Diversity, new districts strengthen Democrats

G. Elliott Morris

Hillary Clinton, in Houston on Saturday for a fundraiser with Annie’s List and some 2,500 like-minded Texans, said that Texas was a bright spot in her 2016 campaign. Puzzlingly enough, Clinton said the deep-red state offered her hope for the Democrats’ ability to expand its coalition in the South. Granted, the state has voted for a Republican president in every election since 1976, but does the election of Donald Trump by the slimmest margin in the Lone Star State in recent memory paint the portrait of a softening GOP stronghold? What can we learn from the prospects of U.S Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and congressional members in the weakly held GOP districts?

It’s certainly possible that O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso who represents Texas’ 16th congressional district, could win next year’s election — but that’s not to say it is probable. The fact that O’Rourke is running a campaign with seemingly enthusiastic support from moderate and liberal Democrats generally united against incumbent Ted Cruz suggests that such a campaign might just be viable. But that evidence is just circumstantial. The real writing on the wall comes from the long-term growth of Democratic competitiveness in the state.

According to the recently released 2017 version of the Cook Partisan Voter Index — a numerical system of measuring the strength of each major political party in all of the United States’ 435 congressional districts — Texas holds 5 of the top 25 “trending Democratic” congressional districts in the country. California is the only state with more of these districts.

On top of good news from this update, Democratic Texans are also looking forward to seven new majority-minority districts as a result of a recent redistricting decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The same decision also ordered the state to redraw the bounds of TX-21, Rep. Will Hurd’s gerrymandered district that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, as well as TX-27 and TX-35. According to the margin of victory in Hurd’s district, his is the most competitive in the state, and the redrawing could certainly help Democrats win another seat in 2018.

On top of this all, the Latino population in the Lone Star State has grown dramatically since the state Legislature last drew new districts. Since 2000, the Democratic-leaning voting block has more than doubled its share of the voting-eligible population in the state from 13.2 million to 27.3 million in 2016. Capitalizing on demographic trends is just another trick blue Texans may have up their sleeve — a fact that is even further compounded by the increasingly young nature of the Latino voting block.

Finally, although it’s not clear whether Trump will be as unpopular in 2018 as he is now, there is a strong correlation between the popularity of a president and the midterm electoral performance of his party in Congress. Only time will tell us how that one plays out.

Overall, the 2018 congressional map in Texas is looking good for Democrats, and the 2020 map may be even better. Long-term electoral and demographic trends point to a Lone Start State with more blue on the map, even if the map won’t be completely blue in the next presidential election years. Current Democratic candidates, like O’Rourke, have a lot to look forward to in upcoming years. If the party’s leadership can hold on to those groups that help it succeed, and if current trends continue, I see no reason why the data doesn’t offer at least a glimmer of hope for Democrats in Texas.

Morris is a government, history and computer science junior from Port Aransas. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @gelliottmorris.