50 percent threshold for a runoff in a ten-candidate field—and now the 41-year-old West Point grad and former Army helicopter pilot is growing his brand on Twitter and cable news, mixing in light trolling with more-substantive criticism and commentary about Democratic assumptions about Black voters and energy policy.
Casar, meanwhile, is in his first run for Congress, but he’s not new to elected office: the 33-year-old served on the Austin City Council from 2015 until the state’s congressional maps were redrawn to create two blue Austin-based districts and running for higher office made sense. Similarly to Hunt, Casar avoided a runoff during the primary and has been able to spend the past several months focusing on building a national profile—most recently by holding early-voting rallies with Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator whose left-leaning politics Casar shares.
Hunt will likely be a prominent part of the GOP’s outreach to Black voters and a fresh face of the party. We can expect to see Casar’s name mentioned alongside that of Sanders, as well as those of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of “the Squad.” Normally we’d hedge this sort of prediction with something along the lines of “depending on what happens on election night,” but let’s not kid ourselves—these races have been foregone conclusions since the day the maps were approved.
Who Else Will Be Representing Us?
Christopher Hooks, 1:56 p.m.
When it comes to the state’s congressional delegation, much of the attention tonight will be focused on South Texas, where Democrats hemorrhaged votes in 2020 and Republicans have the opportunity to pick off a congressional seat or two on the way to winning back the U.S. House. (Scroll down to see Jack Herrera’s coverage earlier in this blog.) But there are a few other races to note around the state.
First, the troopification of the Texas congressional delegation is accelerating—more veterans of the war on terror are taking up posts, picking up supply drops left by Congressman Dan Crenshaw, among others. Wesley Hunt, a former Army officer and Apache pilot, lost a hotly contested district in 2020, so the Legislature kindly drew him a safe Houston district to run for. Morgan Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL and the brother of Marcus Luttrell, the former Navy SEAL of Lone Survivor fame, will be taking over a redrawn district currently occupied by Kevin Brady. Neither gives the impression of being an especially natural politician, but it’s safe to assume both will be fairly prominent going forward.
Meanwhile, two of the hottest races in 2018 and 2020 were the ones won by Democrats Lizzie Fletcher (who triumphed over Hunt in 2020), in the Houston suburbs, and Colin Allred, in the Dallas suburbs. When Republicans failed to regain them last time, they gave up on the districts and packed more Democratic voters in them to try to secure advantages elsewhere.
Finally, mixed blessings for Austin: it’s always mixed blessings for Austin. For twenty years the Legislature has “cracked” the capital city, giving five or six members of Congress a small piece of the greater Austin area and diluting the city’s Democratic voters. But after 2020, the Legislature decided instead to “pack” the city’s voters and spare Republicans the indignity of having to represent them. For the first time since the 1990s, much of Austin will be covered by a single congressional district. The fairly establishment-minded Lloyd Doggett, who has held office since 1995, is taking that one. Much of the rest of the city will be represented by Greg Casar, a young left-wing city councilman from Austin who will also be representing a sizable chunk of San Antonio. For the first time in a generation, Austin has some representatives who can plausibly claim to represent it. The trick, of course, is that if Republicans take Congress, those Democratic representatives will be functionally powerless, just as the city was before this year.
Is the GOP’s South Texas Surge for Real? De La Cruz vs. Vallejo Will Tell the Tale.
Jack Herrera, 1:39 p.m.
The race between Democrat Michelle Vallejo and Republican Monica De La Cruz, both seeking to win an open seat in a redrawn South Texas district, has been a battle of sharp ideological contrasts.
Vallejo, a thirty-year-old first-time candidate whose family runs a flea market in Alton, has never shied away from her progressive bona fides, running on universal health care, a higher minimum wage, and climate-friendly jobs. But for most of her campaign, she also worked diligently to court a more centrist Democratic establishment, and her press team rejected comparisons to the democratic socialist wing of her party in a call with me this summer. But as De La Cruz—an insurance agent who came within three percentage points of ousting a Democratic incumbent in 2020—kept performing strongly in the polls, the Democratic national establishment seemed to abandon Vallejo, cutting bait to invest in other competitive races
In mid-October, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee stopped making TV ad buys in the race, leaving its candidate out to dry. (The DCCC has denied it abandoned Vallejo and noted that, while cutting TV spending, it’s continued to run digital ads). Texas Democrats responded with outrage, and Vallejo made a key strategic move. Soon after the establishment Democratic PACs signaled their
disinterest, she trumpeted a new endorsement: that of Senator Bernie Sanders. In the last few weeks of her campaign, she’s retooled her message into something unapologetically progessive, appearing onstage in McAllen with Sanders and the democratic socialist congressional candidate Greg Casar (who’s expected to cruise to victory in a district that stretches from Austin to San Antonio).
