It was recently reported that at least four Republican Texas Congressmen have decided to retire rather than seek re-election in 2020. They include Mike Conaway, whose district includes part of Stephenville, and Will Hurd, Beto O’Rourke’s traveling companion on a self-filmed nationwide drive, and the only Republican African American in Congress.
This is not good news for the Texas Republican Party. Incumbent congressmen normally win re-election. They normally have better name recognition and have had the opportunity to win the voters’ support through constituent service and “bringing home the bacon.” The Democrats will have an easier time picking up one or more of these seats if they’re facing Republicans seeking office without the advantage of incumbency.
And the decision of Republican incumbents to retire is but one of several straws in the wind portending Democratic gains in 2020—perhaps great enough gains to turn red Texas purple if not blue.
- Donald Trump carried Texas for the Republicans in 2016 with 52% of the vote, but his share was lower than that of any winning Republican since Herbert Hoover in 1928.
- In 2018 the Democrats picked up two Texas congressional seats previously held by Republicans; but Republicans won no seats from Democrats;
- In 2018 every Republican seeking re-election to statewide executive office won his race, but by a smaller margin than in 2014; the average vote for Republicans in 2014 was 59%, but in 2018 it was 53%.
- Also in 2018, Democrats increased their seats in the state Senate by 1 and in the state House of Representatives by 12.
- And while Democrat Beto O’Rourke failed to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, he got the biggest percentage of the vote of any Democratic Senatorial candidate since Lloyd Bentsen last won a Senate election for the Democrats in 1988.
None of this means that Texas will go blue in 2020 or even 2022, but the incremental improvements the Democrats are making in their electoral strength in Texas are exactly like those made by the Republicans throughout the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s in their quest to become Texas’s majority party—a goal they achieved by 2004. If the Republicans can go from minority to majority status, there is no reason to believe that the Democrats can’t repeat that feat in the next decade or two.
And time and demography are on the Democrats’ side. Texas Republican strength is based on the Anglos, who gave Trump 70% of their vote in 2016, but who are shrinking as a percentage of the Texas population. While Anglos are doubling in number once every 50 years, African Americans—who gave 85 % of their vote to Hillary Clinton are doubling once every 33 years, while Hispanics—who gave 61% of their vote to Clinton–are doubling in size once every 25 years. Should present trends continue, Democratic voters may soon outnumber Republican voters.
A Democratic takeover in Texas is possible but not inevitable. Democrats would be most unwise to assume that passively waiting for the passage of time and changes in demography will produce more victories. They must develop better get-out-the-vote strategies and tactics to exploit the potentially favorable population trends from which they could benefit.
And Republicans must not assume that past successes guarantee future results. If they are to maintain their preeminent position in Texas politics they must realize that they must increase their share of the growing Hispanic vote. Whatever the benefits of President Trump’s immigration policies, they will no doubt make future Republican expansion of the Hispanic vote more difficult.
How each party will try to strengthen itself remains to be seen. We’ll be able to observe them in action over the next fifteen months and see who does better come November 2020. But while the Democrats can take hope that time and trends are on their side, the Republicans should remember that they have far more to lose, if not in 2020, then in the following decades.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.