THE COLOR PUR­PLE?

De­spite loss, Beto O’Rourke’s run re­veals a chang­ing Texas

Texarkana Gazette - - METRO - By Paul J. We­ber

AUSTIN—Beto O'Rourke didn't turn Texas blue. But for the first time in decades, it's look­ing much less red.

The midterm elec­tions in Texas ousted a Repub­li­can who car­ried a "bath­room bill" tar­get­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple, drove out a GOP law­maker who called fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents on His­panic protesters and gave Democrats in Hous­ton run of the na­tion's third most pop­u­lous county.

For a gen­er­a­tion, Texas has been a lab­o­ra­tory of con­ser­vatism that tested le­gal bound­aries and churned out Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. But cracks in the GOP's supremacy emerged this week in un­ex­pected ways and races. As with many things Texas, the re­sults could re­ver­ber­ate na­tion­ally.

Pre­dic­tions that Texas will come into play in 2020 may still be a stretch, but the signs of a sub­tle shift are more than mere talk.

"This is the most op­ti­mistic I've felt since high school," said Dal­las state Rep. Eric John­son, a 43-yearold Demo­crat who is run­ning to be­come the first black speaker of the Texas House. "I know for a fact that Texas is a pur­ple state. It hasn't been vot­ing that way be­cause Democrats have for­got­ten how to win, to a cer­tain de­gree. But Beto has re­minded us."

He was un­equiv­o­cal about why Democrats broke through this year.

"Beto was the rea­son," he said. It re­mains to be seen what's next for O'Rourke, who came within 3 per­cent­age points of Repub­li­can Sen. Ted Cruz in the clos­est Se­nate race in Texas in 40 years. The El Paso con­gress­man, who shat­tered fundrais­ing records in a Se­nate cam­paign, rais­ing more than $70 mil­lion, has in­sisted he's not in­ter­ested in an­other of­fice for now. But that has done lit­tle to dampen spec­u­la­tion that he could run again in 2020.

Texas' other Se­nate seat, held by Repub­li­can John Cornyn, is up for re-elec­tion that year. He called the midterms a "wake-up call" for his party in Texas.

"I don't know whether this is a once-in-a- life­time con­flu­ence of events or whether this rep­re­sents some­thing of the new nor­mal," said Cornyn, the sec­ond-rank­ing Repub­li­can in the Se­nate.

On the sur­face, Texas didn't change much af­ter Tues­day. Repub­li­cans con­tin­ued a 24-year streak of sweep­ing statewide races and lost only two seats in Congress, both of which had al­ready been trend­ing to­ward Democrats. The GOP also still com­fort­ably con­trols the Texas Leg­is­la­ture, even af­ter los­ing a dozen seats in what was the big­gest sin­gle-year pickup by Democrats in decades.

But Repub­li­cans' big mar­gins shrank in a num­ber of places.

Typ­i­cally easy wins in five con­gres­sional dis­tricts around Austin, Dal­las and Hous­ton were sliced to within 5 per­cent­age points this time. The driv­ing so­cial con­ser­va­tive force in the Leg­is­la­ture, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, won just over 51 per­cent of the vote in his first elec­tion since push­ing a failed North Carolina-style "bath­room bill" that would have re­quired trans­gen­der peo­ple to use pub­lic bath­rooms that cor­re­spond with the sex on their birth cer­tifi­cate. Not sur­viv­ing, how­ever, was a Repub­li­can who car­ried the bill in the House.

Texas' last big Repub­li­can county, around Fort Worth, also crum­bled at the top of the ticket. Fort Worth is "Cow­town," with stock­yards and a cow­boy image that stands in con­trast to Texas' other big and in­creas­ingly lib­eral ci­ties. Of Texas' five largest coun­ties— the oth­ers around Dal­las, Hous­ton, San An­to­nio and Austin—Tar­rant County was the only one Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump car­ried in 2016, do­ing so by 57,000 votes.

Two years later, O'Rourke won the county over Cruz by 3,900 votes.

"We flipped this state from blue to red. We may be shift­ing back a lit­tle to­ward the blue," Tar­rant County Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Darl Eas­ton said. "But po­lit­i­cal shifts hap­pen. I'm not overly con­cerned about the cur­rent trend."

Fast-grow­ing sub­urbs that for years have served as a GOP fire­wall to Texas' lib­eral big ci­ties also ei­ther flipped to Democrats or were win­nowed down to sin­gle-digit races. It was an abrupt turn­around from just four years ago, when Repub­li­cans coasted into ev­ery statewide of­fice with 20-point vic­to­ries.

The gap dras­ti­cally shrunk on the coat­tails of a Demo­crat whose sup­port for uni­ver­sal health care, mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion and im­mi­gra­tion re­form was mocked by Repub­li­cans as anath­ema to vot­ers who've kept the GOP in con­trol of Texas since 1994.

Af­ter his loss, O'Rourke urged oth­ers to pick up where he left off.

"This team, of which we are all mem­bers, in some way is go­ing to stay to­gether, is go­ing to con­tinue to aspire to do great things," O'Rourke said. "There are so many great can­di­dates who are go­ing to come out of this cam­paign."

As­so­ci­ated Press

■ In this Nov. 4 file photo, Beto O'Rourke, the 2018 Demo­cratic can­di­date for U.S. Se­nate in Texas, gives the thumbs-up as he takes the stage to speak at the Pan Amer­i­can Neigh­bor­hood Park in Austin. O'Rourke didn't turn Texas blue, but for the first time in decades, it's look­ing much less red. Texas has long been a lab­o­ra­tory of con­ser­vatism. But cracks in the GOP's supremacy are emerg­ing. The re­sults could re­ver­ber­ate na­tion­ally.

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