Vallejo’s gambit seems to have paid off. Down in the polls when the DCCC largely cut her loose, she has since rebounded. She’s polling a few points ahead of De La Cruz going into today’s election.
De La Cruz, meanwhile, has touted her endorsement from former president Donald Trump. When De La Cruz challenged incumbent Democratic congressman Vicente Gonzalez in the Fifteenth District in 2020, her campaign was considered a long shot; in fact, some in the McAllen area speculated it was a way to gain name recognition for her insurance business. But on Election Day, 2020, fueled by a shocking surge of Trump votes in South Texas, De La Cruz almost brought Gonzalez down.
Going into 2022, the Republican establishment consolidated around De La Cruz, with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, Senator Ted Cruz, and others blessing her with early endorsements. In 2021, Republicans in the Texas Legislature also used the decennial redistricting process to give her a boost, redrawing the district to turn its slight Democrat advantage into a small Republican edge. Reading the tea leaves, Gonzalez decided to run instead in the neighboring Thirty-fourth District, where his own neighborhood now sits.
Since launching her campaign, De La Cruz has hewed closely to the Republicans’ national messages, sticking to rehearsed public appearances and disciplined statements to the press. Her campaign pitches have revolved around (repeat after me) border enforcement, inflation, and fears of crime. Over the past month, after Vallejo’s tack to the left, De La Cruz has increasingly gone after her opponent as a “socialist.”
While for months analysts have considered the race De La Cruz’s to lose, the candidates enter their final hours neck and neck. Even aided by Republican-friendly redistricting, a win by De La Cruz would do a lot to prove that the GOP’s appeal with Texas Hispanics is real. A loss would be an embarrassing setback for the party’s star candidate in South Texas.
Mayra Flores Could Win. Democrats Will Have Themselves to Blame.
Jack Herrera, 1:18 p.m.
No matter the results, the story of the race for the Thirty-fourth Congressional District in South Texas is the meteoric rise of Republican Mayra Flores. On paper, the newly redrawn district is deep blue: President Biden would have carried it by nearly 16 points in 2020. When Flores, a 36-year-old first-time candidate, won the GOP primary in March, she seemed destined to get blown out of the water in November by Democratic representative Vicente Gonzalez, who had already raised $1.5 million more than Flores had garnered. Neither the national media nor national Republicans paid Flores much attention. But now, on Election Day, Flores has raised close to $4 million, made frequent appearances on Fox News, been profiled in the New York Times, and held rallies with Senator Ted Cruz and other Republican luminaries. Even more shocking: as voters line up, Flores and Gonzalez are neck and neck in the polls.
Flores’s incredible turn of fortune has much to do with her innate political acumen: she’s proven to be a brilliant campaigner. But she owes much of her success to a gift from a Democratic congressman, Filemón Vela.
Before the 2022 primary, Vela, the incumbent in the Thirty-fourth, announced he would retire at the end of his term. Vela’s good friend representative Vicente Gonzalez—who represented the next-door Fifteenth District—decided to run in the Thirty-fourth instead, to win the seat Vela said he was vacating. But just after the primaries, Vela made a baffling decision that dealt a serious blow to Gonzalez, announcing that he would retire before his term was over to take a well-paid position at the largest lobbying firm in the country. When Governor Greg Abbott called a special election in June to fill the empty Thirty-fourth, Democrats were thrown into disarray, with no one to run in that race. It didn’t make sense for Gonzalez to abandon his own seat to run in the special election. Meanwhile, Flores had a campaign operation already up and running. The scrambling Democrats came up with a former county commissioner to stand in for Gonzalez. Republican money started flowing in behind Flores, while national Democrats largely ignored the special election. Flores cruised to an easy victory.
When I first met Flores back in January, at an evangelical coffee shop in McAllen, she was best known as a local conservative influencer married to a Border Patrol agent. Flores’s Instagram had thousands of followers who subscribed to her hard-right content on immigration and abortion, along with the occasional QAnon hashtag. By the time I sat down with Flores in September, at a public panel at the Texas Tribune’s TribFest, she was best known by her official title: Congresswoman Mayra Flores.
Now running for reelection instead of just election, Flores has all the advantages of incumbency. The national party has lined up behind her and thrown millions into her race. She also appears to have gotten media training: when asked about QAnon today, she disavows the conspiracy theory.
