Outside of Texas, Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were full of surprises, with Donald Trump running most of the table among the major toss-up states and crashing through large portions of Hillary Clinton’s blue firewall (e.g., Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). In Texas, however, the surprises were relatively few and far between.
Trump Wins Texas
Donald Trump handily won Texas, with 52.4 percent of the statewide vote to 43.3 percent for Hillary Clinton, with 98.5 percent of precincts reporting. The Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson came in third with 3.2 percent followed by the Green Party’s Jill Stein with 0.8 percent, and write-in candidate Evan McMullin with 0.2 percent.
Trump’s nine-point margin of victory was below the 16- and 12-point margins obtained by GOP candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain in 2012 and 2008, respectively, but at the same time signaled that Texas Democrats still have a long road to travel if they hope to turn Texas purple, let alone blue.
The Statewide GOP Win Streak Continues
Going into Nov. 8, Republicans had won 121 consecutive statewide races dating back to 1996, with the last statewide Democratic victory in the Lone Star State occurring in 1994. Last night, that streak extended to 129, with Republicans winning the presidential contest, the race for railroad commissioner, three posts on the Texas Supreme Court, and three places on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
A Democratic Sweep in Harris County
While Trump’s majority in the Electoral College and success statewide in Texas left many Texas Democrats in a somber mood, the party’s success in the state’s most populous county (and the third most populous in nation) provided Democratic partisans with some much needed cheer as they grasped the scale of Republican success statewide and nationwide. Starting at the top of the ticket, where Hillary Clinton won Harris County with 54.2 percent to Donald Trump’s 41.8 percent, Democrats swept every single countywide office: 24 judicial posts that were in play, along with the offices of district attorney, sheriff, county attorney and tax assessor-collector. The GOP’s best hope to avoid a sweep was in the race for tax assessor-collector, where Republican incumbent Mike Sullivan struggled throughout the night against the blue wave, only to finish slightly behind Democrat Ann Harris Bennett, 49.7 percent to 50.3 percent. In the county’s two marquee races (district attorney and sheriff), Republican incumbents Devon Anderson and Ron Hickman were defeated by their Democratic challengers, Kim Ogg and Ed Gonzalez, who garnered 54.2 to 45.8 percent and 52.8 to 47.2 percent, respectively.
Democrats could also be heartened by their success in neighboring Fort Bend County, where the party won the straight-ticket vote 51.1 percent to 47.4 percent, and Clinton defeated Trump 51.4 percent to 44.8 percent. Fort Bend County’s marquee countywide race was however won by its very popular Republican sheriff Troy Nehls, who bested Democratic challenger Michael Ellison 52.1 percent to 48.0 percent. Both counties have very diverse populations (arguably the most diverse in Texas) with a large share of immigrants, and it would appear that while Trump may have expanded the reach of the GOP tent among many Anglos in the Rust Belt states, in Texas he narrowed its reach among large segments of the Latino and Asian American communities.
Few Changes in the State Legislature
As the dust settled Wednesday morning, the partisan balance of power in the Texas Legislature remained effectively unchanged. The Senate continued with the same 20 Republicans to 11 Democrats balance of forces that it had over the past two years. In the 150 Texas House races, Democrats were successful in picking off the very lowest hanging Republican fruit, capturing two Republican-held seats in San Antonio, one in Houston and one in Dallas. But they were unsuccessful in garnering all of the lowest hanging fruit (i.e., one seat in Dallas and one in Kingsville), let alone reaching any of the next highest branches where around 10 Republicans were potentially vulnerable due to Trump’s presence at the top of ticket. In the Houston metropolitan area, Democrats picked up one seat, with Democrat Mary Ann Perez retaking HD-143 from Republican Gilbert Peña. They were, however, unable to defeat the next two potentially most vulnerable Republicans, with incumbents Wayne Faircloth in HD-23 and Sarah Davis in HD-134 easily defeating their Democratic rivals Lloyd Criss and Ben Rose by double-digit margins.
In Spite of Record Early Vote Numbers, Overall Turnout Was Average
With 98.5 percent of precincts reporting, a record 8.9 million Texans cast a ballot in the presidential contest, up from 8 million in 2012 and up from the prior record of 8.1 million in 2008. However, between 2008 and 2016 the voting age population in Texas grew by a little more than 1.5 million, and, as a result, the share of the voting age population that cast a ballot in 2016 (approximately 46 percent) was comparable to that in 2008 (46 percent) and only modestly greater than that in 2012 (44 percent). Among registered voters, 59 percent cast a ballot in 2016, which was nearly identical to both 2008 and 2012. When all the numbers are counted, Texas is expected to once again rank in the bottom five states in regard to its level of turnout among the voting age population. In the end, an overwhelming majority of Texans cast their ballots early this year — approximately 72 percent, up from 63 percent in 2012 and 67 percent in 2008.
Republicans Hold Onto the State’s One Competitive U.S. House Seat
Of Texas’ 36 U.S. House districts, only one was competitive this cycle, CD-23. CD-23 runs from San Antonio down to Eagle Pass on the U.S.-Mexico border and then to the edge of El Paso. In the other 35 safe Republican (24) and Democratic (11) districts, we have known the name of all of the victors since the spring when the party primaries were held. In CD-23, freshman Republican incumbent Will Hurd faced off against former Congressman Pete Gallego, who Hurd defeated in 2014 by a narrow margin of 2,400 votes. This time around, the election was also a nail-biter, with Hurd edging out Gallego in this rematch by 3,700 votes out of 227,000 votes cast.
The Libertarian Party Retains Ballot Access for 2018
Two minor parties were on the Texas ballot this year: the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. In order to retain their ballot status automatically, and avoid having to go through a difficult and costly petitioning process in 2018, at least one of each party’s respective statewide candidates needed to win at least 5 percent of the vote. Texas Libertarians owe a debt of gratitude to their railroad commissioner candidate, Mark Miller, who ran a very professional and effective campaign and in the end won 5.3 percent of the vote. The Green Party was less fortunate as no statewide candidate came even close to 5 percent, with the most successful Green Party candidate, Martina Salinas, winning 3.2 percent in the railroad commissioner race.
Mark P. Jones is the Baker Institute’s fellow in political science as well as the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University.