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Central Texas Democratic Party leaders reassess after hope for statewide 'blue wave' falls short

Posted at 7:50 PM, Nov 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-05 20:55:26-05

WACO, TX — With a potential Biden presidency in view, some members of the Democratic Party are looking for answers in Texas.

Large early voting strengthened Democrats' hopes of turning the state blue and gaining a majority in the state house for the first time in years.

"I think Democrats in Texas are disappointed, and I think many, if not most, felt they had a legitimate shot at taking a slim majority in the Texas House," said political science professor Patrick Flavin.

In Central Texas, the wins rained in for conservative candidates Tuesday night.

Charles "Doc" Anderson easily fended off challenger Katherine Turner-Pearson, winning 67% of the vote. in TX-House 56 race. Sen. Brian Birdwell defeated challenger Robert Vick, securing nearly 70% of the vote as well.

In the race for U.S. Representative District 17, Pete Sessions defeated challenger Rick Kennedy, winning 56% of the vote.

While Central Texas is widely known as a conservative stronghold, Mary Duty, the chair of the McLennan County Democratic Party, says there was some evidence that Democrats gained ground.

"Flores didn't give Kennedy the time of day, and you saw Sessions had to engage and debate with Kennedy," she said.

In Bell County where eyes were on the race for U.S. Representative District 3, Republican John Carter defeated Donna Imam, winning 53% of the vote.

Bell County Democratic Chair Chris Kelley Rosenberg says the results of Tuesday's election shows there's many positives to take away at a local level.

"We have folks who are in positions of leadership, on city councils, and we now have a seat on the Water Board," he said.

As for the party's failure to grab a majority in the Texas House, Rosenburg said it's been disappointing.

"We were really hoping to take the house and the stakes are really severe this time with redistricting in the spring," she said. "I hope that we'll have more of a seat at the table, but Bell County is home to two of the most egregious gerrymanders in the state of Texas. One is the three precincts that were taken out of TX-31 and put into TX-25, and the other is in House District 54, where we have part of Bell County and Lampasas County."

Asked about their failure to take the house, Rosenburg says she largely chalks it up to our political environment.

"I think that what we're experiencing in politics right now is very tribal, and confirmation bias is a big deal," she said.

Duty pointed to the South Texas communities along the border, where Hispanic vote for Trump was surprisingly high.

"Our Hispanic voters didn't show up like we thought they were," Duty said. "Maybe we're guilty of putting them in a box, and I think we have to be more authentic in how we approach that Hispanic vote."

On this point, there seems to be an agreement between members of both parties in McLennan County.

"We saw a great increase in Hispanic voting. You saw Hispanics for Trump was a huge organization, and just look how Hispanics in South Texas voted," said Dr. Brad Holland, Chair of the McLennan County Republican Party.

Duty said party leaders are already meeting in Austin to assess some of the problems encountered in the 2020 election. Meanwhile, what the results tell us about the future of Texas politics is that it appears the state will maintain a lean-Republican status for the next four years.

"Texas is certainly becoming more politically competitive," Professor Flavin said. "It used to be that a Republican statewide would win, routinely in the teens. Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2019 by nine percentage points, and looks like this spread is about six. So if you're a Democrat in Texas, you can be encouraged that the spread is getting smaller."

For lessons leaders of both parties can take from this years results, Flavin says the impact of outside money and political ads is revealing.

"That's the overall statewide message here," he said. "A lot of the local congressional ads and even state legislative ads made note that money was coming in from out-of-state, and saying that, that was going to change the political makeup of of Texas. It can only do so much by introducing you to a challenger, not by changing your vote."