Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

The Harris County GOP has not hit bottom yet

I have four thing to say about this.

Never forget

Drubbed. Shellacked. Whooped. Walloped. Routed.

However you want to describe November’s midterm election, it was disastrous for Harris County Republicans. They were swept from the remaining countywide posts they held — the other shoe to drop after Democrats booted the Republican sheriff and district attorney two years ago — and lost all 55 judicial seats on the ballot. For the first time in decades, Democrats will hold a majority of Commissioners Court.

The path forward for the local GOP is unclear. The party’s statewide slate went undefeated yet rebuked by Harris County voters, raising questions about whether its pitch to rural voters alienated urban ones. In the state’s most populous county, and his home base, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz got just 41 percent of the vote.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson, however, is optimistic. He said several local Republicans would have won, chief among them County Judge Ed Emmett, if straight-ticket voting had been eliminated before the election. Republicans in the Texas Legislature decided to retire the straight-ticket option after 2018, which traditionally benefited their party, but proved disastrous for the GOP in urban counties this cycle.

“Pendulums will swing back,” Simpson said. “I’m confident in the near future, we’ll be back.”

Scholars and Emmett, the county executive for 11 years before his upset loss, offered a less rosy assessment — that of a party catering to a largely white, graying base that is failing to adapt to changing demographics and awaiting the return of a “normal” electorate that has ceased to exist. November 2018 should be a wake-up call, they say, but they wonder if the local Republican Party is listening.

“If you look at ’18 as a turning point for Harris County, there’s nothing data-wise that would give you any indication this was an aberration and not a structural change,” said Jay Aiyer, who teaches political science at Texas Southern University. “If anything, you could see it actually swinging harder to the Democrats in ’22.”

Mark Jones, who studies Texas politics at Rice University, offered a more tepid view. He said the broad unpopularity of President Donald Trump drove some voters to the polls this fall who may not have participated otherwise.

“If you take Trump out of the equation and put in a more liberal Democrat … it’s not clear to me that Democrats have the same level of advantage,” Jones said. “The county is trending from red, to pink, to purple. But I would not say Harris County is blue.”

[…]

Republicans have not won a countywide post in a presidential election year since 2012. University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the local GOP would be wise to lower its expectations for 2020, which likely will feature an unpopular president at the top of the ticket.

“The Republicans need to show they’ve still got a pulse after the disaster that befell them in ’18,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s about the best they can hope for in a presidential year.”

Simpson, who has led county Republicans since 2014, said the party will focus on recruiting fresh candidates who can appeal to a wide swath of voters, rather than the sliver of partisans who vote in primaries. He lauded the success of Dan Crenshaw in the 2nd Congressional District, a young, charismatic combat veteran who beat better-funded candidates in the primary.

Crenshaw’s win, Simpson said, showed candidates “can be conservative and still be cool.”

The Texas 2nd, however, is a district drawn for Republicans that has a far greater proportion of white residents than Harris County as a whole.

1. I’ve said all there is for me to say about straight ticket voting. The embedded image is a reminder that Republicans used to be big fans of straight ticket voting. Turns out that straight ticket voting works really well for the party that has more voters to begin with. There’s an awful lot of Republicans in this state who never contemplated the possibility that they would not be the majority party.

2. As noted in the title of this post, Republicans in Harris County have not hit rock bottom quite yet. One thing I discovered in doing the precinct data analyses is that Beto O’Rourke carried all eight Constable/Justice of the Peace precincts. I didn’t write about that in part because I didn’t quite believe it, but there it is. The three Republican Constables and three of the six Republican JPs are on the ballot in 2020. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that after the 2020 election, the only Republicans holding county office will be the three JPs in Place 2 (the of-year cycle), County Commissioner Jack Cagle, and the three not-at-large HCDE Trustees. Those last three JPs could then be wiped out in 2022, along with the HCDE Trustee for Precinct 2, with the Trustee for Precinct 3 (who won this year by less than a percentage point) on track for elimination in 2024. Yes, lots of things can change, and I’m assuming that Commissioner Steve Radack will either be defeated in 2020 or will step down and the Republicans will fail to hold his seat. My point is, the Republicans not only have very little left, what they have is precarious and fragile, and there are no obvious opportunities to make gains in county government.

