When former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) edged out U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R), 49.9%-49.2%, in Tarrant Co., he became the first Democrat to win countywide since 1994. Despite the narrow loss, Cruz won every Republican-held district in 2018. Some of them were very close:

  • HD96 – 91 votes (49.7%-49.5%)
  • HD97 – 1,381 votes (50.6%-48.6%)
  • HD92 – 1,527 votes (50.8%-48.3%)
  • HD93 – 1,583 votes (50.9%-48.2%)
  • HD94 – 2,044 votes (51.1%-47.9%)

Cruz’s small margins marked a dramatic free fall from Mitt Romney’s far headier victories over President Barack Obama in 2012, and even paled to Donald Trump’s much-reduced but still robust 2016 margin over Hillary Clinton.

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Straight-party voting lifted Cruz to his narrow victories in each of these districts, but straight-party voting has been shifting toward the Democrats in every Tarrant Co. House district except HD95, a majority Black district currently held by Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth). Democrats reduced Republicans’ countywide advantage in straight-party voting by more than 31K votes since 2012.

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Voters no longer have the single-punch, straight-party option, so any ongoing shifts in partisan lean can be measured only by the parties’ relative performances against each other. The loss of the single-punch option takes away two key metrics for evaluating districts. The first, obviously, is straight-party voting. The second, subtler metric is how the full-ballot vote – votes who go race-by-race down the ballot – breaks. Historically in Tarrant Co., it has broken toward Republicans. In 2018, it broke toward Democrats.

If Texas Democrats are to gain a House majority in 2021, then they likely must pick up at least one Tarrant Co. seat. At this time, we project Republicans will hold on to all of their current seats in the county, but several are sensitive to small additional swings in the electorate. They are discussed below in order of most likely to flip to the least likely.

The Battlegrounds

HD96 open (Toss Up): This is the only Republican-held district in the county that was bluer than the state as a whole last cycle, and it has been within 2.2 points of the statewide average since 2008. Unlike most districts, there is no significant trend in partisan lean in the district beyond that of the state as a whole.

That said, the average Democrat running in the district pulled to within 5 points, measured head-to-head, against their Republican opponents, a considerable narrowing from 2016 (15 points) and 2014 (19 points). Part of this results from the third largest shift in straight-party voting toward the Democrats among the Tarrant Co. districts. Since 2012, the number of Republicans voting straight party is essentially flat while the number of Democratic straight-party voters has increased by 4K.

Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) consistently under-performed the rest of the Republican ticket when he was opposed, though by less than a point in each of his last two races. He did not seek re-election.

Mansfield Mayor David Cook (R) and Fort Worth attorney Joe Drago (D) were unopposed for their respective nominations. Their fundraising results to date are comparable. Cook has out-raised Drago, $200K to $168K, for the cycle so far, but he has $289K to $109K advantage in cash on hand as of June 30. Drago has already raised nearly 5 times the amount Zedler’s 2018 challenger raised over the entire 2017-18 cycle.

This district is the most sensitive to even a small additional swing in Democratic support – or a decline in support for President Trump – so it is currently rated as Toss Up. However, our model puts it a half a point away from the Lean Republican column.

HD92 open (Lean Republican): Had Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) run for re-election, our model would have rated this seat as a Toss Up on the edge of Lean Democratic. Stickland has under-performed other Republicans in the district in each of his contested elections, most recently faring 3 points worse in 2018. He won re-election by 2.4 points as his fellow Republicans were winning the district by more than 8 points.

Instead, Bedford business owner Jeff Cason, making his second run for the seat, is the Republican nominee following his outright win (54%) in a three-way primary. He faces Fort Worth attorney Jeff Whitfield, who defeated 2018 nominee Steve Riddell, 56%-44%, in the Democratic primary. Cason, who unsuccessfully challenged former Rep. Todd Smith (R-Euless) in the 2010 primary, had Stickland’s endorsement from the outset. Cason has narrowly out-raised Whitfield, $362K to $330K, for the election cycle, but Whitfield has the bigger war chest as of June 30 ($188K to $51K). The seat is a priority for both parties, and we expect it may be among the state’s most expensive races before it is over.

