Texas Democrats roll out plan to win state House in November

Texas Democrats are unveiling a new strategy in the hope of taking control of the state House this November for the first time in nearly two decades. 

The Texas Democratic Party and Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee on Monday released a list of 22 state House seats they will target in November, with the ultimate goal of winning nine of the seats to regain control of the lower chamber.

The plan shows how Democrats in the state are hoping to build on the gains they made during the 2018 midterms.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) came within 3 percentage points of unseating Sen. Ted Cruz (R) and in the process won nine state districts that are currently represented in the state House by GOP lawmakers. In another 13 state House districts, O’Rourke came within single digits of Cruz.

Democrats also picked up 12 state House seats in 2018, bringing them within striking distance for this election cycle.

One of these districts is Texas’s 28th, where O’Rourke hauled in over 48 percent of the vote. The 28th is part of Fort Bend County, which is home to Houston suburbs such as Sugar Land and Missouri City. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won Fort Bend County in 2016 by 7 points. It was the first time that a Democratic presidential candidate had carried the county since former President Lyndon B. Johnson did in 1964.

The 28th District has a special election for its House seat on Tuesday, the first opportunity for Democrats to see if their strategy is paying off. While the winner will only serve out the remainder of the state House’s current term and the seat will be up for grabs again in November, the race has garnered national attention. Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg recently canvassed for Democrat Eliz Markowitz, who is running against Republican Gary Gates, earlier in the month.

“We’re looking forward to the results on Tuesday, great momentum point for us, but the work has already begun for November,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

One thing that has benefited the Democrats’ effort is the influx of new registered voters in the state. Since 2012, over 3 million new voters have been registered, with the majority coming in the past couple of years. Specifically, since Cruz narrowly beat O’Rourke in 2018, nearly a million new voters have been registered.

The growth is particularly evident in suburban areas. For example, in Harris County — which encompasses most of the Houston metropolitan area — voter registration has boomed 14 percent since 2014. In 2016, Clinton won Harris County by 12 percent and O’Rourke won it by 17 in 2018.

All of this has led to a jump in financial support from national Democratic organizations, such as the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

“We’ve gone from a period in time where we couldn’t get a phone call back from the national party to now, being a period of time where [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – Texas] has the only regional field pod in the country,” Garcia said.

Abhi Rahman, the state party’s director of strategic communications, said that the funding that the state party has received this election cycle is “more than ever before.”

Regaining the House in November could also allow Texas Democrats to influence the redistricting in the state. After the 2020 census, state districts in Texas will be redrawn. When redistricting happened in the state at the beginning of the last decade, Republicans controlled both the state House and Senate. 

Garcia says that if Democrats took back the House, they would be able ensure district maps more accurately represent the demographics of the suburban areas that have changed significantly since the lines were last drawn.

“We need a different voice that understands Texas’ rising electorate,” Garcia said.

“We need to make sure that the legislature brings in a redistricting process that is reflective of what that community actually looks like now and that best respects Texas’ voters.”