(You may now be saying “But Adrian Garcia will have to run for re-election in 2022, and he won a close race this year under favorable circumstances, so he could lose then.” Yes, but do you know what happens between now and the 2022 elections? The County Commissioner precincts undergo redistricting. Jack Morman benefited from that process after his win in 2010; what I wrote here was premature but in the end turned out to be accurate. I guarantee you, Precinct 2 will be friendlier to Commissioner Garcia’s re-election prospects, and if a Dem wins in Precinct 3 in 2020, it will be friendlier to that Commissioner’s prospects in 2024 as well.)

Legislatively, Dems have more targets (HDs 138, 134, and 126, with longer shots in 129 and 133 and even 150) than they have seats to defend. Lizzie Fletcher will have to defend CD07, but Dan Crenshaw will have to defend CD02, and he didn’t win his seat by much more than Fletcher won hers by (7 points for Crenshaw, 5 points for Fletcher). CD10 and CD22, which cover more than Harris County, are already on the national radar for 2020 as well. We’re not watching the battleground any more, we’re in the thick of it.

3. The Republicans’ problems in Harris County run deeper than Donald Trump. Every statewide elected official, most especially Dan Patrick (here shilling for the ludicrous “wall”) and Ken Paxton, who is spending all of his energy outside his own criminal defense on destroying health care, is a surrogate for Trump. People were just as fired up to vote against Patrick, Paxton, and Sid Miller as they were to vote against Ted Cruz, and the numbers bear that out. They’ll get another chance to do that in 2022, so even in a (please, God, please) post-Trump landscape, there will still be reminders of Trump and reasons to keep doing the work that we started in 2018.

4. All that said, we know two things for sure: One is that there are more Democrats than Republicans in Harris County, which is a combination of demographic trends, Donald Trump laying waste to American values, and sustained voter registration efforts. Two, Republicans have been unable to compete in a high-turnout election in Harris County since 2008. (2010 was a relatively high turnout year, for an off year, but it was still only 41.7%, quite a bit less than this year’s 52.8%.) It is a reasonable question to ask if Dems can be dominant in a low-turnout scenario. 2014 was a terrible year for turnout, and Republicans swept the county, but with the topline Rs mostly winning by four to six points. There’s definitely a scenario under which Rs could do well in 2022 and in which the demographic and political patterns we have seen do not fundamentally change. It’s hard to see how they compete going forward without a serious effort to rebrand, and every day that Donald Trump and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller are in office, that rebranding becomes harder to do. Lots of things can change. The Republican Party needs to be one of them.

Related Posts:

21 Comments

  1. Manny Barrera says:

    Republican have much more than Harris County to worry about according to this Washington Post article http://mannybarrera.com/Texas/WashingtonPost-TexasTurningBlue.pdf

    Latino engagement is the key to turning Texas Blue, the Democrats just have to make sure that they don’t screw it up, cause they don’t understand the people.

    I am waiting for the Democrats to take a stand with the DREAMERs, in pushing Ed Gonzalez to start acting and doing as he promised the people that the DREAMERS represent. The Democratic Party is very quiet about the fact that Harris County has been leading the nation in deportations since the Sheriff’s office was won by the Democrats. Adrian Garcia and now Ed Gonzalez.

  2. I think you are right. The Harris County Republican leaders, consultants, advisers don’t know what hit them. I had an opportunity to talk to a fund raiser after the election. The Fund Raiser told me that they were waiting for a debriefing to find out what happened. What happened? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Anyone who has been paying any attention what so ever would have known that the Democrats have registered a ton of voters. I mean a ton of voters. The republican elected officials were not even seen in public.

    They still haven’t figured it out. My guess is the will not figure it out anytime soon. I believe Sarah Davis and Lizzie Fletcher won because their message was that of a fiscal conservative and a Social Moderate. As soon as Democrat candidates start embracing the far left in public the quicker they will lose.

  3. Greg M says:

    Individual Republican candidates need to change the parties message. As long as the party is opposed to lgbt rights, and wants to build a wall, they can screw themselves.