Much of Flores’s success has to do with her knack for using her personal background to connect with voters. Flores was born in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States, where she worked in cotton fields alongside her parents (Flores’s father is an American citizen). Today, Flores is the first-ever Mexican-born woman to serve in Congress. She’s bashed Democrats for taking voters like her—immigrants, Latinas, workers—for granted.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, has struggled to gain traction. While also an incumbent, Gonzalez—a moderate, self-styled “Blue Dog” Democrat—has not attracted the same national media attention as Flores. His “Vicente con la gente” (“Vicente with the people”) yard signs appear naive and insubstantial next to Flores’s scorched-earth campaign against him. Over the summer, Flores destroyed him in the fund-raising arms race, bringing in $1.6 million compared to Gonzalez’s $497,000. (Gonzalez has raised about $2.9 million total.)
Flores could well win this election, and if she does, Republicans will trumpet her victory in a heavily Democratic district as proof that the GOP is winning over Hispanic voters. That will certainly be true in part. But the real story behind a Flores victory would be Democrats shooting themselves in the foot.
Is Henry Cueller Still Unbeatable?
Jack Herrera, 1:02 p.m.
Back in January, as agents in FBI jackets poured into Congressman Henry Cuellar’s campaign office and home in Laredo, it looked like it could be the beginning of the end for the nine-term Democratic congressman’s long, iconoclastic political career. That Cuellar has survived thus far—and appears to be favored to survive his Republican challenge from first-time candidate Cassy Garcia on Tuesday—is testimony to his incredible political power in South Texas.
No charges have been filed against Cuellar in connection with the raid, which FBI officials said was in relation to dealings between U.S. businessmen and the government of Azerbaijan. While Cuellar has declared his innocence throughout, news photos of FBI agents walking out of his stately Laredo home this winter blew wind into the sails of his Democratic primary challenger, Jessica Cisneros. Cisneros, a progressive human rights lawyer, had come close to ousting Cuellar in 2020 with a challenge from the left that put immigration, abortion rights, and health care front and center. But Cuellar—who’s been called the last anti-abortion Democrat in Congress—bested Cisneros again, by a whisker, in a May runoff decided by less than one percentage point.
After barely scraping out a win over his left-wing challenger, one might have expected Cuellar to be hobbled going into the general election, where he faces the Trump-aligned Republican Cassy Garcia, a former staffer for Senator Ted Cruz. Cuellar, however, has stayed ahead in the polls throughout the race. According to FiveThirtyEight, he is currently expected to win with 52.7 percent of the vote, which gives him a 76 percent chance of winning, according to the site’s model.
But it’s not all good news for the Democrats. That polling margin is uncomfortably close. On paper, Texas’s Twenty-eighth Congressional District should be an easy win for their candidate. Instead, Democrats have felt compelled to spend millions to fend off a scorching negative campaign from Garcia. Portraying Cuellar as corrupt, Garcia’s campaign has gone so far as to accuse the congressman of being in league with Mexican drug cartels—in a recent tweet, Garcia labeled her opponent “Henry Cuellar (D-Narcos).” Garcia has also focused her efforts on the part of the district that includes the San Antonio suburbs, an area where Cuellar lost badly during the primary. And she out-fund-raised Cuellar in the early fall. Still, despite Garcia’s sophisticated and multidimensional campaign strategy, it would still be a shock to see Cuellar go down.
Are the Texas Midterms Boring, Actually?
Forrest Wilder, 12:51 p.m.
It can sometimes feel like the whole world is hanging in the balance of these midterms. And yet, as consequential as the results will be for governance—and the future of democracy—in Austin and in Washington, D.C., most statehouse and congressional contests in Texas are foregone conclusions. Thanks to the dark science of gerrymandering, the Texas GOP has drawn itself maps that render most races uncompetitive, particularly for congressional and legislative candidates. The Republican architects of redistricting in Texas largely opted for a “defensive gerrymander.” They protected their hold on power—to the detriment of racial minorities—rather than try to run up the score. That generally meant drawing maps to give incumbents safer seats. The result is a rather pathetic number of competitive races.
Out of 38 Texas congressional seats on the ballot, only a handful are considered competitive, all of them in South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. Republicans are likely to pick up at least one of those seats and as many as three—building on their gains in a region that was once a fortress of Democratic power. Still, the story is also about how boring the races have been in the other 35 districts.
