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Initial reactions: Statewide

I’m going to do a few of these “Initial reaction” posts about Tuesday’s elections as I try to make sense of all that happened. Here we go.

Let me start with a number. Two numbers, actually: 4,017,851 and 48.26%. The former is how many votes Beto O’Rourke has right now, and what his percentage of the vote was. That first number, which may still creep up a bit as there are a tiny number of precincts unreported as I write this, is the largest vote total any Texas Democrat has ever received. It’s more than 500K greater than Barack Obama in 2008, and it’s about 130K greater than Hillary Clinton in 2016. I had thought Clinton’s 3,877,868 votes were the absolute ceiling for any Dem this cycle, but I was wrong. Somehow, Beto O’Rourke built on what Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That is truly amazing.

Oh, and do note that Beto’s losing margin was 2.68 points, which was closer than all but four of the polls taken in this race – the one poll where he was tied, the one poll where he was leading, the one poll where he was trailing by one, and the one poll where he was trailing by two. It couldn’t have been easy for the pollsters to model this year’s electorate, but when they did they were generally more pessimistic about this race – though not necessarily about the state as a whole – than they should have been.

Now here are two other numbers to consider: 4,685,047 and 4,884,441. The former is what Donald Trump got in 2016, and the latter is what Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman got that same year. Those are our targets for 2020, to truly make Texas a competitive electoral battleground. We know a lot of people with no previous electoral history voted this year, and I think it’s safe to say most of them voted for Beto. We need to figure out who the people are that did vote in 2016 but not in 2018, and make sure they vote in 2020. We also need to keep registering voters like crazy, and keep engaging the voters we got to come out this year. I know everyone is sad about Beto falling short – at this writing, he trails by 2.57 percentage points, which among other things means that the polls generally did underestimate him – but we need to stay focused and work to ensuring the level he achieved is a stepping stone and not a peak.

By how much did Beto outperform the Democratic baseline? First we have to decide what the baseline was. For the executive offices, the totals are bifurcated:


Valdez     3,520,868   Collier   3,833,069
Chevalier  3,545,626   Nelson    3,870,345
Suazo      3,540,153   Olson     3,794,683
McAllen    3,586,198

One might argue that Collier and Nelson and Olson might have done better if they’d had more money. Maybe, but there was a ton of money spent in the Senate race, and it’s not clear to me what the marginal effect of another million or two might have been. It’s hard for me to imagine any of them making it over the top if Beto wasn’t at least within automatic-recount distance of Cruz. The point here is that there was significant variation in these contests. That’s one reason why I usually default to the judicial races as my benchmark for partisan strength:


Kirkland   3,820,059
Sandill    3,765,102
Cheng      3,769,290
Jackson    3,707,483
Franklin   3,723,541

Much closer, as you can see. They lost by a range of 6.55 points (Kirkland) to 8.39 points (Franklin). In 2016, the closest any statewide Democratic judicial candidate got was Dori Garza’s 13.22 point loss. Based on the 2018 vote totals, I’d say the Democratic baseline is around 3.7 to 3.8 million. Compare the judicial race vote totals from this year to 2016:


Kirkland   3,820,059   Westergren  3,378,163
Sandill    3,765,102   Garza       3,608,634
Cheng      3,769,290   Robinson    3,445,959
Jackson    3,707,483   Meyers      3,496,205
Franklin   3,723,541   Johnson     3,511,950
                       Burns       3,558,844

That’s a nice step up, though do note that in 2016 all of the statewide judicial races also had a Libertarian candidate, and all but one also had a Green, while this year only Terri Jackson had company from a third party. Still and all, I think this shows that Beto wasn’t the only Dem to build on 2016. It also suggests that Beto got on the order of 300K crossover votes, while Collier and Nelson and Olson got 100K to 150K.

I don’t have any broad conclusions to draw just yet. We built on 2016. We still have room to grow – remember, as high as the turnout was this year, beating all off years as well as 2008 and 2012, turnout as a percentage of registered voters was still less than 53% – and with the right candidates we can attract some Republican voters. We should and we must make our goal be a competitive state for the Presidential race in 2020. I’ll look at the county by county canvass later, then of course do some precinct level reporting when the dust clears a bit. In the meantime, read Chris Hooks’ analysis for more.

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8 Comments

  1. Manny Barrera says:

    Well the best thing that can happen to the Democratic Party is to have Beto in 2020 running again. Coryn is supposedly retiring. But even in a president ticket as VP would probably turn Texas Blue for one election cycle.

    Everyone that wants Democrats needs to contribute something to candidates to get those ads going.

  2. David Fagan says:

    There has to be a correlation how bad voters view the political climate and voter turnout. I am a supporter that if a certain percentage of total voters don’t vote, the election has to be repeated. Then voting would be treated with the value of the national census, you’ll see someone at your door asking your opinion if you didn’t participate.

  3. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    I think that in order for a Democrat to actually ‘win’ Texas in a Presidential year, they will need about 4.8 million votes. The Republicans will get some of the Gary Johnson voters and some of the new registrants and transplanted voters from other states will be Republicans. I think that the voters that are reachable to be flippers is actually quite small by this point. And all the Trumpers will be voting in 2020. Bank on it.