  4. Manny Barrera says:

    What is the far left Paul, you should know that is just a label that was created by Republicans that really does not mean anything, except for them, it represents everything they hate, which is almost everything that does not think just like them. Is it do you want Pelosi? Do you want another Obama?

    So what is the far left Paul?

  5. asmith says:

    Mark Jones at Rice reminds me of Cal Jilson from SMU as far as punditry is concern. Harris is at least light blue. Cal just now admits that Dallas County is a blue county. Harris reminds me of where Dallas was in 2008-2012.

  6. Ross says:

    Manny, the far left is candidates that support increased government involvement in every aspect of life, paid for by increasing taxes on the “rich”. For me, a good example would be the platform espoused by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Portions seem great, but there’s no details on how to pay for any of it, nor is any consideration given to feasibility. Other policies that indicate far left thinking include a high Federal minimum wage, a “Green New Deal”, etc.

  7. Daniel says:

    So basic wage measuresthat correct what have been stagnant wages since the 70s and an actual environmental plan to face the national security threat of climate change are “far left”?

    No.

    Letting dark money oil and gas corporations run the show has simply been normalized by the far right.

    Buchananism is not democratic. The GOP is out of touch, and this is a great exhibit as to why.

    Even the mayor of Georgetown, a staunch Republican, knows we need dramatic changes in energy policy and to embrace national security measures to counter climate change.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    Personally, I’m just going to laugh when Lizzie starts actively voting against the oil and gas sector. Will those oil and gas workers who voted for her have second thoughts?

    And to newly disenfranchised conservatives and libertarians of Harris County, I invite you to move to Brazoria County, to help hold the line. Ronald Reagan had a really great quote:

    “If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.”

  9. Bill Daniels says:

    Manny, Ross nailed it, exactly, with his description of the far left. If you want to see what the far left looks like, look no further than France. France is the far left’s dream. Of course, the people of France are revolting at the moment. They got what they wanted, but reality has finally slapped them in the face.

    Turns out, the rich who were to be taxed to pay for their socialist utopia fled, and the heavy burden of the welfare state fell on to regular working people….and they don’t like it. Their economy is stagnant, taxes are overbearing, and the Islamization of France continues, unabated.

    The best part? Trump is exacerbating this by trying to pull back on the military safety net that protects France and allows them to spend their defense money on social programs. The French people are getting to see what their Green New Deal, mass immigration, heavy social welfare ideals actually mean to average Frenchmen.

  10. Manny Barrera says:

    Bill and you Ross, don’t understand a complicated world, tell me how we are paying for all those tax cuts that just passed the conservative Republican Congress, Senate, and President. We are not we are going in debt, but I know you, Bill, don’t care about anyone but yourself, but I believe that Ross has mentioned children or grandchildren don’t recall. Don’t you care about them Ross and the debt they are being settled with.

    All those want to be like the Jones, should be like one of the richest men in the world and live as he does, that would be Warren Buffett. Sell your house if it making you pay too much in property taxes and buy something that is worth a lot less.

    People have to dream of a better world and steps have to be taken to get there, with people like you and Ross we will always be stuck in a rot.

    Ross I seriously doubt that you have studied the young woman from New York, you probably listen to a lot of Fox, Rush, and who knows who else.

    Bill if you think that France is Revolting you would think the 60s and 70s were civil wars. Should read about the violence during the late 1800s and early 1900s here in the United States.

    Ross here is what she ran on, https://www.businessinsider.com/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-platform-on-the-issues-2018-6

    Those are goals Ross, do you know what goals are? Medicare for all means all pay just like I pay for my Medicare. Do you get your insurance free at work? Health insurance would not be free for most. Do you have an idea who really needs Medicaid, old people, as they get to a point where they have to be in nursing homes and Hospice. Most of us would not be able to afford the proper care.

    Yes, you tax people that make more and have more, much more as they need government the most to succeed. They come to US Courts to make themselves whole and rely on the US Government to make people do as the Courts state, that includes other countries.

    But what you Bill, Ross, or anyone thinks does not matter too much because when the Government fails to take care of its people it will not be long before it ceases to exist as the same government.

    Bill when will you quit telling lies, you think those are the reasons for the little civil disobedience that is occurring in France?