In the Texas Senate, where the balance of power is 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats, there is only one competitive race, again in South Texas, where Republicans hope to win a bizarrely drawn district that stretches from Brownsville north to Corpus Christi, but then skirts the city by going up Padre Island and into the farm, ranch, and fracking country along and north of Interstate 37. On paper, at least, the district leans Democratic—Joe Biden would’ve won it by 4.6 percentage points in 2020—but longtime conservative Democrat Eddie Lucio’s retirement removed the incumbency advantage, and Republicans believe they have all the momentum on their side in South Texas. GOP mapmakers also ended the career of Fort Worth Democrat Beverly Powell by giving her an impossible-to-win district in Tarrant County. She opted to retire, effectively ceding the seat to Republicans. So, barring some extremely unforeseen circumstances, the Senate is likely to shift from an 18–13 Republican majority to 19–12 or 20–11.
The Texas House, with its 150 seats—83 in Republican hands—is a bit more fluid. But even here, the GOP has focused on protecting incumbents. As I wrote back in February, the number of statehouse races in 2020 in which the winner was separated from the loser by fewer than five percentage points was sixteen; under the 2022 maps, the number would have been nine. Consider that in context: there are 150 seats in the Texas House, so by that measure, only 6 percent are competitive. Still, some conservatives thought GOP leadership in the Legislature was too focused on playing defense and not focused enough on offense. Expect those recriminations to ring out on Tuesday if the Republicans only net a few more seats.
But if these midterms end up heralding a true “red wave,” then Democrats could be facing another bloodbath election in the Texas House like the one they saw in 2010. I remember watching the returns on that night twelve years ago. There were many seats held by Democrats that both sides thought were as safe as could be. Once the dust settled, however, the GOP held a 101–49 advantage in the House, a two-to-one supermajority that allowed it to largely govern without Democrats’ help. That red wave was the beginning of a long, difficult decade in the wilderness for Texas Democrats.
A Quick Note on What You Should Bring to the Polls
Dan Solomon, 12:37 p.m.
Election Day lines at the polls are long, which means if you’re voting today, you don’t want to forget your ID, which is required to vote. What forms of identification are acceptable in Texas? A driver’s license or state ID card are both fine, as is an Election Identification Certificate—a DPS-issued document that exists solely for voters who are eligible but, for whatever reason, don’t have one of the other forms of identification. A military ID card (with a photo) or a U.S. citizenship certificate (with photo) are also fine, as is a U.S. passport. Finally, a Texas handgun license is an acceptable form of identification at the polls. Not on the list? A student ID, even with a photo, which means that college students who are residents of Texas but haven’t yet updated their driver’s licenses or state IDs, and don’t have passports, ought to be packing heat if they want to cast ballots. Welcome to Texas, kids!
Lots of Texans Voted for Both Abbott and Beto in 2018. Whom Will They Choose This Time?
Ben Rowen, 12:23 p.m.
In the halcyon days of 2018, before Beto O’Rourke and Greg Abbott were running against each other for governor, they were on the ballot for different positions. That meant voters could vote for both—Abbott for governor, against an overmatched Democrat, and O’Rourke for the U.S. Senate, against the charming incumbent, Ted Cruz. Hundreds of thousands of voters did just that. Despite nearly 30,000 more Texans voting in the Senate race, Abbott received nearly 400,000 more votes than Cruz, his fellow Republican.
Ballot splitting isn’t unusual in Texas. But it used to be more common (even though the state allowed straight-ticket voting before eliminating it prior to the 2020 election). In 1998, for example, George W. Bush won the governor’s race by 27 percentage points while Rick Perry only took the lieutenant governor’s race by 2.
So how might the Abbott-O’Rourke voters shake out now that both men are on the ballot against each other? Since there isn’t polling on the niche group, I asked James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT, his thoughts. He said Abbott voters who broke for O’Rourke were probably drawn by his newcomer status and/or by distaste for Cruz, whose unfavorables were (surprise!) quite high. That suggests to Henson that the ballot splitters will likely break for Abbott in this year’s head-to-head matchup.
It makes sense. Since his 2018 run, O’Rourke’s newcomer sheen has worn off. He became damaged political goods in the state after he took a sharp left turn—and said, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47″—in his brief, disastrous 2020 bid for president. Beto’s unfavorable ratings among Republicans were always high—though they’ve grown in the last four years. But his popularity among independents has tanked, according to the polls. In 2018, they liked him: 52 percent of independents had a favorable opinion of O’Rourke, and 39 percent had an unfavorable one, according to Henson’s polling. This year, only 25 percent of independents have a favorable opinion of the top-of-the-ticket Democrat, while 64 percent say he’s “unfavorable.”
The Race to Serve on Texas’s Most-Misnamed Agency
Russell Gold, 12:09 p.m.