    Trump’s reelection plan is pretty obvious at this point. Recruit and fund a third party candidate to siphon off people who wont vote for him and then call the Democrat a member MS-13 , a Black Panther, and a Socialist. He feels that he will get all of his voters to the polls (and he will). He will get at least 4,700,000 votes in Texas and probably will get 4,900,000. So the key is to find 4,900,000 Democratic voters and ensure that they don’t fall for the “Gary Johnson/Jill Stein ruse” again. We start out with 4,100,000 voters. I think the number of Beto voters that will vote for Donald Trump is very small. Although I fear that some of them are succeptable to the third party ruse.

    The bad news: 700,000 votes is not a small number
    The good news: Those voters are out there, its just a question of how to reach them.

    Here’s where they may lie

    1) People who voted in 2016 and didn’t vote in 2018. In the large, Dem leaning Metros, here’s the number of vote dropoffs from 2016 by Metro area

    HOUSTON – 89808
    DFW – 9157
    AUSTIN – actually gained 67920 voters from 2016
    SAN ANTONIO – 21827
    EL PASO – 3507
    RIO GRANDE VALLEY (incl. Laredo) – 37743

    So we’re gonna throw out DFW and Austin. They rocked on turnout. So assuming that 60 percent of these voters are Democrats (I think its higher), that generates almost 100,000 voters right there for the Dems. I think that turnout increase to a Presidential year will probably occur even if the Dems don’t do that much.

    2) Young voters – Young turnout was relatively good, but it needs to be better if we’re going to win in Texas in 2020. The Dems probably need to generate 225,000 new registrations among young voters to generate 100,000 new Dem voters. Some of that will happen without our involvement. But the Dems should be helping that process along.

    3) Transplants from other states – The Dems really have an opportunity here. By the way, I think the crazy good improvements in Austin’s metro, in DFW, and in Fort Bend were at play here. How many voters will be moving to the large metros in the next 2 years? I think the Dems should consider purchasing moving data from moving companies or the post office and see if you can mine it for people who have moved to the area. Especially those moving from Blue states. Its low hanging fruit in my opinion. I suspect by hitting that hard and using a list of transplants from 2014-2020, we help generate 100,000 new registered and a margin of 50,000.

    4) Stopping erosion to 3rd parties. This is critical. The Dems need to be ever vigilant for this attempt by the GOP, and we all should know its coming. Every voter that doesn’t vote for the Democrat needs to be replaced.

    If we can do all of that, the Dems are still short. That should generate an incremental margin of about 250,000 new Dems. Still need 450,000 more in margin to win Texas in 2020. That sounds like a huge number, but its only about 5.5 percent of the 2018 turnout. Here’s where those voters might be found

    1) I strongly suspect that from the analysis above (lagging turnout in the Valley, in San Antonio, in Houston, in El Paso, and in Corpus relative to Austin and DFW that Hispanic turnout, while improving, still lagged that of Anglos. That probably did a lot to save Cruz. The Dems need to get a 10% improvement in turnout with Hispanic voters from 2016.

    2) I also suspect that African American turnout didn’t increase as much as Anglo turnout did. That might be another area to increase turnout. Call it a 5% turnout increase goal from 2016.

    3) Continue to kick butt in the fast growing areas that are trending towards the Dems. Continue to eat at the margins in areas that are moving towards the Dems too.

    And if they can do all of that, then the Dems probably win Texas in 2020. Its a tall order, but its no longer impossible. It would really help if the Dems had a strong, well funded candidate against John Cornyn in 2020. The national Dems will be rightly focusing national resources elsewhere, so the impact of a Beto type vigorous campaign for Senate will help the local Dems organize and GOTV. Its no longer a structural change needed, but just some tweaking along the margins.

  4. asmith says:

    I think Cornyn said today in Dallas that he was running again. I don’t think Beto is running for prez and it’s hard for me to see him run against Cornyn as he turned that down in the spring. I could see him running for Governor against Abbott or Patrick if Abbott doesn’t run in 2022.

    If the Trump rally in Houston did anything for Cruz it helped in the Houston exurbs like Montgomery, Brazoria, Chambers, and East Texas. DFW politically looks like it’s becoming like Chicagoland and not just because State Farm hq is Plano. With that said Tarrant is becoming purple and Hays and Williamson are at least light blue. I think Bell county is the new bellweather, pun intended. Dems need to break the lock in the mid size metros. That is the next challenge.

    We might get a Biden/Castro or Harris/Castro ticket in 2020. That should help turnout in urban/suburban Texas.

  5. Manny Barrera says:

    O’Rourke should not sit out four years and I don’t think he will. He will run in 2020 for something.

  6. Mainstream says:

    asmith: I was unaware that Beto had made a commitment not to challenge Senator Cornyn. Many GOP activists assume Beto intends to make a second attempt in 2020 to go to the Senate, and that losing D congressional candidates who were competitive might also repeat.

    manny: although I have heard sheer speculation that Sen. Cornyn might depart politics out of frustration that McConnell will never leave the top leadership role, all my sources say he is definitely running for re-election in 2020.

  7. Jules says:

    Just read that Cornyn is running again. I hope Beto runs for Senate, President, or VP in 2020.

  8. asmith says:

    Not a commitment but he had said he didn’t have an interest in running against Cornyn.

    I would imagine that most of the congressional candidates who were within 10 points or less will run again especially the 3rd, 8th, 10th, 21st, 22nd, and 31st districts. The money will be there.

    If the rumors are true Beto is getting pushed into the prez sweepstakes. I just don’t know how he can run a consultant free campaign like he did in 2018. But if you were 2.5 points away from being a US Senator from TX, surely you can win MI, WI, PA, and maybe FL.

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