Ted Cruz defeated Beto O’Rourke to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate after a back-and-forth election night. This was one of the races that garnered national attention, and with Cruz pulling through one might think that the Texas elections were a win for Republicans. Far from it.
The margin of victory in Cruz’s 2012 senate race against Democrat Paul Sadler was 16 points. Just three separated him from Beto. In Harris County, in which the city of Houston resides, Cruz led Sadler by 15 points. In this year’s election, Beto held a nearly 17 point advantage over Cruz in the same county.
Harris County’s straight ballot totals for this year’s election leaned staggeringly to the left, with Democrats having 55% of the straight vote, and Republicans holding 44%. In comparison, the straight totals from 2012 were almost exactly even, with just 0.44% separating the two parties.
This trend to vote straight democrat did not affect major state-wide elections, such as Cruz-Beto or the gubernatorial race between Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Lupe Valdez, but it did greatly affect local elections. Elections for the Texas State Government went either way, with gerrymandering saving some incumbent Republicans, but not affecting others, such as hard-working Mike Schofield, who ran for State Representative for district 132. Schofield campaigned very well but could not overcome the straight-ballot voting democrats, losing by just 0.07%. That means he lost by a grand total of 49 votes.
Local judges fared even worse. Of the 70 judges up for election within the county, all 70 Republican nominees lost. Yes, every single one, including esteemed county judge Ed Emmett, who did a lot for the area after Hurricane Harvey.
These results can be blamed on a variety of factors. The first, most obvious reason being high democratic turnout across the nation. The results of this can clearly be seen in U.S. Congressional races, with Republican incumbent John Culberson losing his House re-election campaign to Democrat challenger Lizzie Fletcher. The Republicans lost the house, and red seats being flipped was a common theme around the country.
Another contributing factor to this local-election blue wave would be a lack of campaigning. Many of the Republican incumbents in these races have held their seats for a long time, and didn’t feel the need to campaign very hard, before falling to more progressive than ever democratic challengers.
Finally, there is what I consider to be the biggest reason local GOP candidates fared so poorly: straight party voting. When there is a button that allows you to simply vote for one party, many people are tempted to click on it. Unfortunately this leads to people focusing more on what party the candidates are from than who they actually are and how well they have done (or will do) their job. This is especially the case with judges. Ed Emmett, the aforementioned Harris County Judge, has proven time and again to be an effective, competent judge who transcends party politics to deliver what needs to be done. There is no reason for him to be unseated by a 27 year old first-time candidate outside of the fact that the majority of people who voted for her didn’t even know that they were. They simply clicked “vote straight democrat” and didn’t look at any of the individual races.
It’s not the end of the world for Republicans. It was expected that the House would flip, and Democrats didn’t fare as well nationally as expected, even losing three senate seats, with the possibility of losing two more. The fact that several incumbents lost in this election should motivate Republican candidates to campaign harder in the future, emulating the likes of Dan Crenshaw, of U.S. Congressional district 2. The option of straight party voting is set to be removed from the ballot for the next election although it should have been done far earlier. Hindsight is 20/20.