Republicans across Texas breathed a deep sigh of relief Tuesday night when Sen. Ted Cruz eked out a victory over Beto O’Rourke, who ran the most competitive statewide campaign a Texas Democrat has run in decades.
But Republicans in the Lone Star State shouldn’t take much comfort from the win. Yes, Cruz held on to his Senate seat, and yes, every GOP incumbent running in a statewide race won reelection. Nevertheless, a closer look at their margins of victory, along with massive voter turnout and structural changes in the electorate, tells a troubling tale for the future of the GOP in Texas.
The reality is that the Republican Party is losing ground in Texas, whose fast-growing population is increasingly willing to vote for Democrats, especially in the state’s large cities and suburbs. It’s easy to see this dynamic at play in the Cruz-O’Rourke race. Cruz won by less than 3 points, and only captured a couple hundred thousand more votes than O’Rourke out of a record-setting midterm turnout of more than 8.2 million voters. Compare that to 2012, when Cruz won by more 1.2 million votes and coasted to victory with a 16-point margin.
Even more ominous for Texas Republicans is where Cruz lost to O’Rourke. Tarrant County, which encompasses Fort Worth and is America’s most conservative large urban county, went for Cruz by 16 points in 2012, with Cruz winning nearly a million more votes than his Democratic opponent that year. Long considered a GOP stronghold, Tarrant County is the only one of the Texas’s five largest counties that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. (In 2016, it went for Trump by more than eight points.)
But on Tuesday, O’Rourke narrowly carried Tarrant County, edging out Cruz by less than 4,000 votes. A similar dynamic played out in central Texas, where O’Rourke won Hays and Williamson counties, which border the deep-blue state capital of Austin in Travis County, but traditionally have been Republican strongholds. Cruz won both in 2012 by sizeable margins, but on Tuesday O’Rourke won both, carrying Hays County by more than 15 points. (Read more from “Ted Cruz Might Have Won, but the Midterms Bode Ill for Texas” HERE)