How did Texas Democrats blow it again?
On a grim election night 20 years ago, as Texas Democrats mourned and puzzled over their largest statewide losses in history, one of the state representatives who’d lost her seat in the Tea Party landslide detected one small silver lining: “At least we can say with confidence that things can only get better from here. Right?”
Well, sort of. In the two volatile decades following their historic nadir of 2010, Texas Democrats’ fortunes have indeed improved, but without ever achieving true parity with a Republican Party that has only once relinquished control of the state House since 2002—and without nailing down the decisive bloc of loyal Latino voters that the Democrats had long counted on. Last night’s emphatic re-elections of Texas’ leading “Nuevo Republicanos,” Gov. Eva Guzman and U.S. Sen George P. Bush, dealt yet another blow to the ever-hopeful, perpetually disappointed Democrats. And this one stung far more than 2010: For the first time, a majority of non-Anglo Texans—nearly 56 percent, according to initial exit polls—rejected the minority party in favor of the GOP. Meanwhile, Texas Democrats won a bitter consolation prize: They carried the ever-diminishing Anglo vote, now less than 35 percent of the total, for the first time in more than half a century.
“They’re supposed to have a ‘natural advantage’ among Latinos, right?” shouted a jubilant Lt. Gov. Larry Gonzales to more than 6,000 Republicanos who’d gathered on a brisk night for a victory party in San Antonio’s Alamo Square. “Let me tell you: If this is unnatural, I can get used to it!”
Shortly after Bush and Guzman received early concession calls just after 8 p.m. from the vanquished Democrats at the top of the ticket, former Congressman Patrick Rose and House Minority Leader Mike Villarreal, the Viva Republicanos! shindig got an extra jolt of energy with a virtual appearance by former President Marco Rubio, whose three campaign swings through the Lone Star State this summer and fall were credited with bolstering the Republicans’ innovative grassroots efforts and spurring a record non-Anglo turnout.
“I don’t care if it’s a cliche,” Rubio’s voice boomed across the square. “Si, se hizo! We did it—you did it! The Democrats threw every slimy tactic they could at your governor and senator, they raised more money for viral attacks than any state campaign in American history. But you said no to old-style gutter politics. And now it’s official: Texas is America’s Latino Republican stronghold for at least a generation to come!”
On Nov. 5, nobody but paid Democratic officials—and not even many of them—would argue with that assessment. With Bush, Guzman and Gonzales leading the way, the Republicans solidified their hold on most state offices and the Texas Legislature, where they gained an 18-seat majority in the House and an eight-seat edge in the Senate. Perhaps most encouraging of all for the GOP, more than one-third of the 53 Latino Republicans elected to the Legislature are younger than 40. “They have a deep bench,” lamented former Congressman Julian Castro of San Antonio, the Democrat who lost by a whisker to Bush in the epic 2024 U.S. Senate contest. “They now have a majority of the Latino vote, and no prospect of relinquishing it anytime soon. All we have is a flaming wreck of a party.”
Like many prominent Democrats, Castro was outspokenly critical of controversial anti-Bush tactics in the latter stages of the campaign, as well as what he called the party’s “dinosaur” strategies—relying heavily on expensive media buys and running what Castro called a “pathetic” grassroots get-out-the-vote effort. “Once again, our party ran a 20th-century campaign,” Castro told me on election night. “Nobody benefitted but the consultants.” Asked about the last-minute attacks on Bush, Castro—who declined to attend the Democrats’ “victory party” in Austin—was in no mood to mince words. “It was racist code, pure and simple. For the first time, I was genuinely ashamed of my own party.”
The attacks in question, launched in the final two weeks of a bitter campaign by a trial attorney PAC, targeted Bush’s vote for the Marijuana Legalization Act of 2027 and his sponsorship of the Mexico Recovery Plan passed narrowly last March. “When I saw the word ‘Kingpin’ plastered across Senator Bush’s face, I knew we were doomed,” Castro said, referring to the most controversial of the anti-Bush assaults. “The only question is how long it will take, after this embarrassing spectacle, for Democrats to be competitive in Texas again—if ever.”
Villarreal, Castro, former Gov. Rafael Anchia and other top Democrats were quick to denounce the instantly infamous “Kingpin” attack, which unleashed a flood of last-minute money into Texas Republican coffers—and left party leaders on the defensive over what became the nation’s most-discussed political scandal of this mid-term year.
“There was no defending that hundred-pound turd of an attack,” Congresswoman Veronica Gonzales, the only prominent Democrat still standing in the Republican-leaning Rio Grande Valley, said on election night after narrowly fending off her underfunded GOP challenger. “There’s a straight line from those ‘Coward’ ads against Rick Perry in 2010 to ‘Kingpin’ in 2030. Same people, same stupidity. But I truly never thought Texas Democrats could sink this low.”
At the Democrats’ sparsely attended “victory party” in Austin’s Driskill Hotel, buzz continued to circulate on election night about massive defections of Latino Democrats, particularly in the state Legislature, in the wake of what Gonzales called “the biggest gift we’ve ever handed the Republicans. Suddenly we find ourselves the Anglo party of Texas. If anybody had predicted this twenty years ago—even ten years—I’d have said they were out of their mind.”