Congratulations! You have made it past the marquee races and arrived at the one for railroad commissioner. Why give any thought to the official who makes the trains run on time in a state where no one takes the train? Fooled you! The Railroad Commission has zip to do with railways. It is the state’s oil and gas regulatory (or, more commonly, cheerleading) body. And when it comes to fossil fuels, Texas matters. It produces more oil than every member of OPEC except for Saudi Arabia. The RRC oversees an industry that plays a critical role in climate change and contributes to deadly electric-grid blackouts.
Wait, there’s more! The race to win a six-year term is usually a snooze fest. But not this year. The primary was a doozy. Incumbent Wayne Christian emerged as the Republican nominee, after besting a feisty, social media–adept lawyer who appeared on TikTok basically bare-breasted to garner attention for her campaign and another candidate who was dead, but who, in a Weekend at Bernie’s twist, received one in eight votes.
Christian talks a lot about the virtues of the free market and the need for “American energy dominance.” The oil and gas industry must like what it hears from him. His contribution list is a who’s who of oil executives and industry political action committees. Exxon, Koch, and Conoco PACs were among his largest contributors.
The 72-year-old Christian, who won his first political office in 1996, is facing a fresh-faced first-time candidate, 33-year-old Luke Warford. Warford, a former Democratic party staffer, has focused his campaign on the blackout and has criticized Christian for failing to do more to ensure natural gas supplies continued flowing. A few days after early voting started, Christian agreed to stop using the slogan “the only Christian on the ballot” after Warford criticized him. Christian has used that slogan for more than two decades and said he didn’t realize Warford was Jewish. Definitely not a snooze fest!
The Hemperor of Texas
Christopher Hooks, 11:56 a.m.
If GOP state electeds were characters in a movie, agriculture commissioner Sid Miller would be the one who’s there for comic relief: as I’ve noted before, he looks, and acts, like a French cartoonist’s caricature of a Texan. He seems to spend most of his time posting on Facebook. He’s not harmless, mind you—there was the post that called for “the Muslim world” to be nuked, and the one that called Hillary Clinton a four-letter c-word (both were later blamed on staffers). Then there was the time he used taxpayer money to travel to Oklahoma to receive a “Jesus Shot,” which was said to take away all pain for life, from a credentially challenged doctor. More substantively, his longtime political consigliere Todd Smith was indicted in January for allegedly trying to extort campaign cash from farmers who applied for hemp licenses from Miller’s office. The licenses were supposed to cost $100; Smith allegedly offered to dole them out in exchange for up to $150,000 in campaign cash.
Miller’s fellow Republicans don’t especially like him, either. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he showed up on the steps of the Governor’s Mansion to protest Abbott’s policies. The Legislature seems to view him as an annoyance, mostly. Early in his first term, he was dinged for parking where he wasn’t supposed to at the Capitol. But Miller’s Path to Power remains undimmed. In his primary, he was challenged by Republican James White, a well regarded and pretty sensible state legislator who pointed out, repeatedly, that Miller was kind of a buffoon. White was endorsed by quite a few other Republicans. No luck.
Agriculture commissioner is one of those posts that probably shouldn’t be elected. The office performs a lot of important functions for the industry, and what do voters in Plano or Pflugerville know about farming? (The alternative, though, is the governor appointing an industry hack or a campaign donor, so maybe we’re better off.) There is one item in the race that is of interest to city dwellers, though: Miller is an advocate for medical marijuana, while his opponent, Austin lawyer Susan Hays, favors recreational legalization.
Jay Kleberg Is the Best-Qualified Land Commissioner Candidate in Recent Memory. That May Not Be Enough.
Michael Hardy, 11:42 a.m.
Democrat Jay Kleberg is facing off against Republican Dawn Buckingham in an open race for Texas land commissioner—a powerful position that manages the state’s 13 million acres of public land, administers emergency relief funds, and oversees the Alamo. Incumbent land commissioner George P. Bush decided not to seek reelection to pursue an ill-fated campaign for attorney general. Bush’s eight-year tenure attracted criticism from both the left, which blamed him for directing Hurricane Harvey relief funds to Republican counties, and the right, which attacked him for his management of the half-billion-dollar Alamo Plaza restoration project.
Buckingham is a right-wing state senator who represents a district stretching from Austin to Abilene. She has centered her campaign on familiar Republican issues such as border security, oil and gas development, and—somewhat oddly for a land commissioner candidate— fighting inflation. She promises to protect the $41 billion Permanent School Fund, which receives most of its funding from oil and gas drilling on state land and helps finance K-12 public education.
