Whatever the future holds, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke erased the idea that Texas is a solid Republican red state. The political dawn on Wednesday had a purple hue to it.
Of course, a win is a win, and while incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz didn’t get all the votes, he got all the power. As the top of the Republican ticket in Texas, Cruz failed to provide political cover for anyone other than himself. O’Rourke, on the other hand, proved that the right Democratic candidate at the right time with adequate funding can make Texas competitive.
Some quick takes from Tuesday’s voting:
- O’Rourke lost to Cruz, but his inspired base of Betomaniacs made the race far tighter than expected. He received 48 percent of the vote statewide to Cruz’s 51 percent. Cruz had won his Senate seat in 2012 with 56 percent of the vote.
- As the top of the Republican ticket, Cruz should have provided a boost for all the candidates below him on the ballot. But Cruz received about 390,000 fewer votes than Governor Greg Abbott, who became the stopper against a potential down-ballot route for Republican candidates.
- O’Rourke carried Tarrant County. He is the first statewide Democrat to do that since Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and Attorney General Dan Morales in 1994. Tarrant has been the only major urban that has not gone Democratic in this decade.
- The O’Rourke coattails helped Democrat Collin Allred defeat Republican Congressman Pete Sessions in Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher beat Republican Congressman John Culberson in Houston. Those two seats help give Democrats control of the U.S. House. The downside for O’Rourke: His six years in Congress representing El Paso were as a member of the minority party. Now, he goes home to El Paso out of the game when his party is about to rule the roost and block President Trump’s agenda.
- Similarly, the Beto effect gouged Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. The politician most responsible for pushing anti-transgender potty politics in the 2017 Legislature won; however, like Cruz, Patrick received 390,000 fewer votes than Abbott. As President Trump’s state chairman, Patrick was instrumental in getting the president to come to Texas last month to hold a Houston rally for Cruz. Houston is home for both Cruz and Patrick. Democratic candidates easily carried the county, with O’Rourke receiving 58 percent of the vote, and Patrick’s Democratic opponent Mike Collier 56 percent.
- Not only that, but neither Cruz nor Patrick could provide enough cover to save two tea party incumbent Republican senators in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Those victories for Democrats make the special election loss of a Senate seat in San Antonio even bigger. If the Democrats had held on to the seat of Carlos Uresti—a convicted felon who resigned from office—the Democrats next year would have had the votes to block any legislation Patrick sought to bring to the floor.
- The Beto effect will have a major impact on the contest for the next speaker of the House. Current Speaker Joe Straus is retiring, and House members elect their own leader. Because Republicans hold a majority, there is no doubt the next speaker will be a Republican. But the Democrats picked up a dozen seats Tuesday that were held by Republicans in 2017, and some other races are so close that recounts are possible. The Republican margin has been reduced from 95-55 to 83-67. To win the speakership, a candidate needs the support of 76 members. A Republican theoretically could win without any Democratic votes, but that would reduce the chamber to endless partisan warfare in 2019.
- And as to President Trump’s “big, beautiful wall,” counties along the Rio Grande turned out with huge increases over the 2014 elections and voted overwhelmingly Democratic. Not surprisingly, turnout in O’Rourke’s home county of El Paso was up 262 percent over 2014, but Cameron County was up 142 percent; Webb, 105 percent; and Hidalgo 93 percent. The voters most affected by the wall and immigration issues were inspired to display their opposition at the ballot box.
- If there was a bright spot for Republicans, it was that they still command the rural vote of Texas. And three Republican suburban counties—Collin, Denton, and Montgomery—gave Cruz a 132,000-vote advantage over O’Rourke. However, only in Montgomery County did Cruz receive a landslide level of victory. At the same time, the suburban counties of Hays and Williamson fell to Democrats. Another suburban county, Fort Bend outside of Houston, went Democratic in 2016 and remained in the Democratic column this year. The Republican suburban base appears to be eroding.
There it is. Beto O’Rourke lost his fight with Ted Cruz while helping his Democratic Party more than any other candidate in two decades. He built a major get-out-the-vote network and only the future will tell whether it carries over. There also is the question of whether O’Rourke was just the right candidate at the right time or the Democrats blew an opportunity by not creating more substantial campaigns for the party’s down-ballot statewide candidates.
More than anything, O’Rourke’s showing could prompt a 2020 presidential Democrat to campaign against President Trump in Texas, because the state no longer looks un-winnable. O’Rourke, in a CNN town hall, ruled out running for president himself. But U.S. Senator John Cornyn is up for re-election in 2020. He might want to start looking in the rearview mirror to see if O’Rourke is coming.