This is the first in a series of periodic analyses of the 2020 general election.
The signs pointed to further Democratic gains in the Texas House of Representatives. Entering Election Day, there were 83 Republican-held seats and 67 Democrat-held seats. Two years earlier, Democrats picked up a net 12 seats. Our model projected they would pick up 10 more on Election Day, which would have given them their first House majority since 2001. We weren’t the only ones predicting a general outcome of Democratic net gains with a legitimate shot at a takeover.
President Trump’s poll numbers in the state supported a narrative of shrinking suburban support, especially among younger voters, women and college-educated Anglo voters. Record amounts of money were pouring into House campaigns, indicating both sides believed the House was in play. The growth in voter registrations was disproportionately occurring in counties carried by Democrats in 2018. Turnout was shattering records as well, finally offering an opportunity to test the well-worn Democratic mantra, “Texas is not a red state, it is a non-voting state.” Four Democrats were jockeying to be the next Speaker.
An Early End to a Long Fight
Nearly 10M Texans voted early, so the early voting totals released as the polls closed at 7 p.m. would tell us a lot about the state of play. Our expectation was that Democrats would do relatively better in early voting, thanks in part to record absentee voting that was expected to skew, perhaps heavily, toward Democratic candidates. Republicans would claw back some or all of those advantages in Election Day turnout, we reasoned. Viewed through that lens, Democrats’ ceiling would be revealed in that first set of results.
Our eyes first turned to Tarrant Co., where we believed Democrats would need to flip at least two, possibly three, seats to have a realistic chance at a majority. At 7:01 p.m., we reported that Republicans led all five competitive races. Three minutes later, we reported that Democrats were leading the competitive races in Dallas Co., but just barely in the two that they needed to flip. Brandy Chambers led Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Garland) by 0.4 percentage points in HD112, and Joanna Cattanach led Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), the most vulnerable incumbent in our model’s estimation, by just 0.8 percentage points. Those are awfully low ceilings in the county that was the epicenter of the 2018 blue wave.
Two minutes later, we reported that Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Sanger) led his Democratic opponent by 10 points in a Denton Co. race Democrats probably needed. At 7:08 p.m., it was apparent that the gains Democrats needed in Harris Co. were not materializing. We reported that Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) was trailing, as expected, but so was Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston). Republicans led in races for the others seats they held, as did Democrats for their seats. A few minutes later, Bexar Co.’s early vote totals posted, and Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) led the lone competitive House race there by 6 points.
At 7:18 p.m., we reported that Reps. Jeff Leach (R-Allen) and Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) led their Democratic opponents in two critical Collin Co. races we had rated Lean Democratic.
Three minutes later, we posted an unusually early assessment of the state of play:
We've swept through a lot of the larger counties, and the Democrats are not where they likely need to be to flip the state House. Long way to go tonight, but the early vote so far has not gone the Democrats' way.
— Texas Election Source (@TXElects) November 4, 2020
The early vote did not go the Democrats’ way. The Election Day vote did not either as Button and Meyer overtook their challengers.
Some votes are still being counted, so a couple of very close races could potentially shift, but House Democrats ended this election cycle where they began it, still needing nine seats to wrest the gavel from Republicans. Presumptive Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) counts among his supporters three of those Democratic Speaker candidates.
When it comes to the presidential race, our model was not that far off in the competitive districts. President-elect Joe Biden carried 15 of the 23 Metroplex and Houston-area House districts we viewed as competitive. Democratic House candidates won seven of them, six of their own and just one of the 16 districts being defended by Republicans.
Download the chart
Ann Johnson defeated Davis in HD134 despite receiving 10K fewer votes than Biden in the district. Davis received 9,500 more votes than President Trump. The district’s lean was simply too great for Davis’s cross-over support to be enough to re-elect her. Otherwise, Democrats failed to win the other 15 districts included in the chart. A similar pattern played out in the other competitive districts around the state. Democratic House candidates under-performed, sometimes widely, from their presidential nominee.
But that’s probably the wrong perspective. It may be more accurate to say, Trump under-performed, sometimes widely, from the rest of the Republican ticket. Or put another way, Biden did not have any coattails, and Trump did not drag down any other part of the ticket in competitive parts of the state.
In 2018, Beto O’Rourke (D) won nine House districts won by Republicans: HD26, HD64, HD66, HD67, HD108, HD112, HD121, HD134 and HD138. Setting aside HD121 in Bexar Co. for which we do not have precinct-level results, Biden won all but HD64 in Denton Co. Republicans held all but one, and they picked up a district Biden carried by 1,500 votes.
Barring an unexpected swing in the few remaining votes to be counted or a recount, this will be the sum total of all the turnout, all the money and all the energy poured into these races: a push.
Texas wasn’t a “non-voting” state in 2020, but it remained a red state, and it is likely to remain so for at least the next few years. Republicans control all the levers of redistricting, and they and their voters have a White House to oppose through at least 2024. Some other states – particularly Georgia – offer possible paths toward a potential Democratic House takeover or the statewide win in a generation, but it probably feels far away after Tuesday’s across-the-board failure.
©2020 Texas Election Source LLC