HD92 has seen the largest shift toward the Democrats this decade within the county. The number of Republicans casting a straight-ticket ballot decreased 8% since 2012 while the number of Democratic straight-party voters has increased by 29%. Still, Stickland and all other Republicans in the district enjoyed a better than 5K-vote advantage in straight-party voting, and we expect they would continue to hold an advantage this year if straight-party voting had continued.

HD92 was just a half a point redder than the state as a whole in 2018. The Republican lean has declined steadily since 2010, when it was 5.3 points redder than the state. That year, the average Democrat received 31% of the vote in HD92. In 2018, the average Democrat got 46%, measured head-to-head against the Republican. Part of this change is the shift in straight-party voting, but part of it is also a swing in the full-ballot partisan lean. In 2016, Stickland won 57% of the full-ballot vote. Two years later, he won 39%. Put another way, Stickland received roughly 4,500 more votes among voters going race-by-race down the ballot in 2016, and then lost by nearly 4,000 votes among the same group two years later.

Whether Stickland’s support – and donor network – helps or hurts Cason remains to be seen, but all of that could easily take a back seat to President Trump’s performance. He won this district by 14 points in 2016. If his performance flags significantly, the seat would likely flip.

HD93 (Lean Republican): Following a similar but subtler shift in partisan identity as HD92, the flying bat-shaped district held by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) since it was drawn is now only slightly redder than the state as a whole. The district had the fifth-biggest shift in straight-party voting toward the Democrats since 2012, but it began the decade with the county’s seventh biggest Republican straight-party advantage.

Krause faces Arlington sociologist Lydia Bean, the daughter of two-time Democratic nominee Nancy Bean. Krause defeated the elder Bean, 54%-46%, in 2018 after winning more decidedly, 61%-39%, two years earlier. Nancy Bean raised just $62K for her two races against Krause combined. Lydia Bean has already raised $209K through June 30, roughly two thirds of the incumbent’s $336K contribution total. Krause holds a substantial lead in cash on hand, $590K to $107K.

HD93 is one of three Tarrant Co. districts that saw an increase in Republican straight-party voters since 2012 (The other two are HD98 and HD99, both rated as Safe Republican).

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Republican straight-party voting ended 6% higher in 2018 than in 2012, but the growth was outpaced by the Democrats, who increased their straight-party vote total by nearly 40%.

The full-ballot vote has also shifted toward the Democrats. In 2016, Krause took 62% of the vote from voters going down the ballot race-by-race. In 2018, his share fell to 48%. Most of this shift was attributable to a loss in full-ballot voters. The elder Bean’s full-ballot vote total rose 17% while Krause’s fell 35%. Cruz took an even smaller share of the full-ballot vote in HD93, getting just 41% head-to-head against O’Rourke.

Like HD92, HD93 may well come down to the president’s performance. Krause has historically not separated himself from the Republican pack and has under-performed them by around a half a point when challenged. This race likely won’t draw as much attention as neighboring HD92, and it may well be under the radar for a lot of election watchers. Nonetheless, we rate it Lean Republican and today project it to remain in Republican hands, barely.

The Longer Shots

HD97 (Lean Republican): This southwestern Tarrant Co. district has only once been more than 3 points redder than the state as a whole since 2004, and that was in 2012, when Mitt Romney carried the district by almost 20 points over President Obama. Trump won by half as much in 2016 (+9.7%), and Cruz squeaked out a 2-point win over O’Rourke in 2018.

Goldman defeated his 2016 challenger, 57%-39%. His margin of victory shrunk to 53%-45% in 2018. His challengers combined raised a total of $83K over their respective election cycles. His current challenger, Fort Worth attorney Elizabeth Beck, has already raised nearly four times that amount. Goldman has raised $595K over the cycle through June 30, the most among any Tarrant Co. Republican House candidate and second only to Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) among Republican House incumbents on the general election ballot. Goldman has a commanding $867K to $163K advantage in cash on hand.

