When Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), author of the bill that ends single-punch, straight-party voting in 2020, narrowly lost to Democratic challenger Michelle Beckley, we assumed straight-party voting was the reason. After all, in the largest counties, several Republican legislative incumbents were swamped by a rising tide of straight-party Democratic voters, so it made sense that this Denton Co. Republican met the same fate.
He didn’t. Straight-party voting factored into Simmons’s defeat, but it wasn’t the Democrats.
Compared to 2016, just 101 more straight-party Democratic votes were cast in HD65. The seat fell into range of flipping because 1,451 fewer voters cast straight-party Republican ballots than in 2016. Despite that decline, Simmons still held an advantage in straight-party voting. Rep.-elect Beckley (D-Carrollton) made up that 1,569-vote gap by taking 58% of the full-ballot vote.
The other three Denton Co. House districts experienced level straight-party Republican voting compared to 2016 and increased straight-party Democratic voting, but not enough to flip them. The closest was HD64, from which Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Sanger) was re-elected by more than 5K votes. In HD63, held by Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound), and HD106, won by Rep.-elect Jared Patterson (R-Frisco), the Republicans’ advantages in straight-party voting were 24K and 15K, respectively.
HD65 did experience a significant shift towards the Democrats relative to 2014. In fact, nearly three times as many straight-party Democratic votes were cast this year than four years ago. Even that was not enough to offset completely an 8K-vote increase in straight-party Republican voting, and Beckley needed full-ballot voters to make up that difference.
Because 2018 turnout more closely resembled a presidential election than a gubernatorial election, it may be more instructive to measure the changes in straight-party voting relative to 2012, the first election in this redistricting cycle.
Since 2012, Simmons’s straight-party vote advantage has fallen 79%, declining in each of the last three election cycles. His district started with the smallest such advantage of the Denton Co. districts, and it has only shrunk since the district was drawn. HD64, which includes all of the city of Denton and its pocket of blue precincts, has also experienced a declining Republican advantage, just not as fast. The Republican advantage in HD106 has remained roughly level. HD63, on the other hand, has grown decidedly redder.
Parker received 57% of the full-ballot vote. Simmons (42%), Stucky (47%) and Paterson (47%) did not win a majority of full-ballot voters. All four outperformed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who did not win a majority of the full-ballot vote in any of these districts. Even in bright red HD63, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke received 56% of the full-ballot vote measured head-to-head against Cruz. O’Rourke got 68% of the full-ballot vote in HD65, 65% in HD64 and 61% in HD106. Overall, the Republican legislators and open-seat candidate received nearly 2K more votes than Cruz, on average, in their respective districts.
What’s particularly interesting is how the full-ballot vote turned against Simmons and Stucky. Both of them received 61% support from voters who went through the entire ballot in 2016. This year, they received 42% and 47%, respectively. Though full-ballot voters comprised just 32% of the vote in HD65, that 19-point swing in two years was more than enough to life Beckley.
Given the drop in Republican straight-party voting in HD65, we would expect Simmons would have fared better among full-ballot voters. Either they abandoned him entirely, or those all those missing straight-party Republican voters skipped the election. Either way, it wasn’t straight-party Democratic voters that flipped HD65.
©2018 Texas Election Source LLC