Kleberg is a scion of the legendary King Ranch family who has built a reputation as a conservationist, businessman, and filmmaker. (He helped finance the documentaries The River and the Wall and Deep in the Heart.) “Those who have held this office for the last twenty years have seen it as a stepping stone rather than a job,” Kleberg told me earlier this year. “This is the only job I’m interested in.” Neither Buckingham nor Kleberg enjoys much name recognition; like in most down-ballot races, the winner will likely be determined not by who’s best suited for the job but by what happens at the top of the ticket.
A K-Pax on All Our Houses
Forrest Wilder, 11:30 a.m.
In great cinema, villains are colorful and charismatic. Even as we recoil at their evil deeds, we are thrilled by their infamy, drawn to their personalities. Think of the Joker’s ecstatic nihilism. Hannibal Lecter’s creepy eruditeness. Anton Chigurh’s sinister confidence. Perhaps we see ourselves in them. What, then, do we make of the B movie that is Texas politics in 2022, in which the starring heavy is Ken Paxton? The two-term Texas attorney general—an alleged serial crook, a crummy lawyer, an incompetent administrator—is not, shall we say, overflowing with charisma. The mug shot aside, he presents as a somewhat generic Republican: a bland guy from the ’burbs who has a law degree and a flat affect. (His wife, state senator Angela Paxton, at least has a musical streak.) Paxton seems to have little interest in running his office other than using it as a vehicle for owning the libs and appeasing his base.
And yet, Paxton is perhaps the villain we deserve—a Trump bootlicker who shamelessly tried to overturn an election and may be setting the stage to contest another one. It’s tempting to say that Paxton vanquished his three Republican primary opponents—hapless George P. Bush, establishment-funded Eva Guzman, and wild-eyed congressman Louie Gohmert—despite his serial problems with alleged lawbreaking, but in fact, he may have won because of them. He was seen as having all the right enemies: not just libs, but also RINOs, and the state-level equivalent of the deep state. Paxton ended up in a runoff with Bush, the dynasty’s failson who tried the equivalent of a double bank shot by running as the Trump candidate despite Trump’s evident loathing of the Bush family and enthusiastic endorsement of Paxton. Paxton spanked Bush in a runoff. GOP primary voters made it clear: He may be a crook, but he’s our kind of crook.
Now he faces his Democratic opponent, ACLU attorney Rochelle Garza. If there’s a silver lining for Garza, it’s that general-election voters seem to have less of an appetite for Paxton’s alleged misdeeds. In 2018, a no-name Democrat, Justin Nelson, lost to Paxton by just 3.6 percentage points. Only Beto O’Rourke performed better on the Democratic statewide ticket. But this year, in addition to her low name recognition and the unfavorable national political climate, Garza has the same problem every other statewide Democrat has: she’s a Democrat, and Democrats can’t find a way to win state office in Texas. Barring a political earthquake, Paxton will beat Garza and go on to serve a third term as the state’s top cop, assuming he doesn’t end up in jail. Given Paxton’s recent activities—literally running away from a subpoena, threatening election administrators with jail time for doing their jobs, and watching his office melt down—one has to wonder what the sequel to this movie will be, and whether anyone will be watching.
Will Rochelle Garza Outperform the Other Statewide Dems?
Dan Solomon, 11:12 a.m.
In 2018, the Democratic attorney general candidate—a fella by the name of Justin Nelson, a litigation attorney by trade who ran without much of a political background or a campaign organization—came within three and a half points of unseating the indicted incumbent AG, Ken Paxton. It was a significantly better performance than those of most other statewide Democratic candidates (with the exception of Beto O’Rourke, whose Senate campaign had by that point become perhaps the highest-profile race in the country). The lesson there? That the office of Texas attorney general might be uniquely vulnerable, given Paxton’s liabilities.
In the four years since then, those liabilities have only grown: Paxton, who was already facing indictment for securities fraud, is now also accused of bribery by several attorneys who served on his own staff—while the political profile of his opponent this time around is slightly higher. After winning a competitive four-way primary, civil rights attorney Rochelle Garza emerged as the Democratic candidate. And in polls released since her primary win, Garza, while behind Paxton, has been running ahead of the rest of the Democratic field by a few points (including O’Rourke, in his bid for governor).
The challenges the entire statewide slate of Dems faces—political headwinds for those in the president’s party during a midterm, decades of single-party rule—apply to Garza, too. But we’ll be watching to see if there are Texas Republicans left at this point who support Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick but can’t bring themselves to vote for a scandal-plagued, criminally indicted incumbent for the state’s top law enforcement official.
