We conclude our analysis of potentially competitive Texas House districts with a discussion of South and West Texas. To skip to the punchline, we do not expect any of the seats discussed here to flip.

What’s more interesting here is the potential long-term shifts in partisan lean of a traditional Democratic stronghold. Throughout our series of analyses of potentially competitive House races, nearly every highlighted seat has shifted toward the Democrats – even if they remain friendly to Republicans – over the long term, accelerating in the short term. The opposite is largely true in South Texas.

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Since 2012, the collective straight-party voting shift toward the Republicans in these 13 House districts is nearly 25K votes. In six years, the number of South Texans voting a Republican straight-party vote increased by nearly 35K, far outpacing the Democrats’ 10K increase. The largest increases in Republican straight-party voters occurred in the two districts already held by Republicans: HD32, currently held by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), and HD43, currently held by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), who is running unopposed. Republican straight-party voting increased in all 13 South Texas districts, but Democratic straight-party voting increased in only seven.

Measured against the state as a whole, all 13 districts’ partisan leans have shifted toward the Republicans.

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Despite these shifts, all but 2 – the Republican-held districts – were still at least 7.4 points bluer than the state as a whole in 2018, and eight of them were at least 16 points bluer than the state. President Obama carried these districts, 63%-37% (measured head-to-head), over Mitt Romney in 2012. Donald Trump fared just 0.2 points better than Romney in 2016, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) increased that vote share by another 1.6 points in 2018.

Further erosion of Democratic margins here would hurt the larger aspirations of the party, which hasn’t won a statewide race since 1994 and whose presidential candidate has not claimed the state’s electoral votes since 1976.

None of this is particularly earth-shattering – it is not anywhere near the magnitude of say, Dallas Co. – but nonetheless has potential long-term implications. It will certainly be worth watching whether Trump can improve upon his own or Cruz’s showings this year. As we look into the next decade, will these shifts permit the drawing of at least one additional South Texas district that could be won by a Republican?

South Texas

HD31 (Lean Democratic): Traversing heavily Democratic and rapidly growing Republican counties from the Rio Grande to the southern border of Bexar Co., this Democrat-held district has shifted 17.4 points more Republican, relative to the state, since 2002. In that year, the 10 counties currently comprising HD31 were more than 25 points bluer than the state as a whole, and the average Democratic statewide candidate received two thirds of the vote, measured head-to-head against the Republican.

In 2012, the newly drawn district was still nearly 21 points bluer than the state as a whole with the average Democrat hovering around 63% of the vote. In 2016, the district jumped 4 points toward the center from the previous election, landing at 14 points bluer than the state as a whole. The average statewide Democratic share of the head-to-head vote was down to 57%. In 2018, the district jumped another 6 points red-ward, falling to just under 8 points bluer than the state as a whole. The average Democrat was down to 54% of the head-to-head vote.

Obama won the district by 24.6 points over Romney in 2012. Trump nearly halved that margin in 2016, losing to Hillary Clinton here by 13.2 points. Cruz (R) lost the district to former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) in 2018, but by just 9.6 points. Gov. Greg Abbott carried the district over former Dallas Co. Sheriff Lupe Valdez (D) by 4.4 points four years after losing it to then-Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) by 8.4 points.

Against this backdrop, Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) is seeking his 10th term. He was last contested in 2012, when he prevailed 66%-34%. He faces Poteet real estate broker and former Atascosa Co. Republican Chair Marian Knowlton, one of the six House candidates endorsed by Empower Texans so far this cycle. The incumbent has out-raised her, $144K to $27K, for the election cycle, and he ended June with $440K on hand.

Our model projects a 7- to 8-point Guillen victory, which would represent a significant erosion from his 2012 margin but not nearly enough to flip the seat.

HD41 (Likely Democratic) and HD38 (Likely Democratic) have experienced two of the three smallest shifts in partisan lean toward the Republicans of these South Texas districts. HD41, currently held by Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-Mission), actually saw the largest shift in straight-party voting toward the Democrats among these districts.

Bobby Guerra faces Mission physician John Guerra, who has raised less than $25K through June 30. The incumbent had a modest $48K to $11K advantage in cash on hand as of that date. The model projects a 22- to 24-point Democratic victory.

