Anyone hoping Texas' deep red days were behind us got a big fat wakeup call last night. The AP called the governor's race for Greg Abbott just an hour after the polls closed (not much of a surprise there), and as election results continued to trickle in, this much became clear: big, moneyed efforts completely failed at pushing Texas any closer toward swing-state territory. No way in hell does it look like Texas will "turn blue" any time soon; last night, it just got a deeper shade of red.
Battleground Texas, the group started by former Obama operatives that hoped to boost the state's Democratic vote, appears to have changed very little this go at it. Some say its blunders -- like declaring in a memo right before Election Day that voter turnout was totally up, when it was really totally down -- may have actually hurt Democratic prospects in Texas. Maybe it really was impossible to make any gains with this level of anti-Obama fervor bleeding into state races across the country.
Battleground Texas had from the start said it was playing a long game, saying it couldn't change Texas overnight. But the statement last night from executive director Jenn Brown, lauding the group's "unprecedented data infrastructure" and "cutting-edge digital strategies that helped connect Texans in every community," was exactly the kind of opaque language you'd expect when there's very little silver lining to point to.
There are a number of reasons to believe Texas might not turn blue anytime soon -- booming population in the state's red-leaning suburbs, small towns that are even more staunchly Republican than they used to be, and a state Democratic party that can't field enough candidates to even put at Democrat in every race across the state (see this handy Texas Monthly graphic). So lets look at some of last night's races to see what prompted state GOP chairman Steve Munesteri to oh-so-humbly declare, "We annihilated Battleground Texas."
Despite the political-rock-star status and momentum she gained filibustering the state's omnibus anti-abortion bill last year, Democratic candidate Wendy Davis couldn't even carry all of Texas' supposedly liberal urban counties, trailing Greg Abbott in Bexar, Harris, and home-turf Tarrant last night.
All told, Abbott won by 20 points, 59.29 to Davis' 38.87. That's the state's gnarliest gubernatorial Democratic defeat since George W. Bush's reelection in 1998. And not to beat a dead horserace, but some exit polls even indicated that the reproductive-rights-championing Davis failed to win over women voters in Texas. Adding insult to injury, Davis' senate seat was lost to an anti-abortion Tea Partier despite a tough Battleground Texas-backed fight.
Returns like this are more than just the result of an ill-advised wheelchair ad (the subject of which was totally fair game) late in the race, or of a stumbling campaign.
Texans just elected a conservative's conservative, one that's bragged about suing the Obama administration (no less than 27 times), fought to defend putting a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds, and even threatened to sue cities that pass anti-discrimination protections for LGBT citizens (like Houston's equal rights ordinance). Dude about is as red as they come. And Texans, by a huge margin, just proved how red this state still is.
This year's race for lieutenant governor, arguably the most powerful position in state government, offers only further proof that, in order to get elected to statewide office in Texas, all candidates have to do is survive a race-to-the-bottom GOP primary and then hide until Election Day.
Dan Patrick came out ahead in a GOP primary with so much shit-slinging that candidates even tried to capitalize on his bout with serious depression decades ago. The ultraconservative Houston talk-radio host floated to the top, and then went on to "campaign" safely in front of small crowds of docile supporters, refusing to talk to newspaper editorial boards, canceling media interviews, and shunning most community appearances.
So, naturally, Patrick beat Democratic state Senator Leticia Van de Putte by nearly 20 points last night. And while it's yet to be seen whether Abbott steers state government even harder to the right as governor, you can sure as hell bet Patrick will try to in his new post. He spearheaded the state's controversial abortion sonogram bill as senator, has regularly warned of the "illegal invasion" of undocumented Mexicans, and even once boycotted a Senate prayer because it was led by a Muslim.
And now he'll preside over the state Senate, steering legislation once the session starts in January.
How can a guy running to be the state's top legal counsel admit to violating securities law (specifically, accepting kickbacks from an investment firm without disclosing the relationship to clients or investors) while running for statewide office and still beat his challenger by nearly 21 points?
Answer: hide. Republican Ken Paxton didn't even pretend to campaign for the AG seat once he cleared the primary. Why would he? Public appearances, debates, and editorial board interviews would have only drawn, you know, questions. Maybe that's why, during one of his only public speeches before the general election, a Paxton spokesperson "physically blocked" a San Antonio reporter who wanted to ask questions.
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Yesterday Paxton easily beat Democrat Sam Houston, a thoughtful attorney with a made-for-Texas-politics name who was endorsed by every major newspaper in the state, in what has got to be one of the more cringe-worthy losses for Dems this election.
Harris County District Attorney
For many hoping this election could put Texas on a swing-state path, eyes were fixed on Harris County. Specifically, the race for Harris County District Attorney (really the only county-wide race where Democrats stood a chance of making gains), which could have signaled the state's broader shift blue.
That didn't happen. Supposedly a neck-and-neck race, incumbent DA Devon Anderson beat Democratic challenger Kim Ogg 53 to 46 last night.