Democrats have a once-in-a-generation opportunity in Texas

October 30, 2020, 8:59 PM UTC
The Texas State Capitol building in Austin. The state’s growing diversity, dissatisfaction among GOP voters, and improved fundraising have given Democrats a shot at winning a majority in the Texas House, writes Vicky Hausman.
(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

On the heels of new polls and a $6 million investment in Texas by Biden’s campaign, a seven-figure investment from Michael Bloomberg, and a flurry of closing-days trips to Texas by vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and key Biden campaign surrogates, much attention is being paid to the prospect of Vice President Biden winning this major emerging battleground at the top of the ticket.

Exciting as this may be for Democrats who have long dreamed of turning America’s second-largest state purple, far less attention has been paid to the fact that Democrats are also within striking distance of establishing a majority in the Texas state House of Representatives this year for the first time since 2002. Flipping the Texas House would have tremendous implications for the future of the Democratic Party and the future of American politics.

Democrats now have a once-a-generation opportunity in Texas to stop Republicans from gerrymandering and suppressing votes in one of the biggest battleground states in the country. The Texas House is considered the crown jewel of the 2021 redistricting process, with nearly 40 congressional seats at stake. While Democrats can’t flip the Texas Senate this year, because only 16 of the 31 seats are up for election, winning the House would ensure that decisions about Texas’s political future would be made with bipartisan input.

If Democrats win control of the Texas House, they will not only have a seat at the table in drawing maps for dozens of congressional districts, but they will also be able to stop the GOP from continuing to pass laws for voter suppression. In the midst of a global pandemic, Texas has had some of the most restrictive laws for mail-in ballots. They also have eliminated all but one drop-off location for mail-in ballots per county, placing an extreme burden on voters given concerns about U.S. Postal Service budget cuts and delays

The path to victory is clear: After flipping 12 seats in the 2018 midterms, Democrats need only nine more seats to take a majority in the 150-seat chamber. A Democratic majority cuts across a set of about 18 races where Democrats came close but lost in 2018, including nine Republican-held seats in districts that were won by Beto O’Rourke at the top of the ticket.   

The shift away from Republicans in Texas has been dramatic over the course of the last decade. Mitt Romney won Texas by 16 points in 2012; Donald Trump won by nine points in 2016. And as of the latest polling averages from 538, Trump is up now by just 1.5 points, statistically tied with Biden. Looking down the ballot, the last generic state House ballot showed Democrats up by 4 points. This is exactly the electoral environment in which Democrats can flip competitive seats. 

Democrats’ momentum comes after years of a transforming landscape on the ground in Texas, creating favorable conditions for Democratic candidates. Census data highlights increased ethnic diversity and population growth, particularly in the suburbs. Although suburbs have historically been Republican territory, since the 1980s, growing Latinx and Asian-American/Pacific Islander populations have slowly paved the way for Democrats in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston to gain political influence. 

In addition to the diversification of the suburbs, a growing constituency of traditionally Republican voters have been fleeing Donald Trump’s Republican Party, so much so that GOP Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was caught on tape admitting that “Trump is killing us in the suburbs.” Given these shifts, on top of state Republicans’ blatant mishandling of the pandemic, and the subsequent economic fallout, we could very well now be in the middle of a perfect storm that ends decades of Republican control of Texas.

In the midst of this perfect storm, we’ve seen Democrats begin to win the money game in this final stretch, putting them in position to take control of the state House come Nov. 3. Our team at Forward Majority is spending more money in Texas than any other state in the country, a total of over $12 million across 18 races in the battle to help flip the state House. On top of that, the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee had a record-breaking quarter, with an unprecedented $3.6 million haul from July to September, all going toward flipping key battleground districts. And as of the latest filing, Democratic challengers in the most competitive pickup races have seen a fundraising surge, out-raising their Republican opponents this last quarter, a stark contrast to the past few election cycles where entrenched Republican incumbents have out-raised their Democratic challengers in key districts by as much as 20 to 1.

This is a remarkable improvement over 2018 and includes a dramatic increase in grass-roots donations. Individual contributions to Democrats are up 86%, while Republicans have experienced a 27% decline, according to campaign filings. For example, in a key district in the San Antonio area, Democratic candidate Celina Montoya had nearly 15,000 individual donations to her campaign, while her opponent, Republican incumbent Steve Allison, had only about 300. 

As we approach redistricting in 2021, the time is now. With Joe Biden’s strength at the top of the ticket, a once-in-a-generation electoral environment for Democrats, and a dramatic improvement in fundraising, the Texas House is imminently winnable. Republicans have long understood the strategic value of power in state legislatures, and now Democrats are bringing the energy and the resources to wrangle the gavel in the Texas House and transform our political landscape, and our democracy, for decades to come.

Vicky Hausman is a founder and co-CEO of Forward Majority, an organization focused on winning power for Democrats in state legislatures to address voter suppression and gerrymandering. A strategist and entrepreneur, Vicky has spent her career at the intersection of business, social justice, and politics.

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