The district has experienced the fourth-largest straight-party voting shift toward the Democrats in the county. Yet, Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) still enjoyed a better than 6K-vote advantage among straight-party voters. His share among full-ballot voters has fallen to 48% in 2018 from 60% in 2016. If he holds anywhere near that 48% share among the more independent voters, then the number of voters casting an essentially straight-party ballot would need to increase by roughly 5K relative to the Republicans. This outcome would likely require a significant deterioration of President Trump’s standing in the district.

This district is in the middle of the pack of Lean Republican districts. Our model projects there are 12 Republican-held House districts that are likelier to flip than this one, including the districts discussed above.

HD94 (Lean Republican): The district’s partisan lean follows a similar narrative as some of the districts above. It’s still redder than the state as a whole but nonetheless edging closer to that statewide average. In 2010, the last year of data before the district was drawn, the average Democrat got 33% of the vote in these precincts. In 2018, the average Democrat was at 45% support.

Much of this is the result of the second-largest shift in straight-party voting toward the Democrats – exactly 5,000 votes – in the county since 2012. Unlike the other Republican-held districts in the county, this one’s shift was more the result of Republican drop-off than Democratic gain. Since 2012, the number of Republican straight-party votes fell by nearly 3K, while the number of voters casting a straight Democratic ballot increased by just over 2K.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) won in 2014 despite under-performing the rest of the Republican ticket by more than 5 points. Following this performance, he was inexplicably unopposed in 2016, and he under-performed the ticket by only half a point in 2018 when he prevailed, 53%-44%.

His opponent in 2018 raised just over $5K for the election cycle. His opponent this year, Arlington minister Alisa Simmons, has raised just $67K. Nonetheless, her fundraising is competitive against the incumbent because he has raised just $87K so far this cycle. His cash-on-hand advantage is just $71K to $38K as of June 30.

Trump won the district by more than 13 points in 2016, and Cruz won it by more than 3 points in 2018. It would take a significant erosion of support for Trump – possible given the drop in straight-party Republican support – and further under-performance by Tinderholt to flip this district. It’s an unlikely outcome, but not unlikely enough to rate this seat beyond Lean Republican.

Out of Reach

HD91 (Safe Republican): We mention this seat because it was in the Likely Republican category until our last model run. Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) faces North Richland Hills IT service company owner Jeromey Sims. The challenger has to this point been competitive in fundraising as Klick has out-raised him just $101K to $88K for the election cycle, but Klick holds a $206K to $20K advantage in cash on hand. That advantage kicked the race into the Safe Republican column.

The district was still more than 9 points redder than the state as a whole in 2018. It has hovered between 9.2 and 11.3 points redder than the state since 2008. There are 33 other Republican-held seats likelier to flip than this one, according to our projections.

The real story here may not be the race for the House seat but the margin. This is the kind of district that Republicans cannot just hold onto from a House majority standpoint. They have to maintain the size of their advantage in districts like HD91 to counter the rising Democratic advantage in urban and blue-leaning suburban districts to maintain their statewide winning streak dating back to 1994. Democrats are probably not winning HD91 soon, but carving a few more points out of it and districts like it could make a difference for a different prize.

HD90 (Safe Democratic): Rep. Ramon Romero (D-Fort Worth) holds the 16th safest Democratic seat in the House in our model.

HD95 (Safe Democratic): Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) is unopposed. If the margin in HD91 matters to Republicans, the margin here matters to Democrats. Nearly 5K fewer Democratic straight-party votes were cast in this district in 2018 than in 2012, when Obama was last on the ballot. Democrats running statewide would like to get those voters back to the polls.

HD98 (Safe Republican): Despite a significant rise in Democratic straight-party voting, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione’s (R-Southlake) district was still 15 points redder than the state in 2018.

HD99 (Safe Republican): Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) is unopposed.

HD101 (Safe Democratic): Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) is unopposed.

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