Democrats in Texas have been wandering around in the wilderness for decades now, completely unable to challenge a reliable Republican majority.
This year was supposed to be different.
A wildly unpopular president sits in the Oval Office, which can impact candidates down the ballot.
An inspiring young Democrat is running for United States Senate against an incumbent who exhibits a stunning lack of both charisma and legislative achievement.
Our state’s attorney general is under felony indictment, which should put his office at risk.
Yeah, there are reasons to be optimistic in 2018. Democrats aren’t going to take the Governor’s Mansion, but there was hope that they could win a statewide office for the first time since 1994 and even pick up a few seats in the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives.
But then yesterday happened, a splash of cold water that dimmed optimism and that left at least one Democrat (me) hanging his head in disappointment and frustration.
Here’s what went down in two acts.
1. Pete Gallego Loses His Special Election
The Texas Senate can only bring legislation to the floor with approval from three-fifths of its 31-member body. During the last legislative session in Texas in 2017, the Republicans held 20 seats, which meant they needed no assistance from Democrats to move legislation.
That was bad. But, there has been optimism that up to three Republican-held seats might be in play this November. We even wrote about these three seats, where they are and why they are so important.
But Democrats took a huge step backward last night when Pete Gallego lost a special election for Texas Senate District 19 — a seat that had been in Democratic hands for 139 years. Yes, you heard that right: Just weeks before the mid-terms, Democrats dug an even deeper hole by losing a seat that they’d held for more than a century.
There were extenuating circumstances. It didn’t help that a Democrat was vacating the seat to spend 12 years in prison. And Democrats rarely fair well in low-turnout scenarios like special elections.
But there are no excuses for blowing this. With a three-fifths majority in the Texas Senate, Republicans will be able to:
- Cut education spending even further
- Slash what few gun control laws we have
- Create new laws that discriminate against the transgender community
- Overturn decisions made locally in the large, progressive cities throughout Texas
- Scale back voting rights by passing laws that limit turnout
- Limit access to affordable healthcare
And this is just a start. Republicans are veering so far right that, eventually, Texans have to stand up and say: “Enough!” But losing a Texas Senate seat that’s been in Democratic hands for 139 years is a lousy way to show Republicans that they will be held accountable.
Seriously, this is really frustrating stuff. When are we going to stand up and let lawmakers know that this is unacceptable?
2. Quinnipiac Finds Beto O’Rourke 9 Points Down
There are few better polling operations than what you’ll find at Quinnipiac University. And, yesterday, Quinnipiac told us that 54% of likely voters are planning to vote for Ted Cruz, while only 45% of likely voters are planning to vote for Beto O’Rourke.
I think it’s safe to say that Beto O’Rourke is the most compelling, most competitive Democratic candidate for statewide office we’ve seen in many years in Texas. That’s why seeing him down 9 points is so deflating.
It’s important to note that this is a poll of “likely voters” rather than “registered voters.” When pollsters conduct surveys, they ask about intent to vote, interest in the upcoming election, voting behavior in past elections, etc. They use answers to these questions to filter out “unlikely” voters, which leaves them with a poll of only those likely to vote from among all registered voters.
Quinnipiac conducted a poll of registered voters back in August, which showed Beto O’Rourke trailing only 49–43. That Cruz’s lead stretches from 6 to 9 points when unlikely voters are filtered out is not a good sign.
Stuff like this makes me want to scream into the abyss: “VOTE! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST VOTE!” Voter turnout in Texas is just abysmal, and it’s at its worst in mid-term elections like the one coming up.
I will say, when I got to my desk to write this post this morning, there was a new poll of likely voters that painted a much better picture: Ipsos shows Beto O’Rourke ahead of Ted Cruz 47–45. The Ipsos sample was even larger than the one Quinnipiac used. Still, Quinnipiac is one of the best polling outfits in the world, and it pains me to see them show Cruz up by almost double digits.
The Silver Lining: It’s Not Too Late to Fix This
OK, it was cathartic to write what you see above. And we haven’t even gotten to the silver lining yet, which is this: It’s not too late to fix this.
It’s not too late for Democrats to take back the three seats needed to deny Republicans a three-fifths majority in the Texas Senate. In fact, there are three races that are seriously competitive right now.
And it’s not too late to make sure the final numbers in the O’Rourke-Cruz matchup look a lot more like Ipsos’ poll and a lot less like Quinnipiac’s.
But it doesn’t just happen. If these decades in the wilderness have shown us anything it’s that Democrats don’t just magically win in Texas.
It’s going to take hard work.
It’s going to take donating.
It’s going to take volunteering.
It’s going to take talking to your friends and family about the election.
And it’s going to take voting. If every eligible adult in the state of Texas just went out and voted, our leadership would look a lot different.
Yesterday was so bad for Texas Democrats. Let’s make sure we don’t have this same feeling on Nov. 7, 2018.