A Range of Emotions for Democrats in Texas

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A week after Election Day, Candace Valenzuela officially conceded to Beth Van Duyne. It was the last outstanding congressional race to be called in Texas, and a stinging blow for Texas Democrats who had hoped to flip the North Texas district that seemed within reach.

No Texas congressional races were flipped, even though ten were touted as competitive. The Texas State House also remains virtually unchanged. With several days to process what happened, some Democrats in Texas remain angry at all the mistakes that were made, while others are actually optimistic about the future.

By now the facts are well known. Donald Trump won the state of Texas by less than six points. Joe Biden improved upon Hillary Clinton’s performance in the most populous counties. Republicans, however, saw a surge in voters in the Rio Grande Valley and in many rural counties.

For Texas Democrats, the losing candidacies of many promising candidates are more devastating than the long shot bid of Biden winning the state. With Valenzuela’s concession, the DCCC did not win any of the eight red to blue districts they targeted. In Texas, Democrats flipped one state house seat, but lost another.

In the days after Election Day, the soul-searching started in earnest. And while there’s still numerous questions to answer, Texas Democrats are moving forward, even if some are still in a zombie-like trance.

One progressive operative who spoke on background was on the angry end of the spectrum. “I sound like a whiny Democrat, [because] I am,” said the operative in our conversation. The operative concedes the decision not to knock on doors was a huge mistake, reiterating what Gilberto Hinojosa said to Texas Signal earlier today.

The operative also faults entities like the Lone Star Project that were promising massive wins for Texas. And then there’s the Democratic Party itself. “All these institutional organizations [screwed] up.” The operative actually used a stronger word about the DCCC. Polling was also a major gripe for the progressive. “I don’t ever want to look at a poll again.”

“I thought Republican turnout would be lower,” said the operative. They also lamented that record turnout actually turned the state redder than 2018. On a national level, they conceded a donor would have been better off investing in Arizona and Georgia.

Rejecting the operative’s doom and gloom, is Mark Phariss, a 2018 state senate candidate, who had high hopes for Colin County this election cycle. “I’m not as despondent about what transpired in Collin County on [Election Day],” he said in our conversation. Though he is adamant he would have preferred any of the Democratic candidates to have won, he does actually see a promising trend.

Phariss points out that in 2004, George W. Bush won Collin County by 41 points. In 2020, Trump won Collin County by 4.6 points. “He under-performed in Collin County,” said Phariss.

Democrats had never seriously fielded candidates in Collin County until 2016. When Phariss challenged State Sen. Angela Paxton in 2018, he came within 2.4 points of winning.

Phariss recognizes it’s painful that Collin County Democrats didn’t win any of the three contested state house races, or the congressional race against Rep. Van Taylor. He also believes eliminating straight-ticket voting was partly responsible as there was significant under-voting from the top of the ticket. For example, President-elect Joe Biden received almost 48 percent of the vote in Collin County, while Senate challenger MJ Hegar and Congressional challenger Lulu Seiklay each received only 43 percent.

“I don’t view campaigns so much as individuals as much as a cause,” said Phariss. He points to the fact that Collin County is now a purple county, and incumbents started acting that way. State Rep. Jeff Leach left the House Freedom Caucus. He and State Rep. Matt Shaheen have also moved more towards the middle, when it comes to public education funding.

While the next round of state house races is murky with looming redistricting, it’s clear that the last election holds many lessons for Texas Democrats from for the good, the bad, to the ugly.

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