Texas is not turning purple

Published 10:25 am Thursday, November 8, 2018

The question is on more than a few minds now. Did Beto O’Rourke prove the once-unthinkable — that the near future of Texas is as a purple state?

Those who hold out hope that, in fact, O’Rourke showed it is possible to repaint this red state will point to several factors. The congressman went from little-known El Paso figure to a national sensation overnight and raised $70 million in the process. He forced Sen. Ted Cruz, a national figure on the right with a dedicated core of supporters, to run hard to win. And he appeared to be in a very competitive position in a series of polls over the course of the campaign.

Political prognosticators might also point to other factors. Texas is a rapidly changing state attracting a wide swath of new voters. And just as rapid growth helped fuel a Republican takeover of Texas, such growth can change the political trajectory of a state. Colorado and Virginia are examples of states that are competitive today in part because, over time, the influx of residents can flip voting patterns. In Texas, this appears to take on added significance because of the growing number of Hispanic residents. It is presumed that in the coming years, they will break in favor of Democrats.

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All of these things are true, but color us skeptical that they add up to a purple future for the state of Texas in the near term. Consider that Republicans who war with other Republicans tend to underperform. And Cruz spent the first few years of his term mixing up with members of his own party in Washington, then made a name for himself challenging his party on its principles as he ran for president. And, although anecdotal, we have met a lot of staunch Republicans who didn’t vote for Cruz because they just don’t like him.

All of that adds up to the fact that Cruz had work to do to win a second term. But there is more evidence to suggest this year’s results are peculiar to the circumstances. We’ll start with President Donald Trump’s leadership style. To the extent that this election cycle was a referendum on the president, the results broke against Republicans generally. That is especially true in our suburbs. One reason Pete Sessions won’t be returning to Congress is that he was a Republican running in the suburbs this year.

Despite all of this, however, Democrats still failed to win a statewide race. They weren’t able to defeat Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who became synonymous with divisive politics. The party of Beto also failed to unseat Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general who is under indictment. In the end, O’Rourke outperformed Lupe Valdez, who ran a lackluster campaign for governor, by just five points in a year that was supposed to be a wave election against the president’s party.

To us, what all of this shows is that there is a hunger among voters for candidates who offer a mix of optimism and who work against those who would divide us. Republicans are just as capable of offering that message. Indeed, it is the message that enabled George W. Bush to turn the state red in 1994. It’s the message Ronald Reagan used to endear himself to a generation on the right. And, we suspect, it is a message candidates will rediscover as they consider what it will take to remain competitive in the years ahead.

Dallas Morning News