Dallas Co. was the epicenter of Democrats’ 2018 surge. They flipped five House seats, one Senate seat and one congressional seat. They swept every countywide office. Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) doubled up U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, beating him by 33 points.
Republicans ended up holding two state House seats, their fewest since 1970. Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) squeaked by Joanna Cattanach by 220 votes out of more than 78K cast. Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Garland) defeated Brandy Chambers by just over 1,100 votes. Each won their previous contested race by around 8K votes. The remaining Republican legislative candidates were overwhelmed by a combination in increased Democratic straight-party votes (+7K from 2016) and decreased Republican straight-party votes (-9K from 2016).
Compared to 2012, 37K more Democratic straight-party votes were cast in the county. Republicans cast 24K fewer straight-party votes, creating a net shift of 61K votes. The countywide numbers don’t reflect how this shift took place.
Democratic straight-party advantages in majority Black districts actually fell over the last six years. Since President Obama was last on the ballot, the Democratic straight-party advantage in the four majority Black districts fell to 96K from 109K. The Democratic straight-party advantage in the other two districts held by Democrats throughout the decade – HD103 and HD104 – increased to 31K from 21K, which almost offsets the decline in the majority Black districts.
Republicans had a straight-party advantage in each of the other eight districts in 2012 and won all of them. The total Republican advantage in those districts was nearly 37K votes. Democrats had the straight-party advantage in every one of those districts in 2018, adding to a total advantage of nearly 25K.
Shifts in straight-party advantage do not arise just from a greater increase in one party’s support compared to another. Across most of the county, Republican vote strength shrank as Democratic numbers grew. The number of Democratic straight-party votes increased in all but the four majority Black districts since 2012. At the same time, the number of Republican straight-party votes decreased in all but two districts.
Single-punch straight-party voting is gone from the ballot in 2020, but that alone is not likely to stem the tide rising against Republicans.
Measured head-to-head, the Republican presidential candidate’s vote share has declined steadily since 1984, when President Reagan received two thirds of the vote, head-to-head, over Walter Mondale. Until Barack Obama’s first campaign, Republican presidential candidates carried the county in each election since 1964, when President Johnson, a Texan, was atop the ballot. The last three Democratic candidates have won the county.
President Trump lost Dallas Co. to Hillary Clinton, 60%-34%, in 2016. His 36% head-to-head showing against Clinton represents a more than 30-point drop from Reagan in 1984. Much like the shift in straight-party voting, Clinton received 55K more votes than President Obama in 2012, while Trump received 33K fewer votes than Mitt Romney.
We split the electorate into two groups: people who cast straight-party ballots and people who go down the full ballot race-by-race. Traditionally, full-ballot voters have tended to be friendlier to Republicans. Between 2016 and 2018, Democrats increased their share of the full-ballot vote in each of the seven most competitive House districts in the county.
The three largest changes in full-ballot vote flipped those districts:
- John Turner (D-Dallas) took 61% of the full-ballot vote against Lisa Luby Ryan, who defeated the incumbent Republican in the primary. In 2016, that Republican, former Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas), held his Democratic opponent to 32% of the full-ballot vote.
- Rhetta Bowers (D-Rowlett) received 52% of the full-ballot vote against Jonathan Boos after receiving just 30% of the full-ballot vote against former Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) two years earlier; and
- Julie Johnson (D-Addison) received 60% of the full-ballot vote against former Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving), who overcame a straight-party voting deficit in 2016 by holding his Democratic opponent to 43% of the full-ballot vote.
Former Reps. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) and Linda Koop (R-Dallas) also overcame straight-party deficits to win in 2016, winning 62% and 64% of the full-ballot vote, respectively. Rep. Terry Meza (D-Irving) increased her full-ballot share to 48% in 2018 from 38% to oust Anderson, and Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Dallas) received 48% of the full-ballot vote to defeat Koop.
That leaves us HD108 and HD112, the two remaining Republican-held House districts in the county.
Meyer overcame an essentially tied straight-party vote – a 6-vote disadvantage – in 2018 when he eked out a 226-vote advantage among full-ballot voters. Cattanach, who is running again this year, nonetheless improved over the previous Democrat to run. She received 49.6% of the full-ballot vote, up from the 44% taken by the 2014 Democratic nominee.
Button overcame a 1,357-vote straight-party deficit by taking 58% of the full-ballot vote, but yet her performance declined. She took seven out of every 10 full-ballot votes two years earlier.
Democratic Pick-up Opportunities
Absent a significant shock to the political system, the trends we’ve been discussing will continue. There may not be much any individual Republican candidate can do to withstand them. Let’s start with the two Republican-held districts.
HD108 (Lean Democratic): The straight-party vote advantage shifted 6K votes between 2016 and 2018, adding to the nearly 6K-vote shift from 2012 to 2016. The district’s precincts were already growing friendlier to Democratic candidates during President Obama’s second term before HD108 voters responded to Trump’s presidency. Clinton beat Trump in the district by 6 points in 2016, and O’Rourke beat Cruz by 15 points two years later.
Meyer is serving his third term since succeeding former Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas). He was not challenged in 2016, when the district was just 0.3 percentage points bluer than the state as a whole. In 2018, it was 5 points bluer than the state, tying it with HD136 for the biggest jump toward the Democrats that cycle. He narrowly won re-election in 2018 by over-performing the rest of the Republicans on the ticket by 1.4 points.
He faces a rematch against Cattanach, who won a three-way primary outright in March. Meyer holds significant advantages in cash on hand ($518K to $122K) and total contributions ($724K to $358K), and we expect obtaining sufficient campaign resources will not be an issue for him. Cattanach has already raised as much as she did for the entire 2017-18 election cycle.
