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Tarrant Co., an epicenter of the Tea Party movement and a Republican stronghold for decades, narrowly preferred U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (D). O’Rourke became the first Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate to carry the county since 1988. In fact, he is the first Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate to receive at least 44% of the vote, measured head-to-head against the Republican, in the county in 30 years. He is only the second Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate to fare better in Tarrant Co. than statewide since at least 1978, the earliest year for which we have county-level returns.

Part of O’Rourke’s success is due to Tarrant Co. voters casting a record number of straight-party Democratic ballots, exceeding the previous high set in 2016. The number of straight-party Republican votes declined slightly from 2016.

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Since 2004, the number of straight-party Democratic votes has increased by 45% while the number of straight-party Republican votes has been largely flat. Of course, both parties’ voters shattered records for a gubernatorial election year. Compared to 2014, the number of straight-party Democratic votes more than doubled, while straight-party Republican voting increased 56%.

Republicans still held the advantage countywide and in every Republican-held state House district, and every House Republican was re-elected.

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However, in SD10, Democrats erased the Republican advantage entirely, and it was the only legislative or congressional seat anchored in the county to flip. Democratic challenger Beverly Powell had a 524-vote advantage in straight-party voting over Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), the smallest margin in any Senate district this year.* In 2014, Burton enjoyed a straight-party advantage of more than 13K votes, and the Republican advantage in those precincts in 2016 was just under 5K.

Democrats have made gains in straight-party voting in every state House district except one since 2012.

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HD95, a majority African-American district held by Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), experienced a decline of nearly 5K straight-party Democratic votes since 2012, the last year President Obama was on the ballot. This is consistent with other African-American majority House districts across the state.

Otherwise, the number of straight-party Democratic votes has increased in every other House district since 2012. Over the same period, the number of straight-party Republican votes has increased in just three districts: Rep. Matt Krause’s (R-Fort Worth) HD93, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione’s (R-Southlake) HD98 and Rep. Charlie Geren’s (R-Fort Worth) HD99.

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In SD10, the number of straight-party Democratic votes has risen by 9K since 2012, and the number of straight-party Republican votes has fallen by 4K.

Countywide, straight-party voters cast 68.5% of all ballots, the highest share of the vote in county history. The remaining 31.5% of voters broke more Democratic than Republican, which made a number of legislative races considerably closer than expected.

Six Republican legislative incumbents received less than 50% of the full-ballot vote, measured head-to-head against their Democratic challengers:

  • Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), 38.9%
  • Burton, 44.7%
  • Bill Zedler (R-Arlington), 46.8%
  • Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), 47.7%
  • Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth), 48.0%; and
  • Krause, 48.2%.

In HD92, Stickland’s challenger Steve Riddell received nearly 4K more votes than the incumbent among voters who did not vote straight party, clawing back nearly three quarters of Stickland’s straight-party advantage. Stickland received 59% of the full-ballot vote in 2016, while Goldman received 59%, Krause received 61% and Zedler received 57% of the full-ballot vote. Tinderholt did not have a Democratic opponent. Meanwhile, Capriglione (63%), Geren (60%) and Rep. Stephanie Klick (57%) won a majority of full-ballot votes.

They were the only three Republican legislative candidates whose districts are entirely in the county to outperform the average statewide Republican candidate, receiving 1.4 points, 1.5 points and 0.4 points, respectively, more than the average statewide Republican candidate in their districts. Stickland underperformed the average statewide Republican candidate by a full 3 points. Goldman, Krause, Tinderholt and Zedler underperformed the ticket by a half a point.

In SD10, Powell received nearly 9,500 more votes than Burton among full-ballot voters. Burton won a slim majority of full-ballot voters in 2014. Burton underperformed the Republican slate by 2.6 points. In 2014, she underperformed it by 1.6 points.

The 2018 partisan leans of HD92 (+0.6% Republican), HD93 (+0.7% Republican), HD94 (+1.3% Republican), HD96 (+1.2% Democratic) and HD97 (+1.1% Republican) were very close to the state as a whole. All are more competitive than they were when they were drawn. In 2012, those districts leaned 4.8, 3.9, 4.0, 1.5 and 3.2 percentage points more Republican than the state as a whole.

That doesn’t mean Tarrant Co. is poised to follow Dallas Co.’s lead and flip the legislative delegation to the Democrats. Three seats – HD91, HD98 and HD99 – remain out of reach (They lean 9.5, 14.9 and 9.2 percentage points more Republican than the state as a whole.) and the other five Republican-held House seats require further Democratic growth and/or Republican erosion to change hands, even assuming the statewide Democratic slate fares at least as well in 2020 as it did in 2018.

However, Tarrant Co. is much closer to being competitive than it has been in at least two decades.

* Based on our preliminary analysis of straight-party voting across the state.

©2018 Texas Election Source LLC