Ordinarily, we preview an election with some analyses – hopefully insightful ones – around the storylines we’re following. This time, the storyline seems quite simple: It’s a bad year for Texas Democrats. They’ve been fighting gravity this entire cycle. The only reason it won’t be a worse year for Texas Democrats is redistricting largely replaced competitive seats with safe ones. There’s simply not that much that can be lost or won.
In some key respects, 2022 reminds us of 2010:
- The sitting Republican governor is more popular (or less unpopular) than that Democratic president
- The economy was the top issue for voters, and more than 40% of them think they are economically worse off than a year ago
- The border is the next top issue for voters
- Republicans lead the generic ballot
- Nearly all statewide elected officials were seeking re-election
- Aside from the gubernatorial nominee, the Democratic statewide candidates had very low name ID, insufficient resources and/or had lost previous statewide campaigns
- An unpopular Democratic president was in the White House
- Legislative Republican candidates have big campaign finance advantages, and a handful of big Republican donors dominated the 8-day-out reports; and
- Polls consistently showed the Republican governor holding an upper single-digit lead over the Democratic challenger.
The key difference between 2022 and 2010 is where the election falls in the redistricting cycle. The 2010 election was the last election in that cycle. Over the decade, districts that were drawn Republican-leaning had become more competitive, and a spike in Democratic enthusiasm in 2008 brought them to within a couple of mail pieces from a 75-75 tie in the House. Democrats were thus defending lots of those seats, and they lost pretty much all of them, giving Republicans their first-ever triple-digit membership.
The 2022 election is the first of this redistricting cycle. The new maps locked in Republican majorities in both chambers, and they likewise locked in Democratic blocs. In between are a handful of competitive seats, mostly in South Texas and the suburbs, and those are all that could be won or lost. It cannot be the wipeout that was 2010.
As far as statewide races go, the Republican slate has swept 13 straight elections since the last Democrats were elected in 1994. Every state has elected a Democrat to statewide office since. Even though single-punch, straight-party voting is now a relic, straight-party voting remains extraordinarily high. The margins between the top-performing and lowest-performing candidates continue to narrow. We expect another sweep, and we expect the margins to be 9-12 points across the board, except AG, where a 5- to 7-point margin appears more likely.
The formula for Democratic success requires several disparate elements each to break the right way, as they nearly did in 2018 when then-U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) nearly upset U.S Sen. Ted Cruz (R):
- Higher turnout among younger voters, infrequent voters and newly registered voters
- Overall turnout more representative of a presidential election than a mid-term one
- A gender gap wide enough, especially in the suburbs, to claw into a huge Republican advantage among men
- Republican-leaning independents willing to split their ticket
- Greater enthusiasm among Democratic voters than Republican ones
- Sufficient support among and turnout from Hispanic/Latino voters
- Strong support and turnout from Black voters; and
- A gap in the rural red wall as Republican voters sense they have no real reason to vote (high likelihood of Republican success at the top coupled with non-competitive local races).
Most of that went O’Rourke’s way in 2018. The biggest exception was the rural red wall – it held. Cruz’s margin of victory came from counties with fewer than 20K voters.
O’Rourke faces a different environment this time. For starters, he’s challenging Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has consistently been more popular (or less unpopular) than Cruz. O’Rourke also has to carry the burden of his disastrous presidential campaign, which contributed to his higher negative numbers this time around. And then there’s that bulleted list – none of them are as favorable to him as in 2018.
- Early voting turnout is lower among younger voters, infrequent voters and newly registered voters.
- Overall turnout is more representative of a mid-term election than a presidential one.
- The gender gap isn’t as robust as it was four years ago, at least as far as polling goes.
- Republican-leaning independents don’t appear to be as willing to support O’Rourke as they were in 2018, according to the polls.
- Despite the end of Roe v. Wade and the fallout of January 6, Democratic enthusiasm isn’t greater than Republican enthusiasm – This is often the case in mid-term elections. The voters of the party out of the White House are typically more enthusiastic about voting against the president than the president’s party is enthusiastic about voting with him.
- Hispanic/Latino voters, especially along the border, have rapidly shifted toward Republicans, decreasing the Democratic advantage rather than increasing it.
- Black turnout appears to be lower than in 2018, at least in Black-majority precincts and zip codes in some of the bigger counties; and
- That rural red wall has only gotten higher. Abbott’s vote percentage will look like speed limit signs in 200-plus counties.
As the party’s standard-bearer, O’Rourke appears poised to lose to Abbott by around 9 points. For another statewide Democrat to win, they would need the support of roughly one out of every 12 Abbott voters. If we assume straight-party voting is effectively as prevalent as it was in 2018, that equates to about one out of every three people who voted for Abbott and at least one Democrat somewhere on the ballot. That is a tall order.
Looking at districted offices, we project Republicans will gain:
- One seat in the Senate (SD10 open) and narrowly miss gaining a second (SD27 open), giving them a 19-12 majority
- Four seats net in the House – picking up HD37 open, HD52 open, HD65 open, HD70 open and HD74 (Morales) while losing HD92 open – for an 88-62 majority; and
- One net seat in the U.S. House delegation – picking up CD15 open, retaining CD34 (Flores), taking new CD38 and losing new CD37 – for a 26-12 split.
CD28 (Cuellar) is also a potential pickup opportunity, but it requires the district’s electorate to shift quite a bit more, faster than CD15, which was ostensibly drawn as a pickup district. CD34 (Flores) is the only possible Democratic pickup.
In the Texas House, the only other potential Republican pickups are HD34 (Herrero) and, quite a bit longer shot, HD35 (Longoria) and HD41 (Guerra). The only other realistic possibility for a Democratic pickup is HD118 (Lujan). No other Texas Senate seats are realistically in play.
Most of the other storylines will require deeper dives into the data than what can be accomplished in the middle of a Tuesday night. Did Democratic gains in the suburban areas continue, slow or backtrack from 2018 and 2020? Did South Texas’s shift toward Republicans accelerate, stay the same or slow down a bit? Did turnout patterns ultimately look more like 2020 or 2018 (or 2014)? Did the rural red wall get higher (more net votes) or deeper (higher percentage) or both? Did expected lower turnout in blue counties result in lower net votes, lower percentages of the vote, or both? Did absentee ballot rejection rates more closely resemble 2020 or the 2022 primaries? Did Democrats retain the absentee ballot advantage they claimed in 2020, or did the historical partisan balance return?
Our live coverage will begin at 7 p.m. CST. At this point, we expect to sign off around midnight – a few hours earlier than we typically do – because of a relative lack of competitive races to watch. We’ll also be tweeting results and analysis @TXElects.
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