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The importance of Beto O’Rourke’s strong performance across Texas combined with big Democratic sweeps in Dallas and Harris counties can’t be understated. Democrats captured 12 State House seats, 2 State Senate seats and at least 2 Congressional seats. These hard-won victories validate the work of outstanding candidates, committed activists and strong Democratic legislative leaders.
But there was something occurring under the surface essential to important wins – fundamental political blocking and tackling that should not be overlooked. There were at least three distinct down-ballot efforts that are excellent examples of how Democrats prepared for success, adjusted to challenges and made smart decisions in real time that resulted in wins that may otherwise have been losses even in a good year.
Tarrant County SD10 & Commissioner Precinct 2
Beverly Powell, Senate District 10: While the Lone Star Project identified Texas State Senate District 10 as a key state legislative contest early on, some press and political observers dismissed the chances of Democrat Beverly Powellleading into election day. They bought the line from Republican operatives that somehow Powell’s race was a “failure to launch.” They were further dissuaded by the $1.5 million given to Republican Konni Burton by Empower Texans and other far-right Dan Patrick-allied organizations.
However, Beverly Powell stuck with a plan that was formulated well before Beto O’Rourke’s campaign took off and was not dependent upon a blue wave or coattails. Powell is a perfect fit for the district, with a strong background in public education, business and community work. Key allied groups with local Tarrant County ties including the Lone Star Project, Annie’s List and Labor joined with strong local Democratic leaders Congressman Marc Veasey and State Representative Chris Turner to execute a highly targeted and efficient voter identification and turnout program. Rather than ride a blue wave like that sweeping across Dallas County, Powell and her allies lifted and hauled to an important win that preserves Senate District 10 for Democrats and again reveals it as an effective coalition district.
Devan Allen, Commissioner Precinct 2: The minority population growth taking place in southeast Tarrant County is seldom commented upon by media, but the Lone Star Project and Democrats in Tarrant County noticed and saw the opportunity. Precinct 2 Commissioner Republican Andy Nguyen had never faced a real challenge. State Representative Chris Turner’s district 101 lies entirely within the Precinct, and the remainder of it overlaps with Senate District 10. Outstanding local community leader Devan Allen was already relatively well-known in the district and well-versed on county issues. The same coalition working on Senate District 10 incorporated Commissioner Precinct 2 into the effort. Allen herself ran an excellent, low-budget campaign and will now be the only woman on the Tarrant County Commissioner Court. The district was captured despite any county-wide wave.
Harris County Judge & Commissioner Precinct 2
Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Judge: The Democrat filing for Harris County Judge was seen largely as a long shot just months ago. While sights were set on significant wins in county offices in Harris, most thought beating the popular Republican incumbent County Judge Ed Emmett was hopeless. However, in the closing weeks of the campaign, it became apparent to those working within the Harris County Project – a coalition of Democrats that includes First Tuesday PAC, CWA PAC, TOP PAC and Lone Star Project – that strong Democratic momentum was building and there was an opportunity to capture the County Judge seat. Key adjustments were made in field and voter communication to more sharply focus in on Latino and African American households. Lina Hidalgo, while a first-time candidate, ran a smart, low budget campaign and demonstrated her ability to be an outstanding county judge. The Harris County Democratic Party led by Chair Lillie Schechter directed activists and invested key party resources. The adjustments paid off when Hidalgo surprised Emmett and won with a comfortable margin.
Adrian Garcia, County Commissioner Precinct 2: Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2 is a GOP-leaning precinct that most saw as a long-shot at best. However, Democrats were able to recruit former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia to file, who is an accomplished public servant and a strong campaigner. Many of the same late adjustments made for county judge race benefited Garcia. Meanwhile, Garcia himself did the heavy lifting to deliver enough persuasion votes to make a late charge and capture the precinct. These two wins shift control of Texas’ largest county from Republicans to Democrats. It would not have happened without smart and resourceful moves made by good candidates and local efforts on the ground.
State District Appeals Courts Benches
Perhaps the lowest profile but highest impact Democratic victories were the State Courts of Appeals benches claimed by Democrats in north Texas and in the Houston region. Texas appeals courts justices are elected to multiple benches divided into districts. The Fifth District Court of Appeals includes several counties in north Texas but is dominated by Dallas and Collin. The Houston First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals are in southeast Texas and are dominated by Harris and Fort Bend.
The Lone Star Project and other key allies closely watched these benches and realized that a strong straight-ticket Democratic effort in Dallas, Collin, Harris and Fort Bend counties could result in over a dozen GOP-held appeals court places being claimed. Smart operatives based in Harris and Dallas counties worked with allies to focus on straight-ticket messaging. The Democratic straight-ticket advantage in Dallas County was over 150,000, which offset the relatively small 39,000 deficit in Collin County. In Harris, Democrats cast over 100,000 more straight ticket ballots, and Democrats built a straight-ticket advantage in Fort Bend too.
The result: 8 new Democratic appeals court justices in north Texas and 10 new Democratic appeals courts justices in southeast Texas. A down-ballot coup for Democrats.