Hoping for a blue result at the top and at least closer races below it, but we’ll see.
Eight years after voting for Gov. Greg Abbott, Angela Martinez found herself waiting in line Tuesday to snap a photo with Beto O’Rourke, his challenger in this year’s nail-biting gubernatorial contest.
Martinez, a 33-year-old marketer for a pediatric home health agency, has never identified as strictly liberal or conservative, she said, and sometimes feels like “a walking contradiction.” If there’s a spot for her on the traditional political spectrum, she hasn’t found it. When she voted for Abbott in 2014, Martinez identified with what she saw as the then-attorney general’s Christian family values.
But since then, Martinez has soured on Abbott. She feels Abbott didn’t do enough in the wake of the deadly winter freeze in February 2021 to prevent the state’s electrical grid from collapsing should a similarly catastrophic weather event hit Texas in the future. As someone who values “the sanctity of life,” Martinez is uneasy about the state’s blanket ban on abortions that took effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year.
“My mother had the freedom (to seek an abortion), my aunts had the freedom,” Martinez said while waiting to meet O’Rourke at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. “Why shouldn’t we?”
Voters in Tarrant County, the state’s last major urban county dominated by Republicans, just barely broke for Democrats at the top of the ticket in the last two elections — O’Rourke won there during his 2018 Senate bid and so did President Joe Biden two years ago — stoking Democrats’ hopes that the path to the governor’s mansion, and the end of their decadeslong exile from statewide office, goes through Tarrant. Boosting those hopes is infighting this year among Tarrant County Republicans — who insist the party is united.
The year that O’Rourke carried Tarrant during his near-miss bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Abbott won the county by more than 66,000 votes and nearly 11 percentage points — outperforming every other statewide Republican on the ticket.
Four years later, Abbott’s team is “confident” the governor will win Tarrant County once more, Abbott’s chief strategist Dave Carney told reporters last week while acknowledging the county is competitive. “It’s going to be a battle,” Carney said.
At his campaign stop at the UNT Health Science Center, O’Rourke expressed optimism that 125,000 people who have been added to the county’s voter rolls since he ran in 2018, combined with discontent over the power grid failure during last year’s winter storm, the state’s abortion ban and Abbott’s response to school shootings would help deliver him the county.
“Abbott has given us a huge, huge opening” in Tarrant County, O’Rourke said. “So many people are looking for the common ground and the common sense that’s been missing from our state government.”
But as Democrats express optimism because of O’Rourke and Biden’s victories, Republicans continue to dominate down-ballot races in Tarrant County — a sign of the GOP’s enduring dominance here.
“They have now a little bit of history that suggests that Democrats might be able to win in Tarrant County,” said James Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “On the other hand, there has not been a countywide Democrat elected for county office in Tarrant County in this century.”
Statewide Democratic candidates in 2018 and 2020 slightly outperformed their cumulative margins in Tarrant County. In 2018, the small number of local countywide candidates did a tad better than the statewide slate as a whole, scoring in the 47-48% range. In 2020, the same slight improvement was still there among a larger collection of local countywide candidates, but they finished in the 46-47% range for the most part.
Tarrant, as noted before, had been a reliable bellwether of the state as a whole through the 2016 election, but as with the other large urban counties, and several of the large suburban counties, it became more Democratic than the state. It’s just that Tarrant started in a redder place than the others, so they still lag behind by a bit. I suspect they will again be slightly bluer than the state as a whole, but if there’s a step back from 2018 or 2020, that will be reflected in Tarrant’s numbers as well. I believe the larger trends will continue, whether this year is in line with that or not. I hope that means a blue Tarrant sooner rather than later – as we know, there are a plethora of State House districts that were drawn to be modestly red, and CD24 looms as the best future pickup opportunity – but whether that’s this year or not I couldn’t say.