Can Republican Endorsements Boost a Democrat? Mike Collier Hopes So.
Michael Hardy, 10:49 a.m.
Give Mike Collier credit: He doesn’t give up easily. This is the Democratic candidate’s third statewide political campaign and his second against incumbent lieutenant governor Dan Patrick. Four years ago, Collier, an accountant from the affluent Houston suburb of Kingwood, came within five points of ousting Patrick despite being outspent $25 million to $1.5 million. This year, Collier has raised around $5 million to Patrick’s $20 million. The Democrat enjoys greater name recognition thanks to his two previous campaigns, though, and he’s won endorsements from a number of prominent Republicans alienated by Patrick’s hard-knuckle brand of politics, including state senator Kel Seliger, state representative Lyle Larson, and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. Seliger has been particularly outspoken, blaming Patrick for creating a culture of “vindictiveness” and “maliciousness” in the state senate. Republicans, he said, “have to kowtow to the lieutenant governor or they’re punished.”
Collier, a former Republican, has staked his campaign on appealing to moderate voters, campaigning heavily in rural parts of the state rarely visited by prominent Democrats. He believes Texas is changing. “If you look at presidential elections, Biden did better than Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton did better than Obama,” he told me after a May campaign stop in San Antonio. Building on his experience as an accountant for oil and gas companies, he has attacked Patrick for what Collier calls the lieutenant governor’s failure to fix the state’s electrical grid after the February 2021 winter freeze. “Fix the damn grid” has been Collier’s de facto campaign slogan. A recent poll from the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs shows Patrick leading Collier 51 percent to 36 percent, with 10 percent of respondents undecided.
It’s Dan Patrick’s Texas, and We’re All Just Living in It
Christopher Hooks, 10:31 a.m.
The conventional wisdom used to be that the lieutenant governor, who presides over the state Senate, was the most powerful person in Texas politics: the governor was a figurehead. It’s no longer as lopsided—former governor Rick Perry’s dark arts, and his lieutenant David Dewhurst’s amiable powerlessness, changed that perception. Greg Abbott has real power and influence. But in some important ways, Dan Patrick remains the most powerful person in the state, and the most powerful driver behind the state government’s relentless lurch to the right. If he wins a third term, he’ll be more powerful than ever, with a Senate more ready than ever to follow him, as a few more waffling Republicans are replaced by freshmen who will have trouble finding the bathroom without Patrick’s help.
Patrick entered the Senate in 2007 as a fringe rabble-rouser and has become a hardened and effective power broker. But he doesn’t get everything he wants. He was the main reason Texas spent a year talking about regulating bathroom use, and he succeeded in forcing the issue to the point where an entire special session of the Lege was called over it, but he didn’t end up getting the potty law he wanted. He has also wanted desperately, for his entire tenure in office, to institute a voucher scheme to pay for Texas kids to go to private schools, a measure which has been blocked, in effect, by rural Republicans whose communities depend on public schools. What makes Patrick powerful, and different from lieutenant governors in the past who played the inside game, is that he knows how to bend the public debate around the Legislature.
He’s a former radio talk show host. He gets up and yells, he’s not afraid to look a little foolish, and Patrick’s priorities become other people’s priorities. It’s no surprise that he loves Donald Trump. They have a lot in common: they’re entertainers and entrepreneurs with checkered pasts who thrill in outraging their enemies. Patrick’s opponent, Mike Collier, an accountant, is his opposite in every way: he’s not a natural politician or communicator. Collier is a former Republican himself, and to win, he’ll need the votes of a lot of Republicans who don’t like Patrick. Quite a few have endorsed Collier.
In the closing months of the race, Patrick embarked on a statewide bus tour—one in which the dates and locations were not publicized, even to reporters, lest the unwashed public actually show up. The tour focused on friendly audiences in rural areas, with a goal of driving turnout among Republican faithful. In Lubbock, during one of the few interviews Patrick gave, a local news reporter grilled him about his voucher plan and suspicions that it would hurt public ed in small towns. He promised to “protect rural schools,” warning rural Republicans not to fall for “propaganda.” But if he wins, as is expected, there will be fewer obstacles in his path than ever before, and his promises in the less-certain times of October will matter little.
The Heavyweight Gubernatorial Race That Wasn’t
Christopher Hooks, 10:14 a.m.
On paper, the battle between Beto and Greg to take up residence in downtown Austin’s most affordable remaining house ought to be one of the all-time great barn burners of Texas politics.
