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As goes Tarrant, 2020 edition

Hello, old friend.

Shortly after Democrat Beto O’Rourke launched his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, he made several visits to Tarrant County in North Texas to press the message that if he could flip this county, he could defeat Cruz.

The former U.S. representative from El Paso was largely unknown to Tarrant County voters at the beginning of the campaign. O’Rourke narrowly lost the statewide race, but he defeated Cruz by a slim margin in Tarrant County, an entrenched Republican stronghold that is home to Fort Worth and Arlington.

The eyes of Texas will again be on Tarrant County this year as a critical political battleground. With Fort Worth as its county seat, Tarrant County voters have not supported a Democratic candidate for president since native Texan Lyndon B. Johnson was on the ballot in 1964, and the county’s election results have closely mirrored statewide results in recent years.

“Tarrant County is the largest urban Republican County so Republicans want to defend it, and Democrats want to flip it,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, professor and Pauline Yelderman Endowed Chair of political science at the University of Houston. “It is a clear bellwether of where the state is politically.”

“Tarrant County is a relatively new battleground, so every candidate and both parties want to plant their flags there,” Rottinghaus said.

[…]

Population changes are among the factors that helped Democrats claim some victories in Tarrant County in 2018. Besides O’Rourke’s squeaker finish over Cruz, Beverly Powell defeated State Sen. Konni Burton, a conservative Republican, to reclaim the Senate District 10 seat for Democrats. The seat was formerly held by Democrat Wendy Davis, who gave it up to run for governor against Greg Abbott in 2014.

A seat on the Tarrant County Commissioners’ Court also flipped from red to blue due to demographic shifts that have occurred in Arlington, the connector suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth.  And voters in Arlington also delivered a blow to Republican Ron Wright, who was outpolled in the Tarrant County portion of U.S. House District 6 despite his notoriety as Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector and a former Arlington City Council member.  Wright was able to defeat his unknown Democratic opponent to win the vacant Congressional seat because of Republican support in two rural counties that are part of the gerrymandered district.

The results of the 2018 election have both parties preparing for a slugfest over Tarrant County this year.

“Tarrant is a tossup county, winnable by either party,” Rottinghaus said. “Tarrant County may lag behind other large, urban counties but, like other urban areas, it will slowly migrate to the Democrats.

“Given how close the county was in 2018, Democrats across the country see it as an opportunity to move Texas to the Democrats’ column in 2020,” he said.

We have discussed this before. You can see the pattern from the last four Presidential elections in that post. Beto carrying Tarrant kind of broke the pattern, in that generally the state has been just a pinch more Republican than this county. None of this is predictive for November of course, but I’d sure love to see a quality poll of Tarrant County, just to get a reading. We have had a poll of CD06, which includes part of Tarrant County as well as two other counties, but a straight-up survey of the county would be cool. Hopefully someone will make that happen.

In addition to CD06, which is much more of a stretch district for Dems, Tarrant includes a big piece of CD24, and five – count ’em, five – hotly contested State House races, two of which are open seats. None of these are districts that Beto carried, though he came close in all five, ranging from 47.9% to 49.5% of the vote. If I want to put an optimistic spin on things, Tarrant looks a little like Dallas County earlier in the decade, in that it was gerrymandered to absolutely maximize the number of Republican State House seats, which meant they were drawn with tight margins. That didn’t look so bad when Republicans were winning easy majorities in Tarrant, but could come back to bite them in a big way if they don’t. The analogy isn’t completely apt – there are some safe red districts in Tarrant, and Dallas was an already-blue county in 2012 that simply got blue enough to overwhelm the creaky electoral calculus performed on it. It remains to be seen that Tarrant can be reliably won at a county level by Dems in the first place. So hope and faith is fine, but there’s work to be done.

Anyway. I’m interested in seeing how Tarrant goes regardless of anything else. I feel like once it goes Democratic, assuming it does, it’s going to be so much harder for the Republicans to be dominant at the statewide level. At some point, the biggest counties are too much to overcome. We’ll see if this is the year for that.

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2 Comments

  1. blank says:

    The worst outcome for Republicans would be a Democratic sweep of the 5 seats in Tarrant County. The second worst outcome might be a Republican sweep of the 5 seats in Tarrant County. Tarrant County is not getting a new State House seat, so a Republican sweep would likely lead to the LRB drawing a Republican dummymander. If you force me to guess, Democrats will win 2 Tarrant County seats.

  2. asmith says:

    I agree with Blank but I’ll add Goldman’s seat as one to watch. Biden wins Tarrant, and I think Dems pick up the Zedler and Stickland open seats. The others are moving the right way but are just out of reach. Still think Dems made a mistake in not investing heavily in Hancock’s SD9 in 2018. I think Tarrant is close to where Dallas was in the early 2000s, marginally GOP but the Dems are increasing every cycle where the GOP has had their best days already.

    I think 2022 may be the year if Glen Whitley retires.