The first contests in the 2018 midterm election cycle take place in Texas tonight, a state where Republicans have dominated in recent years. Thanks to the backlash the GOP is facing after President Trump’s disastrous first year in office, however, they face stiff headwinds this time around, even in traditionally red districts.
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Voting actually began about three weeks ago in the Lone State State, and early signs are very encouraging for Democrats so far. In fact, just based on turnout, Democrats have surpassed Republican totals and are running ahead of the 2016 results.
That is highly unusual because presidential elections usually bring out a lot more voters than the midterm elections. This time there is a lot of spirited campaigning, and a record number of candidates across the states’ 36 Congressional districts could help turn some of the red districts blue for the first time in years.
Early analysis shows that, not only are Democrats turning out in unusually high numbers, but many are the blue-collar and low-income voters who historically have not shown up for midterm elections.
It's primary day in Texas, and it's getting a lot more attention than usual…https://t.co/vjcfjpYgCl
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) March 6, 2018
Nearly a third of potential voters in Texas are Hispanic, which could be a game changer if they come out and vote, something their anger over Trump’s immigration policies suggests is a real possibility.
The boost in enthusiasm for Democrats has produced a bumper crop of candidates. There are 111 people running to fill seats in each of the state’s Congressional districts, which has not happened in Texas in 25 years.
The downside is that, in some districts, the Democrats are attacking each other as well as Trump and the Republican opponent.
The big split is between the progressive Democrats, many of whom supported Bernie Sanders, and the more moderate wing of the party, the centrists who supported Hillary Clinton, and who still control the national Democratic party for the most part.
That is especially evident in the 7th District, covering the suburbs of Houston, which is among the largest and wealthiest in the state.
The Democrat who wins will face incumbent Republican John Culberson, who is a shoo-in to win his primary race and to avoid a runoff in May (which means he’ll likely get at least 50 percent of the vote tonight).
What has made it among the most watched races in the state is the presence of progressive activist Laura Moser, who has been leading in the run-up to the election.
Less than two weeks ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) got involved in an effort to defeat Moser, who the establishment considers unlikely to be able to beat Culberson in November.
The DCCC’s preferred candidates are Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, an attorney who is backed by EMILY’s List, or Alex Triantaphyllis, a nonprofit executive.
Moser was a writer in Washington, D.C. before returning to Texas to run for office. The DCCC provided opposition research to other Democratic candidates including things she wrote that make snide comments about the more rural parts of the state.
The DCCC actions have gotten a lot of blowback, even from other Democrats, and could backfire and help propel Moser ahead, at least into the May runoff.
Due to retirements, there are a lot of open seats that conventional wisdom says will stay in the hands of the Republicans, but anything can happen.
One to watch is the 21st district in the suburbs between Austin and San Antonio, where ultra-conservative, anti-environmentalist, president of the good-old-boy caucus Rep. Lamar Smith is finally giving up the ghost.
There are an unwieldy 18 candidates seeking to replace Smith, and Democratic hopes run high. If an ultra-right wing candidate wins the Republican nomination – which is likely, it would open the way for a moderate to attract voters from both parties.
In the 23rd district, former Ted Cruz chief of staff Chip Roy is running against Republican challengers William Negley, a former CIA agent; state Rep. Jason Issac; and former Bexar County Republican Chairman Robert Stovall. Among Democrats for that seat, the leader is technology entrepreneur Joseph Kopser, who has raised the most money and received some key endorsements.
Kopser has campaigned toward the moderate middle in an effort to win over Republican voters as well as Democrats. The danger for Kopser is that, if he doesn’t win 50 percent tonight and has to face a primary fight, then Democrats may tear each other apart in a run-off.
Sen. Cruz is running for reelection in the U.S. Senate and will easily advance to the November election. Lying it wait will be three-term Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who’s mounting a strong and well-organized challenge and raised a ton of money and attention to try to unseat the controversial Cruz.
In a race that will be watched for its name value alone, George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush, is trying to retain his job as Texas Land Commissioner, which is a big deal in the state. He is up against Jerry Patterson, the former Land Commissioner who gave up his seat to run for higher office and lost.
Patterson has been attacking the Bush scion for his response to Hurricane Harvey, which received much criticism last year.
Whatever happens, since this is the first big primary, both parties will be reading the tea leaves in advance of the November. If these midterms turn out to be a referendum on President Trump, then Republicans will have an uphill climb.
For Democrats, the focus will be on whether the Bernie Sanders progressives can beat the establishment wing and turn the Party’s focus toward further to the left.
Texas is a big state with a lot of Congressional seats at stake, so it will be a factor in the Democratic Party’s quest to re-take the House of Representatives, which could change everything.
Even Senator Ted Cruz seems nervous. He told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt recently:
“The extreme left, they’re angry, they’re filled with rage, they hate the president And mark my words, we are going to see historic turnout from the extreme left in November, which means if conservatives stay home, we have the potential, we could lose both houses of Congress.”
That kind of result could give the Democrats powerful weapons, like controlling the legislative agenda and deciding what investigations are launched, and into who. It would also give them a leg-up in any future attempt to impeachment President Trump.
Texas is also a test to see if the demographic shifts matter in elections. If Hispanics come out in big numbers, if more liberal suburban residents make their votes heard, if some Republicans are turned off by Trump… all of that could foretell national patterns.
At least 50 female challengers have filed to run in Texas congressional primary races — Texas has 36 districts but currently just three women in its House delegation. https://t.co/gsajahFs2v
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 4, 2018
Although the early turnout favors Democrats, the final results are still unclear. That is because, in 2016, Clinton seemed to have an early edge, but on election day the Republicans turned out in huge numbers and swamped her in key districts.
So tonight, the eyes of the nation are upon Texas, and we’re all on the edges of our seats.