Last night, something happened that hasn’t in 25 years: the state with ‘heart of dixie’ stamped on the license plate elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. The question is whether Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama is an anomaly or a turning point. His opponent, Roy Moore, was a flawed and controversial candidate, but with a Democratic victory, and the weakness of President Donald Trump among some moderately conservative Republicans, it’s possible to envision Democrats making more gains, even in bright red Texas.
Texas Monthly Political Writer R.G. Ratcliffe says there are plenty of similarities between politics in Alabama and the Lone Star State. Roy Moore, he says, pushes the same political buttons as Texas’ controversial “bathroom bill,” which sought to force transgender people to use the bathroom associated with their birth gender.
“You had a candidate who was running on a very moral stand, and yet there was something very dreadfully wrong about him, particularly with the stalking of teenage women,” Ratcliffe says.
The bathroom bill’s contradictions were similar.
“You had the bathroom bill…which was going to limit transgender people from going to bathrooms in public schools, colleges and government buildings, to their own gender,” Ratcliffe says. “Yet at the same time, the changing atmosphere of America told us that it was going to make it hard for businesses to recruit employees, retain employees, get sports events to come here.”
Ratcliffe says that in both states, it was Republicans who ensured a progressive outcome: Democrats didn’t have the numbers in the legislature to kill the bathroom bill without business-friendly Republicans, and Alabama Democrats weren’t able to defeat Roy Moore without defections from members of his party.
Ratcliffe says that rather than leaving a damaged Republican Party to become Democrats, some formerly Republican voters may choose not to align themselves with a party at all.
In specific races, Ratcliffe says it’s too early to tell whether Texas Democrats like Beto O’Rourke, who’s running against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, will benefit from a perceived backlash against hard-right candidates like Moore.
“A Republican in Texas like Sen. Ted Cruz still starts with a six to nine point advantage in the voting,” Ratcliffe says. “But some of the polling is showing that moderates in Texas are getting really fed up with Trump, and there’s this disturbance, that at some point they could say ‘a pox on all their houses.'”
Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at the Baker Institute at Rice University says Jones’ victory in Alabama came as a result of strong turnout among urban voters. In Texas, Democrats have done well in urban counties, including Dallas, Bexar and Travis. Rio Grande counties, including Hidalgo and Cameron, have also been bright spots for Democrats.
Jones says to increase their success, Democrats need to focus on “purple” counties, with more suburban voters who could be swayed to support them.
“Doug Jones won the election not just by narrowly winning Jefferson and Montgomery counties,” Jones says. “He won the election by having a landslide in those two counties, which counterbalanced the Republican vote for Roy Moore in the more rural counties throughout the state.”
Jones says that while many rural counties in Texas remain solidly in the Republican camp, some, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, are becoming more friendly to Democrats, as their population becomes more Latino.
“If the Democratic Party is able to win a larger share of the Latino vote, and at the same time, Latinos turn out at a much higher rate, then some of those rural counties that are increasingly Latino could start turning blue,” Jones says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.