Politics in the U.S., these days, are measured with terms like liberal “blue states” and conservative “red states”—Texas, being one.
But the recent 2018 mid-term election showed signs of a Democratic rebirth in Texas, particularly in key races affecting Preston Hollow and the Park Cities.
Here, Democrat Colin Allred beat incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions for the 32nd Congressional District seat. In the campaign for Texas Senate District 16, Democrat Nathan Johnson defeated Republican Don Huffines.
And, in Texas House District 108, Republican Morgan Meyer was elected to a third term, but the vote tally was so tight it prompted a recount to prove he beat Democrat challenger Joanna Cattanach.
These races suggest Democrats can regain power in Texas, but how much and how soon remain unknown, said Cal Jillson, SMU political science professor.
“There is a purple Texas on the horizon,” Jillson said. “That is going to happen over the next decade or two.
“But it could go quicker.”
Jillson said this depends on whether Democrats could field quality candidates with broad appeal in conservative-leaning areas like North Texas.
For example, he said Johnson, a Dallas lawyer, became a formidable candidate by projecting the image of a problem solver.
“It’s still a conservative district, but all things being equal, the voter there doesn’t like being embarrassed.” -Cal Jillson
“He has a steady, analytic approach to things, and he’s really one to watch,” Jillson said. “The same thing is true with Allred.”
The shift also is a matter of demographics, Jillson explained. Hispanics, who tend to vote for Democrats, are growing in Texas, including North Texas.
But, he added, the region is also seeing corporate relocations that bring business executives and workers, many from “blue states,” who “don’t quite get traditional Republican ideas in Texas.”
The swing was first noticed in 2016 when voters in the 32nd narrowly favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for president.
Two years later, Democrats heavily promoted Allred, a civil rights lawyer, and former NFL linebacker, against Sessions, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.
Democrat excitement also swelled in Texas with the failed yet high-profile candidacy of Beto O’Rourke against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Jillson said.
“I figured Pete Sessions would squeak out a win,” Jillson said. But voters in Preston Hollow, the Park Cities, and “across those northern suburbs of Dallas went more Democrat than I expected.
“Pete chairs the Rules Committee, and sometimes people in leadership tend to concentrate on their Washington activities. Then you get a good candidate against you, like Allred, and, in a year that is strong for Democrats, you find yourself in a dogfight you didn’t expect.”
The professor said President Trump also might have destabilized Republican support with his personal attacks on social media and well-publicized character issues. Park Cities and Preston Hollow, he added, took notice.
“Particularly white, college-educated women, who had watched Trump two years earlier, went from ‘I’m nervous,’ to ‘I’m nervous and disgusted,’” Jillson said. “That’s embarrassing.
“And some of their husbands didn’t vote Republican.
“It’s still a conservative district, but all things being equal, the voter there doesn’t like being embarrassed.”