Even as the 2022 midterm elections are tightening up, Texas Democrats will likely remain bridesmaids in their perennial quest to regain political power in a state run by Republicans, who continue to tighten restrictions on voting.
But hope springs eternal for the blue party, and one race in particular might signal a turn of the red tide.
The UH Hobby School of Public Affairs and Texas Southern University’s Barbara Jordan/Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs have published their Texas Trends election survey for 2022. In it, the most intriguing race—and the best hope for Democrats—is not the Beto O’Rourke vs. Greg Abbott race for governor, in which O’ Rourke currently trails the incumbent by 7 percentage points. Rather, it is the race for attorney general between the indicted incumbent, Republican Ken Paxton, and his opponent, Rochelle Mercedes Garza, with only a 3-point separation.
“With the possible exception of the race for state attorney general, the blue wave once again appears nonexistent among Texas’ top positions. But some races will be close. Paxton’s lead over Garza is just half the size of the gap in either the governor’s or lieutenant governor’s race,” said Michael O. Adams, director of Texas Southern University’s Executive Master of Public Administration degree program.
“Everyone is talking about the governor’s race, but the most competitive race is actually the attorney general race between Paxton and Garza. Although the races for governor and lieutenant governor are competitive, it is going to be very hard for either O’Rourke or Collier to break into the stronghold that Abbott and Patrick have. It’s not impossible. If he can make up ground with outreach to young people, women (even Republican women) and to Hispanic voters, it is feasible he could win, but I don’t think it’s likely,” says Renee Cross, 60, executive director at UH’s Hobby School.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court is part of the reason why Republican women may be swing voters this cycle, says Cross. “Even though Texas is certainly still a conservtive state, this is not the Texas of 1973. The majority of women have grown up having abortion rights, and when the government takes away a right, it is very different than trying to convince the government to provide a right. I think it is a unique occurrence—thankfully—and that alone has really awakened the need to vote, especially among women in Harris County and other metro areas. We will see if this particular issue can be the real mobilizer in this race.”
LGBTQ Texans also have a lot at stake. During the 2021 Texas Legislative Session, trans Texans, in particular, were on the menu for Republicans. That session was one of the most brutal in recent memory, complete with restrictions on trans kids playing sports, an executive order to investigate the parents of trans kids, and threats on doctors providing gender-affirming trans medical care.
“I think that there is going to be more of the same in the next legislative session, even if O’Rourke and Collier win. There will still be a struggle because of the structure of the Legislature. The Senate and House will most certainly remain dominated by Republicans. It will be a challenging session for the LGBTQ community either way,” says Cross.
On the federal level, it appears more likely that Democrats will retain control (and possibly gain a couple of seats) in the Senate, which is positive news considering the Senate’s role in appointing federal judges, confirming Cabinet positions, and approving Supreme Court justices. It is less likely that Democrats will retain the House, based on current polling, although things are trending more in Democrats’ favor almost daily.
Locally, Harris County continues to trend blue, but Cross warns that we should not expect the intense blue wave of 2018 that ushered in an entire slate of Democratic judges—including political newbie Lina Hidalgo’s surprise win by a narrow margin.
“Keep in mind that things were a bit different in 2018, compared to 2022,” Cross notes. “Back then, we still had straight-ticket voting. That, coupled with the Beto explosion in 2018 against Ted Cruz, helped a tremendous number of Democratic candidates down the ballot. We don’t have straight-ticket voting any more. Even if O’Rourke is able to turn up a lot of excitement, our ballots are long. That being said, Harris County is blue, and if the turnout is high it will remain blue.”
Election day is November 8, and early voting runs October 24 through November 4.