I will freely admit that in many ways I’m still picking myself up off the mat. The results from Election Night in many ways continue to confound me. While Signal has begun to unpack what exactly happened in Texas this cycle, I was struck this morning by the fact that Texas Democrats have made so much progress in the last six years that in many ways we became victims of our own success.
That seems counterintuitive as we all regroup from the final results, but Texas Democrats can’t lose sight of something many thought was impossible just four years ago.
As Donald Trump solidified leads in Florida and Ohio on election night, Texas remained locked in the tightest race for President we’ve seen in generations. Joe Biden got more votes than any Democratic candidate in history, and led throughout the early hours of Tuesday night.
While the sources we’ve spoken to over the last few days have had a lot to tell us about what went wrong, there are also several things that Texas Democrats got right that should be a model for state parties here and across the nation as we prepare for the 2022 election cycle.
The Digital Age
Texas Democrats have been at the forefront of digital fundraising and mobilizing for years, with the state party first making significant investments in digital staff and programs in 2013 and steadily increasing their digital footprint until 2020, when they routinely led the nation in digital fundraising for state parties.
A decade ago, digital programs were considered icing on the cake, and when they were implemented their focus was almost entirely on expanding fundraising operations for campaigns and causes. As our understanding of the medium and its efficacy has evolved, so have the programs we run.
The end result is the development of infrastructure that can be deployed to rapidly raise funds for important campaigns or to organize communities for our legislative priorities.
That work paid off big time for Democratic candidates in Texas this cycle, with state house candidates raising mind boggling sums of money, largely from grassroots donors online.
Just as crucially, Texas Democrats have spent the last two years building out the infrastructure to execute the kinds of distributed organizing programs Beto O’Rourke put on the map in his 2018 Senate race.
Texas is a massive state of 254 counties, with several eastern cities and towns that are geographically closer to Chicago and Jacksonville, Florida than they are to El Paso. It’s almost impossible to effectively organize the state in the old school sense by opening offices across the state.
With distributed organizing, Texas Democrats are building out a system that empowers volunteers with the tools and training they need to execute programs locally while still having support and guidance from organizers and staff across the state.
Distributed organizing will be more important than ever moving forward, as Democratic campaigns begin to transition to a “deep canvassing” model that places the emphasis on a community building approach with voters. Prolonged contact and follow up from volunteers and organizers over the course of a cycle increases the likelihood of voters turnout out for your cause or candidate, and is the future of organizing.
Aside from the tremendous power the state party has built for their digital fundraising and organizing programs over the past few cycles, they also took a huge leap forward with their content game this cycle. The state party was pumping out a constant stream of compelling content that ranged from static graphics to intimate video content. They created a template other parties would be wise to borrow from.
Building the Bench
Dating back to 2013, the state party has made a consistent commitment to expanding and improving their candidate recruitment efforts. That work began to pay dividends in 2016, and has yielded tangible results in 2018 and 2020.
In 2018, down ballot Democrats swept offices across the state, putting a new generation of diverse talent in offices that ranged from small municipal courts to Lina Hidalgo winning the Harris County Judge race. They won two Congressional seats, sending Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher to Washington (they were both re-elected Tuesday.) That wave also elected nine new state representatives in 2018, and Democrats have flipped over a dozen seats in the Lege over the past few years.
While votes are still being counted in some races for 2020, Texas Democrats have flipped at least two key races: they reclaimed Senate District 19, and captured a seat in the 5th State Board of Education district.
Expanding Vote Share
Joe Biden got more votes than any Democrat in the history of the state of Texas, and his total of raw votes exceeded Donald Trump’s win number from 2016. While it wasn’t enough to give Texas Democrats the boost they needed, it is significant that Biden cut the margin almost in half from 2016, and netted roughly twice as many votes as John Kerry mustered in his 2004 loss to George W. Bush here in Texas.
In fact, the media narrative from election night thoroughly proves that Texas is now a permanent swing state. All night, as Florida and Ohio slipped from Biden’s grasp, he managed to maintain solid leads in the Lone Star State late into the evening. It was a stark development in a state Republicans had taken for granted for decades.
That all comes despite the disparity in resources between Florida and Texas. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in an effort to deliver Florida to Biden, and ultimately Biden lost Florida by a wider margin than he faced in Texas.
We’re still unpacking everything that happened and we will have more for you over the next few weeks. But for today, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come. Texas Democrats are just getting started.
Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.