Let’s check some hot takes on what happened in the Senate race.
All in all, Beto improved upon Democratic gains in Texas’ 10 most populous counties, long central to their hopes of turning the state purple. But what about the suburban and more rural areas that make up the rest of the state?
The challenger managed to flip Nueces, Hays and Williamson counties, all which went for Trump in 2016. He even managed to reclaim Jefferson County, which was the only county Cruz lost in 2012 that Trump won in 2016.
Of the 30 most populous counties, Beto won or virtually tied in 14 of them. But Cruz was still able to stave off the challenger.
This comes from Cruz’s Republican base of support from smaller rural counties. Beto’s strategy of visiting all 254 Texas counties was not able to make up enough ground in these heavily red areas to overcome Cruz’s advantage.
Cruz was also able to reclaim some lost ground from 2016. He won back Kenedy County, which Trump lost by eight percentage point in 2016.
It may have been a tighter race than in years past, but Texas is still a Republican state regardless of the urban and suburban areas trending more Democratic.
Kinda lukewarm, actually. Mostly, that’s not nearly specific and detailed enough for my taste. Let’s see what the Observer has to say.
On average, outside the state’s 30 most populous counties, O’Rourke performed 2 percentage points better than Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis in 2014, according to an Observer analysis. While Davis picked up about 22 percent of the vote in those counties — home to 5.8 million Texans — O’Rourke got 24 percent. Hillary Clinton pulled 23 percent of the vote in those counties in 2016, the analysis shows.
In Nacogdoches County, where Davis got 24 percent in 2014 and Clinton garnered 30 percent, O’Rourke pulled 36 percent after visiting the town several times. In much smaller Bailey County, where a woman attending a Muleshoe town hall interrogated him about gun rights and rattlesnakes, O’Rourke nearly doubled Davis’ performance, pulling in 25 percent of the vote. In Abilene’s Taylor County, Beto won 26 percent of the vote compared to Davis’ 17 percent and Clinton’s 22 percent.
O’Rourke moved the needle from the last midterm by 4 percentage points in both Lampasas County, where he packed an event beyond capacity in August (and was heckled by a Trump supporter) and in Cooke County, where O’Rourke said he ate “the best fried pies of my life.” He also saw a 4-point increase in Kerr County in the western Hill Country.
But pockets of rural Texas — some in the Panhandle, West Texas and along the Gulf Coast — resisted Betomania and shifted further right on Election Day compared to 2016. For instance, Dallam County, at the Panhandle’s far northwestern corner, and nearby Castro and Cochran counties, favored Clinton over O’Rourke by a few points.
A bit better, but the problem with talking about percentages is that it gives no sense of the scope. A shift of one percentage point in Harris County this year equates to 12,000 votes, as there were 1.2 million votes cast. Most of those small rural counties that were Cruz’s strength don’t have 12,000 people in them, let alone votes. Kenedy County, cited in the Chron story, was carried by Cruz by the margin of 100 to 77. That’s one hundred votes for Cruz to seventy-seven votes for O’Rourke. I’m sure Ted Cruz is happy to say that he ruled Kenedy County, but I don’t think it was a key to his victory. In Dallam County, there were 1,114 total votes cast in the Senate race. In Castro County, 1,623 votes. There are literally hundreds of individual precincts in Harris County bigger than those. Yes, every little bit counts. I’m just saying these are very little bits, and as such their ability to tell us something about this election is limited.
What about those big counties? I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at this by comparing the 2012 Senate race, in which Ted Cruz beat Paul Sadler, to the 2018 race. It would usually be ridiculous to compare a Presidential year result with an off-year result like this, but as it happens these two years line up quite nicely, with 7,864,822 total votes cast in the former and 8,334,221 in the latter. Cruz defeated Sadler by the score of 4,440,137 to 3,194,927. As of right now, Cruz leads O’Rourke 4,244,204 to 4,024,777. How did the vote shift from one year to the next?