In HD38, Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) is unopposed, so I suppose we should re-rate the district as Safe Democratic. Mathematically, it’s almost there even if he were opposed.

Coastal Bend

HD32 (Lean Republican): This Republican-friendly Nueces Co. district has wobbled around the statewide partisan lean since at least 2002, never in that time drifting more than 1.7 points redder or bluer. The average statewide Democrat has received between 39% and 46% of the vote in every election cycle since 2002. The past four presidential election years have seen the average statewide Democrat get 41%, 46%, 42% and 43%, measured head-to-head against the Republican.

Three times since 2002, the district has lurched at least 1.6 points toward Republicans over a previous election cycle: 2006, 2010 and 2018. Only in 2008 did it move that much toward the Democrats.

Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) faces his first Democratic opponent since he ousted then-Rep. Juan Garcia III (D-Corpus Christi) in 2008. Eric Holquin, the 2018 Democratic nominee for CD27 (37%), has raised $94K so far this election cycle. Hunter has raised $221K and spent $820K through June 30, at which point he had a $2.2M advantage in cash on hand (a great benefit of being unopposed for more than a decade).

Trump carried the district by 2 points in 2016, and Cruz won it by 5 points in 2018. At this point, it does not appear that Holquin will be able to separate himself from the Democratic pack – he fared 0.1 points better than the average Democrat in his CD27 race – and faces a strong headwind against the incumbent unless Trump’s support collapses here.

Our model places this district at the very top (more Republican) of the Lean Republican column, and it projects an 11- to 13-point Hunter victory.

HD34 (Likely Democratic): According to our model, 10 Democrat-held seats are likelier to flip than this one, Nueces Co.’s other seat. It was 7.4 points bluer than the state as a whole in 2018. The average statewide Democrat received just under 54% here, the highest head-to-head percentage for a gubernatorial election year since 2006. Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown) greatly over-performed the average Democrat in 2018, taking more than 61% of the vote against his Republican challenger.

He faces Corpus Christi electrician James Hernandez, who has raised $43K so far this election cycle. Herrero ended June with a $253K to $30K advantage in cash on hand.

The model projects a 14-point Herrero win.

West Texas

HD74 open (Lean Democratic): In 2010, this sprawling district was more than 19 points bluer than the state as a whole. By 2018, it had given up 10 of those points. However, the average statewide Democrat in the district consistently received about 55% of the vote, measured head-to-head, against the Republican, over that stretch.

Clinton won the district by 17 points over Trump in 2016. Cruz narrowed that margin to 13 in 2018.

Straight-party voting has shifted a bit – 2K votes – toward the Republicans since 2012, driven almost entirely by a slight decline in Democratic straight-party voting. The estimated Democratic advantage was nearly 8K votes in 2016, up from just under 7K in 2012. The 2018 Democratic advantage was larger than the 2014 advantage. So, despite the shift, the district has remained fairly stable. That said, it is winnable by a Republican under the right circumstances. For 2020, that would require a strong Trump performance.

Eagle Pass attorney Eddie Morales Jr. (D) faces Fort Stockton council member Ruben Falcon (R) in a race that has, thus far, attracted little attention from campaign contributors. Morales has out-raised Falcon, $52K to $6K, for the cycle so far, and neither candidate had much on hand. Absent any large infusion of resources on one side or the other, it’s difficult to see either breaking away from their respective partisan packs and thus being dependent on the presidential race outcome.

Our model projects a 9- to 11-point Morales victory.

HD84 (Likely Republican): The exception to the trend discussed today, this Lubbock Co. district has edged its way toward being less hostile to Democrats. In 2018, the average statewide Democrat crested 40% of the vote, measured head-to-head against the Republican, for the first time since at least 2002. Rep. John Frullo (R-Lubbock) has slightly over-performed the typical Republican in his two contested races.

Trump won the district by 24 points in 2016. O’Rourke cleaved that margin down to 13 points in 2018, but Gov. Greg Abbott (R) won the district by 23 points.

Frullo faces Lubbock attorney John Gibson (D), who he has out-raised $90K to $5K through June 30. The incumbent has a nearly $330K advantage in cash on hand.

Our model projects a 15- to 18-point Frullo victory.

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