Number of counties where Beto O’Rourke received at least 25% fewer votes in his 2018 race against Ted Cruz than Paul Sadler received in his 2012 race against Cruz. Overall, O’Rourke improved on Sadler’s head-to-head vote percentage in 69 counties, but he lost ground in the other 185 counties.
O’Rourke, a three-term Democratic congressman from El Paso, made it a point to campaign in all 254 of the state’s counties. He reached that milestone during an early June rally in Cooke Co. after nearly 15 months of campaigning. In the end, O’Rourke was the most successful Democratic statewide nominee in a generation, but he lost to Cruz, 51%-48%. Cruz received 4.26M votes, and O’Rourke received 4.05M votes.
Six years earlier, Cruz won an open-seat race for a U.S. Senate seat over former state Rep. Paul Sadler (D-Henderson), 56%-41%. Cruz received 4.44M votes to Sadler’s 3.19M, giving Cruz a 58%-42% head-to-head victory.
O’Rourke won 32 counties. Sadler won 25. O’Rourke flipped Brewster, Fort Bend, Harris, Hays, Nueces, Tarrant and Williamson Cos. and otherwise won the same 25 counties as Sadler.
The map shows the difference in head-to-head vote between O’Rourke and Sadler. O’Rourke performed better than Sadler in counties shaded blue and worse than Sadler in counties shaded red.
O’Rourke received a higher head-to-head vote percentage than Sadler in 29 of the state’s 30 counties with the most registered voters (all but Jefferson Co.). In the 10 counties with the most registered voters, O’Rourke ran 9.79 percentage points better than Sadler, measured head-to-head against Cruz. O’Rourke received 59.74% of the vote head-to-head against Cruz, receiving 2.88M votes to Cruz’s 1.94M. Sadler received 49.95% of the vote, narrowly losing to Cruz in those counties by just over 4K votes out of nearly 4.3M cast. In those 10 counties, O’Rourke received 738K more votes than Sadler while Cruz received 205K fewer votes than in 2012. The 10 counties with the most registered voters supplied 71% of O’Rourke’s votes statewide and just 46% of Cruz’s.
In the next 20 counties, O’Rourke received 40.9% of the vote head-to-head against Cruz, besting Sadler’s 35.0%. In those counties, Sadler lost to Cruz by 461K. O’Rourke cut Cruz’s margin to 312K. Overall, in the 30 counties with the most registered voters, O’Rourke received 3.58M votes to Cruz’s 2.95M, giving O’Rourke a head-to-head margin of 55%-45%. That is almost a perfect flip of Cruz’s 54%-46% advantage over Sadler (3.15M votes to 2.68M votes) in those counties.
O’Rourke’s best performances, relative to Sadler, were in Collin (+13.1%), Brazos (+12.9%), Hays (+12.7%), Denton (+12.5%) and Travis (+12.4%) Cos.
Cruz was saved by the other 224 counties, where O’Rourke received just 26.3% of the head-to-head vote, 2.1 percentage points fewer than Sadler’s 28.4%. Between 2012 and 2018, Cruz gained just over 14K votes in those 224 counties, while O’Rourke received 47K fewer votes than Sadler. Cruz’s vote margin in those 224 counties increased to 842K from 780K.
The 204 counties with the fewest registered voters supplied 20% of Cruz’s votes and just 7% of O’Rourke’s.
In 185 counties, O’Rourke received a lower head-to-head share of the vote than Sadler’s 2012 performance despite campaigning at least once in every county. In 82 counties, O’Rourke ran at least 5 percentage points behind Sadler.
O’Rourke’s worst performances, relative to Sadler, were in Stonewall (-15.9%), Haskell (-15.5%), Morris (-14.6%), Loving (-14.5%) and Newton (-14.5%) Cos. In tiny Loving Co., 15 people voted for Sadler but only six opted for O’Rourke. In Haskell Co., O’Rourke received 302 votes, less than half of the 631 who had voted for Sadler.
O’Rourke did improve upon Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in 198 counties. Statewide, O’Rourke finished five percentage points higher than Clinton.
The O’Rourke campaign’s 254-county strategy was not without some successes in rural Texas. King Co. is one of the reddest places in the nation. Donald Trump received 97% of the vote head-to-head against Hillary Clinton there. Six years ago, four King Co. residents voted for Sadler. O’Rourke received six votes, a 50% increase. Whether those two votes were ultimately worth the trip is a question only O’Rourke can answer, but his overall performance in the state’s many smaller counties suggests his campaigning there had little positive impact on the race as a whole.
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