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Ever since Republicans seized power in Texas in the 1990s, their Democratic counterparts have eagerly anticipated the day when Latino population growth would translate into a juggernaut at the polls. That day has officially come: For the first time, Latino turnout on Tuesday exceeded that of Anglo Texans, if only narrowly. But for reasons that run far deeper than the “Kingpin” blunder, Democrats squandered their historic edge among Latinos—while Bush and his Hispanic Republicans of Texas (HRT) coalition wrested control of the GOP from Tea Party Anglos and set the stage for this year’s landmark victories.
While a plurality of Latinos has long registered independent, as recently as 2022 they voted more than 55 percent for the Democrats’ only governor so far this century, Rafael Anchia. But turnout was low that year, and Anchia’s unsuccessful efforts to pass a state income tax eroded his popularity among Latinos and Anglos alike. In Bush’s narrow Senate victory over Castro two years later, the HRT’s innovative grassroots effort attracted thousands of new Latino organizers to the GOP—many of whom, after Tuesday night, now hold local and Legislative offices.
“The Democrats were victims of their mistaken assumptions,” says UT-Pan American professor emeritus Jerry Polinard. “For almost 50 years, they just assumed that Latinos would never vote Republican. They never did the groundwork to boost Latino turnout. Bush and the HRT’s charm offensive undid years of Democrats’ half-hearted courting.” The damage has been greatest in South Texas; while a majority of Latinos in major urban areas still lean narrowly Democratic, Bush’s grassroots blitz in the Valley paid big dividends this year.
In retrospect, the Democrats’ terrible year of 2010 laid the groundwork for the improbable script-flipping to come. Six years before the Rubio-Jindal Immigration Reform Act passed Congress, debates over Arizona’s unconstitutional anti-immigration law and the DREAM Act were raging across the country. But Texas Democrats, effectively run (then as now) by consultant Matt Angle, focused their efforts on those Anglo “swing” votes and ignored the grassroots organizing needed to spur Latinos to the polls. That year, Gov. Rick Perry, then running for his third of a record four terms, chalked up 39 percent of the Latino vote after opposing the Arizona law and spending a record amount on Spanish-language advertising—a percentage that would continue to inch up until Tuesday’s landslide made the turnaround official. Sixty-one percent of Latinos voted Democratic in 2010—a number the party has never matched—but they turned out in scant numbers, demonstrating a lack of enthusiasm for the party they had long supported out of habit.
With little fanfare that same year, Bush co-founded the HRT, which would over time become the single most powerful political organization in Texas. Five Latinos were elected to the state House in the 2010 Republican romp—another harbinger of things to come. Just one year earlier, Perry had appointed Gov. Guzman to be the first Latina on the State Supreme Court. When San Antonio media consultant Lionel Sosa declared on election night 2010 that “a new revolution is happening in Texas,” few believed him. Twenty years later, amid a sea of triumphant Republicans in Alamo Square, Sosa was delighted to be reminded of his prediction. “The Democrats took us for granted,” he told me. “They decided that all Latinos were alike, that they had us in the bag. Now they’ve reaped what they sowed—or didn’t sow.”
Former Lt. Gov. Wendy Davis, the Democrat who was defeated for re-election along with Anchia in 2026, grudgingly agreed with Sosa as she watched election returns from her home in Fort Worth. “We did have an edge among the rising majority,” she said. “What we didn’t have was competent leadership. The consultants kept their grip on the party apparatus too long, and we’ve lost our connection with the younger generations. There was this overwhelming fear of Democrats becoming the ‘Latino party,’ making us less viable to moderate Anglos. Now we’ve got the Anglos and we’ve lost South Texas.
“At least now we can finally pause and reset. But I fear that it’s going to be too little, too late,” Davis said, noting that exit polls showed Latinos favoring Republicans were nearly 20 years younger on average than those who voted Democratic. “And while we still have a strong cadre of Latino leaders in our party,” she added, “they’re no spring
Just eight years ago, Democrats were looking on delightedly as the Republicans’ internal squabble between Tea Partiers and the HRT escalated into a virtual civil war. But the Republicans’ subsequent loss to Anchia and Davis that fall, when the Democrats also captured the state House by two seats, gave Bush and his young cadre of statewide organizers the opening they needed to shove aside the right-wing Anglos and build toward 2024—and, ultimately, Tuesday’s triumph.
“New Republicanism won tonight,” Sen. Bush said, still beaming broadly as the Alamo Square festivities raged on past midnight. “We are the party of Latino Texas, and that makes us the party of the future.”
Back at the Driskill, one Democrat, at least, begged to differ. “Texas Democrats might have fallen a little short,” said party chairman Phillip Martin, his voice echoing off the walls of a nearly empty ballroom. “But we had two great candidates at the top of the ticket, and the best turnout model in state history. We won on the issues, we won the debates, and we ran the smartest statewide campaign in memory.”
So why did the party lose again?
“We’ll think about that tomorrow,” Martin said. “But one thing is clear: Texas Democrats will be back. The demographics still favor us. According to our calculations, the Republicans turned out a very specific slice of the Latino electorate today. And for the first time in memory, they lost the Anglo vote. We are headed in exactly the right direction.”
Hearing that quote repeated was music to the ears of Gov. Guzman, who at age 69 said her final run for office was the sweetest yet. “I mean, can’t they alter their talking points just a little bit?” she laughed merrily, before pausing to hug another supporter. “We’ve heard the same exact thing from the Democrats for 40 years now. They need to face facts: Republicans will lose this state when El Paso freezes over.”
For a non-fictional take on what Texas Democrats can do to avoid the dystopian future described in this article, see Bob Moser’s “Purple State” column.