January 30, 2019
Republicans Reclaim Favorite Status in Texas House Battle
in Wake of Runoff Collapse that Destroys Dems Momentum
Texas State and Federal Race Ratings
By Mike Hailey
A confidence-crushing performance in a special election runoff has the expectations for Democrats plunging in a quest for a Texas House majority that will have been a mirage if they don't do any better in targeted races across the state in November than they did in the battle on the edge of the Houston area this week.
State Rep.-elect Gary Gates and the Republicans knocked the air out of the Democrats with a 16-point win in overtime on Tuesday in a special House District 28 fight that did the minority party more bad than good in the critical eye of public perception.
The special battle for the House in Fort Bend county gave Texas Democrats a rare opportunity to beat their chests in the media glow on a national stage that would give them a chance to create an appearance of momentum, emotion and unstoppability in a state that they've claimed to be on the brink of going blue.
The Democrats didn't have to win in the GOP-leaning HD 28 to accomplish that. But the Democrats here needed to keep it close for symbolic purposes on a battlefield where the psychological warfare will be at an all-time high in 2020. The minority party flopped in that respect when Gates demolished runoff foe Eliz Markowtiz in a public relations disaster for the party's been out of power in the west wing of the statehouse for almost 20 years.
While the Democrats could take the House back this fall without the need for victory in the district on the outskirts of the state's largest city, they face the task of trying to control the damage that was done by the sheer magnitude of the Gates victory margin that poured water on visions of a major partisan realignment in the making in the Lone Star State. The Democrats also have to decide if the expansive strategy that they've touted with 22 targeted House races on enemy turf is realistic in light of the special runoff results that have reshaped the dynamics of the battle for the lower chamber in the very early stages.
The Capitol Inside crystal ball has dropped the bar of possibilities for the Democrats with an adjusted forecast that no longer has a Democratic takeover in the House on the horizon. After tentatvely projecting a net gain of nine seats that would give the Democrats their first majority in 18 years, the revised outlook has them only picking up a half-dozen in a development that would leave the GOP in charge for redistricting in the 2021 regular session.
The Democrats' majority dream isn't dead - yet. But the outcome in HD 28 where Gates scored more than 58 percent of the vote erased misconceptions about a guaranteed blue wave bandwagon ride like the one that swept Democrats to victories just 15 months ago in a dozen House districts that the GOP had controlled at the time.
The HD 28 drubbing could be a blessing in disguise for the Democrats, however, by relegating them back into the familiar role of underdogs who will have to be smarter and run like they're losing until the votes are cast this fall. It's probably safe to assume that a rematch between Gates and Markowitz won't be anywhere as lopsided in the general election in a state where Democratic voters are probably going to turn out in record numbers with President Donald Trump as the ultimate magnet.
But HD 28 appears in the runoff wake to be a long shot at best that would siphon funds from potentially winnable races if the Democrats continue to throw money at that and other seats in House districts where the odds are stacked against them. A massive infusion of national money isn't going to turn traditional GOP voters into newly-minted Democrats in a singular election cycle. That was evident when Democrats from Washington and other parts of the country poured close to one million dollars into the special HD 28 election in a district where the unprecedented national funding infusion appeared in hindsight to be a massive waste.
The Capitol Inside ratings for 2020 legislative and congressional races in Texas are clearly more favorable for the GOP amid the fallout from the runoff in HD 28 - but only partly because of it. Democrats who went to bed Tuesday night with the sting of defeat woke up Wednesday morning to a new Texas Lyceum poll that showed President Donald Trump in slightly better shape here than he'd appeared to be last year.
An epic challenge that Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn had been bracing for in a re-election bid hasn't materialize based on the survey findings that found little voter interest in the second race that will be listed on the 2020 Texas ballot. The Democrats' impeachment crusade has degenerated into partisan theatrics that are just for show on both sides in a legal maneuvering war with the eventual outcome not in doubt.
The Democrats still appear to have decent shots at eight Texas House seats that the GOP will be attempting to defend this fall in races that are ranked here as toss ups now in districts that Beto O'Rourke carried in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018.
The bad news for the blue is that two of these coin-flip contests had been in the leans Dem category before the HD 28 overtime vote when a total of 10 Republican districts had been rated as toss up. The 50-50 column also contains three fights for House seats that freshmen Democrats are seeking again in races that had been listed as leans Dem until now.
A ninth House district where O'Rourke beat Cruz has been shuffled from the toss up column to leans GOP as a consequence of the only Democratic candidate's dismal fundraising effort in the second half of 2019. GOP State Rep. Lynn Stucky of Sanger appears to be the favorite again in that particular district where Cruz lost by half of one percentage point.
The Democrats have time for regrouping and reassessment after investing close to one million dollars on the golden goose egg chase in HD 28. The dreams of a House majority at the start of the 2021 redistricting session didn't die in a singular election in one of 150 districts across the state. But the Democrats' hopes after nearly two decades in exile in Texas have been deflated considerably in the wake of the special OT vote that will be translated as a sign that the ice under the Republicans isn't as thin as anticipated.
Republican State Reps. Morgan Meyer of Dallas, Sarah Davis of Houston and Angie Chen Button of Garland are the most vulnerable incumbents on paper in districts where O'Rourke posted double-digit victories in the last election cycle. GOP State Reps. Matt Shaheen of Plano, Jeff Leach of Allen and Steve Allison of San Antonio are fighting for survival in races that are still ranked as toss ups despite the HD 28 demolishing.
But four rookie Democrats - State Reps. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, Gina Calanni of Katy, Jon Rosenthal of Houston and Erin Zwiener of Driftwond - have been shuffled into the toss up category as well in the post-HD 28 runoff world in races that had been rated as leans Dem.
The Democrats appear to have an even chance now in a pair of open races in districts where GOP State Reps. Dwayne Bohac of Houston and Rick Miller of Sugar Land are not running again in 2020. But the fall fight for the seat that Gates won this week and another open contest in a district where Republican State Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford is stepping down have been moved to leans GOP after being ranked as coin flips at the start of this week.