  11. Ross says:

    Manny, I know far more about socialism that Ocasio-Cortez, and have reviewed her platform pretty thoroughly. You need to quit assuming people are stupid and don’t read.

    You don’t know what I think about the tax cuts, because I haven’t discussed them. And, I did not vote for Trump in the general election. Nor did I vote for Clinton. Both of them are dolts with no redeeming qualities. I did vote for Trump in the primary, because he wasn’t Ted Cruz, who is also a dolt.

    Debt is an issue, for sure. However, neither major party has any clue on how to deal with it. The R’s don’t want to cut military spending, while the Dems want to increase every social program, regardless of cost and debt. I am somewhere in between the two.

    I haven’t seen a Medicare for all bill I can live with. The bill proposed by Conyers, et al, is unacceptable, as it doesn’t allow doctors to take patients outside the system if that’s what the patient wants. The ACA was a horrifically bad piece of law that replaced the old problems with new and different ones. I think we need to get past calling it health “insurance” and talk about how to provide health care for all at a reasonable price, while still having room for innovation and patient choice.

  12. Manny,

    Far left is what Bill and Ross said. I would also add Bernie Sanders to the mix.

  13. Manny Barrera says:

    Ross maybe you do read but your statements don’t reflect that you do. Why did you pick her, Ross and not Bernie Sanders?

    Ross you seem to contradict yourself with your last statement, “How to provide health care for all at a reasonable price”, like I stated above they are goals and how we get there will be discussed and mistakes will be made and hopefully they will be addressed. It takes many steps to go somewhere.

    It took nearly 100 years for this country to remove slavery. It took another 100 years for this country to pass laws which prohibit discrimination because of race, ethnicity, or religions, sex also.

    How do you deal with debt Ross, there are two ways, one either raise taxes on someone or cut something to lower the budget. Three things are the majority of the budget, social security, medicare, and the military. What do you want to do Ross? Complain and refer to people as far left candidates that want to control every aspect of life? Do you know that the Republican Party comes closer to that, controlling all aspects of one’s life. There are three main groups to the Republican Party, the Religious fanatics that are against abortion, homosexuality, and other religions, the immigrant haters, and the ones that want government to do everything but don’t want to pay for government. Quite often that last one overlaps with the first two. What insurance offers doctors outside the system, PPO’s and they are the most expensive. You can go outside Medicare Doctors, in my case it would be Kelsey, but it would come out of my pocket. You don’t want to pay for that option with your own money, Ross? You can fly to any country for medical care no one would stop you, same for Dental Work which is much more expensive in this country.

    A true Libertarian wants government completely gone from one’s life.

    Paul what is far right? Great thing about opinions everyone is entitled to one just like an anal opening. Remember I am included in that group. Have a great New Year Paul.

  14. Manny Barrera says:

    One more group Ross, the Gun Nuts belong to the Republican Party.

    Remember there are exceptions, but they are exceptions not the rule.

  15. Edit never saw a Republican add like the one I just posted.

  16. Manny Barrera says:

    Paul, the Republican Party has become the Trump Party, it is the party of hate. Hate anything or anyone that does not believe the way they do, I am sure that they consider your brother a RHINO.

  17. C.L. says:

    I’ve gotten to the point, when reading these user comments, where I just pass over anything posted by passive-aggressive Manny who (apparently) believes no one is as informed and up on factoids as he is.

  18. Manny Barrera says:

    No C.L. that is not true, but it is true about you not being properly informed.

    When asked why you would not vote for Garcia, you replied “I don’t like his hair”.

    When asked the same thing about Hidalgo, you had no reason.

    Mainstream is fairly well informed as are numerous other people that post here, but you are not among them.

    I know what I know and know what I do not know, so you don’t see me comment on many subjects.

  19. David Fagan says:

    The pendulum will swing again……and again………and again.

  20. C.L. says:

    @Manny… just so I have it straight:

    Paul Kubosh doesn’t understand who/what the far right or left is, Bill and Ross don’t understand the ‘complicated world’ and are stuck in a ‘rot’, gun nuts are Republicans, Ross (in addition) doesn’t care about his grandchildren, Mainstream is fairly well informed, but I am not properly informed (about anything, apparently) and have something against Lina Hidalgo (who I voted for, BTW).

    Got it.