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November 9, 2018
2018 Texas General Election Recap

by Jim Dow

8.3 million Texans voted in Tuesday night’s election, obliterating expectations, consultants’ political modeling, and historical turnout records for mid-term elections. For perspective: In 2014, 4.7 million votes were cast; in 2010, 5 million; in 2016 (a Presidential year!), 8.9 million Texans came to the polls. So these were uncharted waters.

2010 2014 2018 5 mil 4.7 mil 8.9 mil Texas midterm election turnout

The final margin in the Cruz/O’Rourke race was 51-48. 222,922 raw votes made up Cruz’s final margin of victory. All other Republican statewide held on, with Governor Abbott leading the field with 56% of the vote. For comparison, his vote share in 2014 against Wendy Davis was 59%. Attorney General Paxton made the low water mark for Republican statewides, garnering 50.6% of the vote.

The effect of this in down ballot races was remarkable. Republicans lost 2 seats in the 31 member Texas Senate. They lost 12 seats in the 150 member Texas House, narrowing the partisan divide there to 83/67. In Harris County, Republican County Judge Ed Emmett lost to his 27 year-old challenger, Lina Hidalgo, by 18,000 votes. In Fort Bend County, formerly a dead-red Republican suburban stronghold, the Commissioners Court flipped from a 4-1 Republican majority to a 4-1 Democratic majority. There were similar outcomes and scares in other suburban communities.

The effect of this looking forward is the most amazing of all. Pending selection of the Democratic Presidential nominee, Texas and its 36 electoral votes could be solidly in play in the 2020 Presidential election. You’ll recall that Hillary lost the state by 9 in 2016, a closer margin than Ohio’s.

An easily imaginable Trump/O’Rourke showdown in 2 years would push voter turnout into the stratosphere.

An easily imaginable Trump/O’Rourke showdown in 2 years would push voter turnout into the stratosphere. Political spending in Texas could actually make the 2018 election’s pale in comparison. And the impacts of this on down ballot races would be profound, substantially favoring urban and suburban Democrats.

To their credit, Republicans (most, at least) weren’t caught asleep at the switch this year. Looking ahead, this certainly won’t be the case. Their organization, fundraising and deep bench of potential candidates remains superior to that of the Democrats. And one election certainly doesn’t make for a realignment, but this made for one hell of a wake up call.

We will soon offer a deeper geographical dive on how this happened and what that might mean for our future. In the meantime, the smart part of the Texas political class will be re-ordering itself around some new realities. For the good of our state, let’s all hope our unique spirit of bipartisanship can survive during this transition.