Our model credits Meyer with his full over-performance in 2016 and a sustained campaign finance advantage. Even with those adjustments, the model projects the challenger winning by 4 points head-to-head. Libertarian Ed Rankin is also in the race.
HD112 (Toss Up): This North Dallas Co. district has been bluer than the state as a whole since 2008. It hovered between 0.3 and 1.4 points bluer than the state until 2016, when it jumped 3.5 points more Democratic, relative to the state. It grew another 1.6 points in 2018 to 5.4 points bluer than the state as a whole. Only HD134 (8.7 points bluer) is friendlier to Democratic candidates among Republican-held House districts.
Clinton edged out Trump by just over a point here in 2016. Two years later, O’Rourke defeated Cruz by nearly 10 points, and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) prevailed over Lupe Valdez by just 3 points.
Button has been somewhat insulated because of her ability to over-perform other Republicans in the district. She fared 3.5 points better than the typical Republican among HD112 voters in 2016 and 2.7 points better in 2018. She was unopposed in 2012 and 2014, so we do not have performance figures for those years.
Button faces a rematch against Chambers. The incumbent has a nearly $600K advantage in cash on hand, a little bit above the $542K she had on had as the election cycle began. Chambers out-raised during the incumbent, $168K to $78K, during the first six months of 2020. She has already raised more for this race than during the entire 2017-18 cycle.
Our model gives Button a full 2 points over her fellow Republicans and credits her with an expected sustained advantage in campaign resources, but we project it will not be enough. The model projects the district to be 6 points bluer than the state, enough to give Chambers a 1- to 2-point victory. Libertarian Shane Newsom is also in the race.
Republican Pick-up Opportunities
HD113 (Lean Democratic): Republicans’ best shot at clawing back one of the districts they lost in 2018 is HD113. The district has been bluer than the state as a whole since 2008, and more than 4 points bluer than the state since 2010. In 2016, it was 6 points bluer, and it reached 7.3 points bluer than the state in 2018. The average Democratic candidate received nearly 54% of the vote head-to-head against the average Republican, up 5 points from 2016.
Former Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) over-performed other Republicans in the district, but she did not seek re-election in 2018. Republican nominee Jonathan Boos fared about as well as his fellow Republican candidates in the district. Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Rowlett), making her second bid for the seat, won by 6 points.
She faces a spirited challenge from a Garland pharmacist Will Douglas. The challenger entered July with a $266K to $68K advantage in cash on hand, and he out-raised the incumbent, $241K to $96K, during the first six months of the year. His hill is fairly steep absent any significant change in the district’s political trends.
Bowers’s straight-party vote advantage increased to more than $3K in 2018 from less than $1K in 2016, and her full-ballot vote percentage increased more than 20 points. She increased her vote total from 2016 by more than 3K votes, while Boos received 6K fewer votes – including 5K fewer from full-ballot voters – than Burkett in 2016.
Our model credits Douglas with a full point based on what we expect will be a sustained financial advantage, but we believe the political headwind is too great. The model projects Bowers winning by 8 points.
HD102 (Lean Democratic): Former Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) earned a rematch against Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Dallas), who ousted the incumbent, 53%-47%, in 2018.
Like the last three districts we’ve discussed, HD102 has been bluer than the state as a whole since 2008. It was 3 points bluer than the state in 2012 and 2014 before jumping to 6 points bluer in 2016. Two years later, it was 8.6 points bluer than the state as a whole, and the average Democratic candidate received 55% of the vote head-to-head against the Republican.
Koop won a slender majority of the full-ballot vote in her last race against Ramos, but the Democrat had a nearly 4K-vote advantage in straight-party voting. Koop also lost about 5K votes between 2016 and 2018 while Ramos gained nearly 4K votes over Koop’s 2016 challenger.Koop consistently over-performed other Republicans in the district, including a 2-point advantage in 2018. It wasn’t enough then, and we project it will not be enough now.
Our model projects the district within a half a point of earning a Likely Democratic rating.
Too Far Gone
From our model’s perspective, the remaining Dallas Co. districts are out of reach for Republicans.
HD114 (Likely Democratic): The district was 6 points bluer than the state as a whole in 2018, and Republicans were without the crossover appeal of former Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas), who was beaten in the primary. The result of that primary defeat was dramatic. Instead of over-performing the Republican ticket by more than 5 points, Lisa Luby Ryan underperformed it by more than 3 points. Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas) easily flipped the district, 56%-44%.
He faces a competitively funded challenger in Luisa Del Rosal, but she faces not only Turner but also the political headwinds from the top of the ballot. Trump lost the district by 9 points in 2016.
HD105 (Likely Democratic): Of the districts included in this analysis, this one had the largest straight-party Democratic advantage at nearly 5K votes. It was nearly 9 points bluer than the state in 2016 and more than 10 points bluer in 2018. Trump lost the district by nearly 9 points in 2016. Republican nominee Gerson Hernandez has raised just over $10K for the election cycle so far.
HD107 (Likely Democratic): Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) won re-election in 2018 by 14 points. Her 2020 opponent has raised just $11K so far to win back a district Trump lost by 9 points. The district was 10 points bluer than the state in 2018.
HD115 (Likely Democratic): Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Addison) won nearly 60% of the full-ballot vote head-to-head against former Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving). That was on top of a more than 4K-vote advantage in straight-party voting. The incumbent has a greater than $200K advantage in cash on hand in a district Trump lost by 8 points. The district was more than 8 points bluer than the state in 2018.