Republicans retained total control of state government in last week’s election, which means leaders in the party will be able to re-draw state and Congressional district lines next year.
Here are five reasons they won:
1. Door-to-door canvassing
The foot soldiers, so to speak, were activists like Sue Reeves of Fairview, a precinct chair with the Collin County GOP.
“I’ve been doing a lot of block walking [on weekends and], well, weekdays,” she said at a campaign event for Sen. John Cornyn the week before the election. “It’s great. Very positive, very good.”
The fact that the GOP went door-to-door to talk to voters has been much remarked upon, while many – but not all – Democrats refrained from going door-to-door in response to the coronavirus.
Republicans said they were able to knock, take a few steps back, and engage people.
Mansfield Mayor David Cook, a Republican who won in state House District 96 in Tarrant County, said he and his wife, other family members, volunteers, and up to four paid staffers knocked on thousands of doors during the campaign.
They also ordered door hangers so they didn’t have to hand off any fliers.
“Everyone who’d open the door, everyone we were engaging, I think by that point [was] ready to have some civilization and civil discussions and were welcoming to us,” he said.
2. GOP fundraising and spending
Democrats raised significant sums from small dollar donors and their own partisan PACs, but Republican state House candidates in North Texas largely out-raised their opponents down the stretch.
“Our budget definitely more than tripled from initial planning,” Cook said.
Republican groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Associated Republicans of Texas, and Texans for Greg Abbott gave millions of dollars of in-kind donations in October.
“At least during my time in the Legislature I know that a lot of cash came in at the very end,” said Jason Villalba, a Republican former state House member from Dallas. “Most Republican consultants believe that it’s the last mile, [the] last two weeks really that makes the biggest difference.”
Villalba, who is currently president of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, said each mail card can cost $25,000. Putting out multiple mailers in October, as people start thinking about voting for local races, requires serious resources.
3. Targeted messaging
Polling and yes, block walking, are ways to learn what people care about.
“Listen to them,” Plano-based Rep. Jeff Leach (R) said to volunteers in early October. “Communicate with us as candidates what you’re hearing from the voters as to what’s on their mind and their heart.”
Tying their Democratic opponents to the slogan ‘defund the police’ might work in some districts, but education or property taxes works better in others.
“I don’t think we saw a single ‘defund the police’ mail card in our district, in this district in Dallas,” said Villalba. “Whereas in the suburbs and in the exurbs, I think you saw a significant push on that particular message, the defund message.”
Leach, an incumbent, won re-election. The vast majority of candidates who won were Republican and Democratic incumbents. People recognize their names and often personally know and like them.
Kimi King, professor of political science at the University of North Texas, told KERA’s Hady Mawajdeh that “if you look across what happened in Texas, what we have going on here is classic incumbency effect because of name recognition.”
5. There are still more Republican voters in Texas
Derek Ryan, a GOP consultant who worked on several campaigns this year, looked at who was voting early and saw a big advantage for his party. There were many more voters who had a history of voting in Republican primaries.
“When you start off with a plus-300,000 edge” before Election Day, “I think that’s extremely beneficial to candidates up and down the ballot,” Ryan said.
Ryan is curious to know who turned out on November 3rd; that’s data the Texas Secretary of State will release soon. But he reckons the many newly registered voters weren’t as Democrat-leaning as his party had feared.
“That group was a little bit closer to 50-50 than I think we thought it would be,” he said.
The more things change …
Many of the reasons for these GOP victories reinforce the old adage that “all politics is local.” And because politics in this region is competitive, we can expect to see even more intense campaigning from now on.
Furthermore, last week’s results reinforce the idea that parties need to organize on an ongoing basis.
Dallas County GOP Chair Rodney Anderson knows people will keep moving to the DFW region, and when they do, his party will introduce itself.
“That’s one of the things we will be doing all over Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant Counties,” he told KERA. “I guarantee you.”