For one thing, both candidates have raised truly stupefying amounts of money. When 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis raised $40 million over the course of her campaign, that was pretty shocking. But Abbott, who famously loves little more than getting on the phone and dialing for dollars, and O’Rourke, who’s no slouch himself, raised about $50 million each in the six months after the primaries. By the time everyone’s done counting, the race will have cost more than $200 million—and that’s to say nothing of the groups buying ads on behalf of the candidates that don’t have to report their numbers to anybody. Who will run Texas? It’s a question that might, from now on, take a quarter of a billion dollars to resolve, and that’s a sure sign of a healthy democracy.
Second, the story of the race is great. There’s O’Rourke, the once–future star of the Democratic party who got closer to statewide office—2.6 points—than any Democrat had in decades, but whose prospects seemed to decline after his eyes got too big for his plate and he ran for president in 2020. He’s back in Texas with something to prove. And there’s Abbott, who is broadly popular and more powerful than ever, but loved by few. His power rests on that mountain of cash, which he used, in part, to crush an abortive rebellion in his own party in his primary earlier this year.
Meanwhile, these last four years have not been Texas’s proudest or easiest, and a good deal of the blame goes to Abbott. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Abbott claimed sweeping emergency powers for himself—which he still hasn’t relinquished—while more than 90,000 Texans died. The entirely self-caused collapse of the Texas power grid in 2021 killed hundreds and put millions through hell, and Abbott’s most newsworthy response was to safeguard the millions his campaign donors made during the blackout. On top of the two crises, for eight years, Abbott has been signing bills into law that poll poorly—the latest and most significant being a total ban on abortion, which only 15 percent of Texans say they support.
But the ingredients for an interesting, dynamic race didn’t quite mix together. Though a few polls over the last six months have put O’Rourke within six points, most have him losing to Abbott by about ten, and it has rarely felt like the race is truly contested. Part of that is on the media, which couldn’t get enough O’Rourke coverage in 2018 but this year had a lot else to worry about. More of it is about the national climate. In 2018 O’Rourke could run against Trump; in 2022 Abbott can run against Biden. That has helped the incumbent refocus the race from his record to issues he prefers to talk about—there’s our perennial election-year border crisis, a national panic about crime, and inflation, which generally turns voters against Democrats. Meanwhile few Texans, in polls, say the most important issue for them is abortion, or the power grid, or the health-care system. Same as it ever was.
But it’s not over yet. In 2018 O’Rourke outperformed his polls and came much closer to knocking off Cruz than nearly anybody thought. If he comes within a few points tonight, he’ll beat expectations and Texas will look, once again, like it’s edging closer to being truly contestable. If he wins, well, we hacks will rewrite the narrative again. Maybe it was a barn burner.
Ben Rowen, 10:00 a.m.
Welcome to the Texas Monthly Election Day live blog. If you haven’t voted yet, go do that! (You can find your polling place here, and what you need to bring with you to the polls here.) If you have, keep refreshing this page all day for updates.
Today, Texas will elect a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, numerous other statewide positions, and 38 U.S. representatives, along with all 31 state senators and all 150 state representatives. The conclusions of those races won’t be the only momentous occasions today. Dan Patrick’s long, weird bus tour of the state will come to an end. Experimental films—referred to by insiders as campaign ads—will no longer sully your Dallas Cowboys viewing experience. And tomorrow, some news anchor will utter the seven little words that melt everyone’s heart: “Let’s look ahead to the 2024 election.”
But enough about the distant future. What do we know so far about the results? Nearly 5.5 million Texans voted early—about half a million fewer than voted early in 2018, the last midterm election when anti-Trump Democrats, even in Texas, were surging to the polls. Texas has also grown in the last four years, so the drop in early turnout is even more stark: about 31 percent of registered Texans have voted already, against 38 percent who had done so before Election Day in 2018. Who are the early voters this time? Forty percent have voted before in a Republican primary—as good an indication that they are Republican-leaning as you can find in a state without registration by party. Twenty-nine percent have previously voted in a Democratic primary, and 30 percent have no prior primary-election history. Given that breakdown, around 70 percent of voters with no prior primary-election history would have had to have voted for Democrats for the party to have won the early vote.
But as this post goes up, there are still nine hours to vote before polls close in most of the state, at 7 p.m central (and ten hours before polls close at 7 p.m. mountain time in El Paso and Hudspeth counties). During those ten hours, we’ll be catching you up on key races—especially the statewide ones and the closely contested U.S. House seats in South Texas—and keeping you apprised of any news that crops up. Then, once we start getting results, we’ll provide analysis and commentary. Thanks for following along!