Beto O’Rourke offers a blueprint for how Democrats can win in Texas.
In 2020, Joe Biden lost by less than Hillary Clinton did in 2016; eleven of the twelve State House seats we won in 2018 were successfully defended, and overall Democratic voter turnout in Texas was the second-highest of any battleground state.
In other words, we made progress towards an eventual statewide Democratic victory.
As we learned from Georgia, success doesn’t happen in a single cycle. Democratic leaders there like Stacey Abrams took the long view, and over a ten-year period groups like Fair Fight and the New Georgia Project registered and persuaded enough non-voters to become active voters that Georgia was able to play a critical role in electing Biden and giving Democrats a majority in the Senate.
And yet, even with that inspiring example in mind, the progress we made in Texas in 2020 feels deeply unsatisfying.
We didn’t win a single statewide race. We didn’t improve our standing in the State House. And while Biden only lost by 6 points, that’s more than double the margin we lost by in 2018.
Not that Texas is an easy state to win. If it was, we’d be blue by now.
But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Because the work here didn’t just begin in the 2020 cycle. Though not as well-funded as the Georgia groups, there are longstanding efforts in Texas focused on the big goal of producing statewide Democratic majorities, efforts that go beyond short-term single-cycle thinking. The Texas Organizing Project, for example, has been working since 2009 to persuade non-voters to vote in the very communities that have been the targets of voter suppression and intimidation in our state.
And then there’s the fact that we got so close in 2018. While we didn’t win statewide that year, we won everywhere else on the ballot. We picked up twelve State House seats across Texas, won two tough Congressional races, and saw seventeen African American women elected to judicial positions in Harris County alone. We witnessed a dramatic increase in young voter participation (over 500% in early voting) and the largest turnout in a midterm since 1970.
Why didn’t that extraordinary Democratic performance in a midterm (when Republicans usually have a baked-in turnout advantage) lead to a victory in the 2020 presidential (when Democratic voter performance tends to spike)?
This is basically Beto’s version of the TDP autopsy. His prescription is three items: More money (spent on people, campaigns, and candidates), more face-to-face campaigning (which one hopes would be less of an obstacle post-COVID), and more courage of our convictions. It’s goals more than a how-to list, which is fine as long as there are enough people who do know what they’re doing out there with a plan to realize those goals. As I’ve said before, I fully expect campaigning to be more like it was in 2018 going forward, and that would be the case even if everyone wasn’t talking about it. The money part is a challenge – Beto is talking sums much larger than the impressively large stack of cash he raised in 2018, and while these past two cycles have clearly demonstrated there’s plenty of money to be had for Democratic campaigns in Texas, we’re not at that level. The “courage of our convictions” is in some ways a restatement of the “more campaigning in person” piece, as it’s more about campaigning everywhere and being proud of the message we’re delivering. Go read it and see what you think.