The year 1992 saw the emergence of a popular TV series featuring a purple dinosaur named “Barney,” created and produced right here in the great state of Texas. The producers said Barney “conveys educational messages through songs and small dance routines with a friendly, optimistic attitude.”
The show was hugely popular with the 1-8 year old demographic. It left the air in 2009 but there has been talk of a return.
Around that time – 1994 to be exact – Texas Democrats began their slow decline to dinosaur-like status. That was, after all, the last year Democrats won a statewide race in Texas.
Flash forward to 2018, and purple may be returning to vogue. The question: Is Beto Barney reincarnate? They share some attributes, like optimism. And can he drag Texas Democrats with him?
Whether Election Day 2018 in Texas was a Blue Puddle, a Purple Wave, or as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick put it, “a win for conservative principles in Texas” may be subject to interpretation.
It may also involve an aberration or several, including the $80,000,000 Democrats spent on an upstart political star nicknamed “Beto” and a get-out-the-vote campaign that boosted the whole Democrat ticket and skewed the result.
In fact, Texas saw record turnout of 8.2M voters, more than 50% of eligible voters, a mid-term election record in the state. (Sidebar: this is the last year for straight ticket voting in Texas, for which some credit the Democrats’ down-ballot success.)
It may include the fact that this was, arguably, a national election as well as a Texas one. Democrats across the country were committed to a blue wave; they didn’t get one, but they spent almost 50% more than Republicans did trying.
Or it could include the fact that Texas Republicans got too hung up on unpopular social issues like the “bathroom bill” that turned off suburban women and young voters; and the influence of transplants from the coast (most notably California),
A combination of all of these factors may have manifested at the ballot box last week.
Yes – there are a lot of wild cards in play.
Make no mistake: Democrats made strides in Texas last Tuesday, knocking off 2 incumbent Texas Senators; 2 U.S. Congressmen; gaining 12 Texas House seats; and narrowing margins in most statewide races (with widely popular Governor Greg Abbott a notable exception).
Democrats won the major metros of Austin and El Paso (no surprise) but also Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and, for the first time in many years, Fort Worth.
And they won GOP suburban strongholds of Williamson, Fort Bend and others.
Despite it all, Republicans still hold all statewide offices in Texas and strong majorities in the Texas House (83-67) and Senate (19-11; 1 “D”-leaning race pending). And – despite the hype – Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke still received fewer votes than any the top 8 statewide Republican candidates. Or, for the math-challenged, he was just 9th in total votes statewide.
But let’s face it: Rural Texas was the Republican savior; GOP candidates got about 75% of the votes on average in the 224 counties outside the 30 most populous.
Voting by Hispanics, a vitally important constituency given their fast growing population, broke anywhere from 70-30 to 60-40 in favor of Democrats depending on whether you believe exit polling or the Pew Research Center. (The margin was higher for Democrats among Latina women). Hispanic influence will grow: over the next 10 years, 2 million Latinos will turn 18 in Texas and about 95% of them will be eligible to vote, according to a “We Are Texas” study. Whichever party does the best job over the next two years connecting with Hispanic voters may tell the tale in 2020.
Texas top two courts – the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals – remain in Republican hands. But Democrats flipped four influential state appeals courts that serve Austin, Houston and Dallas. Democrats now hold majorities on seven of the state’s 14 appeals courts. Before Tuesday, they held the majority on just three.
All told, if 2018 election results didn’t get the attention of Texas Republicans, they should have.
Barney is happy, he’s optimistic, he’s seemingly friendly, and he’s lurking.