Democrats winning statewide in Texas seems to remain like the football that is continually pulled away from Charlie Brown just as he is about to kick it. While Vice President Biden improved upon Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in the state, he also unperformed many people’s expectations and fell short of Beto O’Rourke’s high water mark of 2018. President Trump meanwhile continued to bleed support in the suburbs of Houston, Austin, and the DFW, however made striking gains in all along the Rio Grande basin among Latino voters.
As can be seen above, eight counties, all heavily Latino, flipped from Clinton in 2016 to Trump in 2020. Even more counties that Biden won should still be cause for concern for how competitive they have become. Take Starr County in the Valley for instance. In 2012 President Obama won Starr County with 86% of the vote. Clinton won Starr County in 2016 with 79% of the vote. In 2020 Biden won Starr County win only 52% with President Trump not far behind at 47%.
As concerned as Texas Democrats should be about losing ground in what was once their most reliable strongholds outside of inner cities, the Texas Republicans should be equally concerned at the continued bleeding of support among the larger population centers and suburban counties. Collin County for example gave then Governor Bush 73% of the vote for president. In 2020 Trump carried Collin County with a mere 51%. Near by Denton County has experienced a similar journey, and the much larger Tarrant County, home of Fort Worth has fully flipped from 60% for Bush in 2000, to 49.2% for Biden in 2020.
What lessons can be learned from these drastic shifts in multiple directions across the state?
Perhaps one is that Latino voters are not married to the Democratic Party, and as the Democratic Party continues to shift leftward, (a claim I am sure left-wingers would dispute) the largely religious and rural Latino communities in South Texas may feel as represented in their historic party of choice. Many in the Valley are pro-life Catholics, who have routinely re-elected a pro-life Catholic Democrat to the Texas Senate. For those who consider themselves culturally more conservative, the Democratic Party may seem an increasingly woke home that is hostile to some of their core religious beliefs. Meanwhile the Republicans may equally have a tough pitch to make as well, considering social justice is important to many Catholics.
For Republicans, while many may be tempted to take a large sigh of relief for having successfully defended Texas’ status as “Red”, the fact that their historic strongholds have not stopped bleeding should be of concern. With the exception of El Paso, and the cities in the Valley, nearly all of the largest population centers in Texas have continued to shift away from Republicans. Letting their party be ran by the activist “grass roots” wing who tends to hold that anyone they disapprove of is automatically a RINO-Communist, regardless of how conservative that person may be, is not the best strategy in the long run for winning in a start that is becoming increasingly diverse .
Outside of the Presidential race, Texas remained relatively stable. In Congress not a single seat changed hands. Despite a more competitive races, Democrats failed to expand on their 2018 gains and Republicans failed to reclaim their lost ground. For U.S. Senate, John Cornyn was re-elected, but with a significantly reduced margin. In the Texas House of Representatives Republicans maintained their majority, which many believed was at risk, and the Texas Senate saw only one seat change hands (SD-19) where the Republican incumbent actually did much better than many believed he would.
Ultimately 2020 in Texas is a case of Democrats falling far short of expectations, and Republicans living on to defend the title of being a red state for another cycle. The focus in Texas politics will now shift to the Legislature where battles over the 2 year budget, redistricting, and likely pandemic emergency policies will become the new battlegrounds of 2021.