Demographics And Charisma Weren’t Enough To Give Beto O’Rourke The Win, But Trends Favor Democrats

With a few wins and a number of close losses, Democrats “have a shot to keep the fire burning.”

By Rhonda FanningNovember 7, 2018 12:39 pm, ,

If you pull back a bit and cross your eyes a little, Texas looks a little more purple than before. But just as has been the case for more than 20 years, all statewide offices remain in the hands of Republicans. But as Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Texas delegation will be unmistakably younger, more diverse and more female than before.

And let’s look at that map again: those areas of blue represent the major metropolitan centers of Texas, including the fastest-growing regions of the state: El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston, along with their suburbs. And there’s a broad stripe of blue running along the southern border. To help explore the big picture after Tuesday’s voting, we have assembled a panel of specialists:

Valerie Martinez-Ebers is director of the Latina/o and Mexican-American studies department at the University of North Texas, and a university distinguished research professor in the political science department; Gromer Jeffers is a political writer for The Dallas Morning News; and Liz Marlantes is politics editor of The Christian Science Monitor.

After a hard-fought campaign against a stronger-than-usual Democratic challenger, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won re-election, defeating Beto O’Rourke by a few percentage points. Jeffers says the closeness of the race has a lot to do with the Democratic candidate.

“A well-funded, dynamic, charismatic candidate with a compelling message can make a competitive run for statewide office,” Jeffers says. “Now, he didn’t win, but he came close enough to make Republicans at the top of the ticket, and down the ballot, shake – and he had coattails as well.”

Martinez-Ebers says this election’s high turnout, and enthusiasm among young voters and minorities, was crucial to O’Rourke’s relative success.

“Beto won Tarrant County, where I live, which is one of the most conservative counties in the country,” Martinez-Ebers says. “I think that it does have to do with the changing demographics in Tarrant County and Texas-wide.”

She also points out that the inevitable demographic growth of the Hispanic population – in Texas and around the country – is the result of increasing birth rates, not immigration.

“Every 30 seconds, a U.S.-born Hispanic turns 18,” she says.

Marlantes agrees that O’Rourke did well partly because of his charisma, and his ability to turn his campaign into a series of viral moments. She says a number of candidates had viral successes that didn’t translate on Election Day.

“A lot of them didn’t win in the end,” she says.

Jeffers says that O’Rourke is well-positioned to take advantage of his showing in the Senate race, should he want to run for office again. He’s in a better spot than Wendy Davis, who famously ran for, and lost, her gubernatorial race in 2014. Davis was most closely associated with the issue of abortion rights, which didn’t translate into votes from more conservative, independent voters. In addition to lots of money and enthusiastic support from young people, O’Rourke benefited from the presence of a polarizing president, Donald Trump. Jeffers says Democrats have a shot to “keep the fire burning” in the run-up to the 2020 election, when more of the kinds of voters O’Rourke and other Democrats need to win are likely to cast ballots.

Martinez-Ebers, Jeffers and Marlantes agree that the midterms were a referendum on Trump. In Texas, that meant some Democrats were able to topple incumbents, but other Republicans maintained their seats by embracing the president.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.