I put together a spreadsheet created from the county by county results for each race. I added columns to compare Cruz’s 2012 vote totals to his 2018 vote totals, and Sadler’s totals to Beto’s. I also added columns to compare the difference between Cruz and his opponent, and the change in those margins from 2012 to 2018. The idea here was to see where Beto gained on Cruz and by how much. A little sorting and summing, and I can present this to you:
Counties with 100K+ RVs: Beto +1,084,260
Counties with 50K to 100K RVs: Beto +13,921
Counties with 10K to 50K RVs: Cruz +58,177
Counties with less than 10K RVs: Cruz + 14,221
Overall, Cruz led Sadler by 1,245,210 votes. He is leading Beto by 219,427 votes, meaning that Beto closed the gap by 1,025,583 votes. Beto acheived all of that and more in the 26 counties that contain at least 100,000 registered voters, gaining 1,084,260 votes over Paul Sadler. He gained an additional 13,921 votes in the 19 counties with 50,000 to 100,000 RVs. Where Cruz gained ground over 2012 was in the 209 counties with 50,000 or fewer RVs, netting a total of 72,398 votes.
So yes, it is true that the smaller counties helped push Cruz forward, and that because there are so many of them, their cumulative effect adds up. But still, their total effect pales in comparison to the biggest counties, which by the way are also the places where the most population growth occurs. Would you rather improve your performance by ten percent in Dallam County or in Dallas County? It’s not even close. I would argue that you could in fact ignore nearly all of those small counties and work on adding to what Beto accomplished this year, and that would provide a clear path to victory. I mean, in 2020 when you could realistically think about 1.5 million votes being cast in Harris County, instead of the 1.2 million we had this year, you’d net another 40,000 votes at Beto’s level of performance. That’s a pretty big chunk of the gap that you have left to close.
Okay, fine, we know about the big urban counties. Democrats have done well in them for years, and while they did extra super well this year, there are still plenty of big suburban counties that make up the backbone of Republican support. Dems still have to overcome that. All right, then have a look a this:
County Ted 12 Sadler Ted 18 Beto ============================================= COLLIN 189,142 96,726 186,625 164,852 DENTON 154,208 77,314 158,509 134,295 FORT BEND 115,580 98,345 111,190 141,846 WILLIAMSON 92,034 60,279 99,696 105,469 HAYS 30,217 24,795 33,169 45,355 MONTGOMERY 135,276 32,608 137,231 51,124 BRAZORIA 69,497 33,744 65,470 45,068 BRAZOS 36,837 16,404 35,724 27,642 LUBBOCK 62,650 24,299 58,709 31,976 BELL 48,913 33,427 47,279 38,191 NUECES 48,008 43,526 45,875 47,265 MIDLAND 35,202 7,826 31,167 9,085 RANDALL 40,815 7,256 37,767 9,324 GALVESTON 66,912 39,443 66,436 43,858 MCLENNAN 47,075 25,102 45,836 28,426 ECTOR 23,629 7,770 20,958 9,209
What should jump out at you in this chart, which isn’t just suburban counties, is that Cruz’s numbers were at best flat from 2012, while Beto added huge sums to Sadler’s tally. That as much as anything should scare the pants off of Republicans. You can write off Harris and Dallas and Travis if you want, but when you’re also losing Fort Bend and Williamson and getting close to parity in Collin and Denton, that’s a big problem. Sure, Montgomery was still strong, but the advantage went from 103K to 86K. That’s not the direction you want to go. The biggest county that was strong for Republicans and in which Cruz increased his lead while both he and Beto both gained votes was Comal County, which is basically Montgomery County’s younger brother. The total vote grew by about 12K, with Cruz gaining a bit less than a thousand overall. The rate of change is still positive, but not by very much, and not by enough to offset those other losses. To summarize:
Ted 12 total = 1,195,995
Ted 18 total = 1,181,641
Sadler total = 628,864
Beto total = 932,985
In those 16 counties, none of which are the big urbans or the Rio Grande/South Texas area, Ted Cruz lost 14K votes while Beto picked up 304K. Maybe this year was an aberration, and Beto was a unicorn. These trends should still really worry you if you’re a Republican. Speaking as a Democrat, they sure make me optimistic.