The Corner

Elections

In Texas: Don’t Ask, Don’t Get

Representative Beto O’Rourke (D, Texas) debates Senator Ted Cruz (R, Texas) at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, September 21, 2018. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News/via Reuters )

Radio host Robert Pratt (of Pratt on Texas) is a former Republican-party official and a very insightful analyst of electoral politics as it actually practiced. He has an interesting take on the Cruz-O’Rourke race. (I do not have a link to share; wish I did.) Texas is a Republican-leaning state, but it is not as Republican as people think: In 2016, Trump didn’t run away with the state, but beat Herself with 52 percent of the vote. Other Republican presidential candidates have enjoyed about the same level of support. By contrast, Trump won 65 percent of the vote in Oklahoma and 69 percent in West Virginia.

Democrats are competitive in U.S. House races in much of Texas, and they are the dominant party in most of the urban areas, as they are nationally. As I have argued on more than one occasion, that’s going to be a problem for Republicans as the rural/urban mix of Texas continues to shift in the Democrats’ favor.

But at the state level, the Democrats are a mess. They haven’t won a statewide office since 1994, and their candidates for governor and other state offices routinely suffer 20-point wipeouts, which is what Lupe Valdez seems to be headed for, in spite of her pushing a whole lot of identity-politics buttons. It’s a vicious cycle for the Democrats: Candidates worth spit don’t want to run, because they don’t want those humiliating whippings on their CVs, so third-rate candidates get the nod, get walloped, etc. Pratt argues that the Democrats are oriented toward marshaling national resources in the pursuit of national power; sure, they’d love to win the lieutenant governorship in Texas, but that’s not anywhere near the top of the list.

Robert Francis O’Rourke is almost certainly going to lose to Senator Ted Cruz, and by a fair margin. The RealClearPolitics poll average has Senator Cruz up by 6.5 percent, and Cruz is not cruising, either: He’s been campaigning hard in the Panhandle and other Republican-leaning areas, where he wants to run up his margin of victory to offset the big numbers O’Rourke is sure to do with government employees and other Democrat-leaning constituencies in the cities. O’Rourke’s closer race is more in line with how the Democrats fare in Texas in presidential elections, Pratt argues, in part because he hasn’t relied on the dysfunctional state party, instead building his own organization and raising his own money. (And, boy, has he: The Cruz campaign has 18 paid staffers; the O’Rourke campaign has about 800.) The Cruz-O’Rourke race is a reminder to complacent and lazy Republicans leaders what it is like to have a real race in Texas in November.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for future Republican candidates. New York and New Jersey are Democratic strongholds, but, as with the case of Republican Texas, their partisan split is not as lopsided as people seem to think. (New Jersey has elected a Republican governor within recent memory; and, while it’s been a while since New Yorkers gave George Pataki the nod, Republicans have long held on to a defensible position in the state senate.) In Texas, Pratt says, “the Democrats have always been there, they didn’t go away,” and they were desperate for the opportunity to vote for a candidate who wasn’t embarrassing.

There are a lot of center-right Americans out there in the blue states. But Republicans aren’t going to get their votes without doing the work of fielding good candidates, building organizations, and all the rest of it. In 2018, the Democrats have put up a retired Dallas sheriff for governor of Texas, and in New York, Republicans are challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo with a county executive. Marc Molinaro seems like a fine guy, but he’s not going to get within a mile of Cuomo. And his defeat may discourage potentially more competitive Republican candidates from running in the future. But if an intellectual non-entity such as Beto O’Rourke can run a competitive race in Texas, then Republicans ought to be able to do the same in many places where they have effectively ceded the ground to the Democrats.

Don’t ask, don’t get.

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