Saturday, November 10, 2018

The midterms 2018: The state of Texas

TEXAS doesn’t swing like a pendulum do — not politically anyway. One of the few states Republicans can count on like the sunrise, the Lone Star State has a political climate as reliable, or predictable, as the weather.

But the midterms just ended in Texas reflected a crossfire hurricane like never before. The storm of Hurricane Beto and its aftermath will be giving the state’s political meteorologists many sleepless nights between now and 2020.

When the smoke cleared by early Wednesday, Nov. 7, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz had won re-election, defeating his game challenger, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, by 2.6 percentage points — maybe 220,000 votes statewide. That outcome was pretty much expected; what left a lot of people closing their jaws with both hands was the margin of victory.

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Winning Texas shoulda been a slam-dunk for Cruz, an incumbent with name recognition and, ergo, someone with the built-in advantages of the office he already holds (and the presumed advantages of being in the same party as President* Trump).

The fact that it wasn’t is more a reflection of how Texans feel about Cruz than how they feel about Trump (one of the reasons why this midterm election wasn’t necessarily a referendum on Trump). The outcome also looked like a vote for Republican representation in the Senate more than a vote for Cruz.

The incumbent is widely disliked as a personality, even within the Senate. O’Rourke exploited that fact throughout the year. O’Rourke conducted a brilliant campaign, visiting each of Texas’ 254 counties, galvanizing the grassroots as a candidate whose hands-on, deeply retail outreach energized Texas Democrats like no one before him.

O’Rourke brought a raw, unschooled, freshman energy to the midterm campaign. His answers to media and the public weren't fully scripted, his presentation on the stump hardly manicured. But O’Rourke made up for the relative absence of grooming with a surplus of passion and sincerity. Despite his relatively narrow loss, O’Rourke gave Cruz all he could handle, and injected himself into the 2020 conversation in ways no one expected. Maybe not even him.

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O’ROURKE’S ascension is one indicator of how Texas is changing, politically and demographically. The population is of course browner than it’s ever been, with Latino voters continuing the inroads they’ve been making for years. Spanish is spoken by about 30 percent of the state’s population, estimated at 28.7 million people. Which is no coincidence.

The Texas Tribune reported in June: “For many years, the prospect that Hispanics would become the state’s largest population group has been a question of 'when’  and not 'if.’

“With growth among the Hispanic population in Texas continuing to easily outpace growth among white Texans, it’s likely the state will reach that demographic milestone as soon as 2022,” The Tribune reported, citing figures from the state’s top demographer and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Not for nothing did O’Rourke (from El Paso) make good use of his very very fluent Spanish at campaign rallies all year.

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There's also a youthquake under way. As Texas develops a variety of new businesses and its own high-tech enclaves — Silicon Gulch? — younger people are moving in.

In a September study of young-voter registration data, TargetSmart, an organization that surveys voter trends, found that voter registrations in Texas increased by 1.2 percent — a significant number when extrapolated to the state’s overall population. That gets you more than 344,000 new young voters in the state, a lot of whom almost certainly pulled the Beto lever on Election Day.

And it’s also just about business. Texas is wooing some of the biggest names in business. Walmart and Microsoft just announced a joint engineering office set to open in ever-blue Austin sometime in 2019, Dallas News reported last week.

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“Jobs are at the core of it. There is certainly employment opportunity here,” Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter said in a pre-election interview with USNews & World Report. "If you are living in California and are offered a job in Texas, [even for] less money, you could probably see more money than if you were working in California.”

Whatever it is that’s sparking the transition, it’s not going away any time soon. Beto O’Rourke is very well poised to reap the benefits of this change in the state of Texas. He and the newly emboldened Texas Democrats are in a position to transform the state’s political reality, and sooner rather than later.

Cruz and the Republicans dodged a bullet this election. The future won’t be so charitable again.

Image credits: O'Rourke: via ABC News. Population graph: The Texas Tribune. TargetSmart logo: © 2018 TargetSmart.

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