Texas Democrats Crushed… What Next?

Greg Abbott and his family at election night victory party
Jen Reel
Greg Abbott and his family at election night victory party

Ultimately, the voters decided. They decided—in another election, it must be said, with underwhelming voter turnout—to deal a resounding blow to Texas Democrats’ hopes of having anything to show for what seemed, for a brief moment, like a turn of fortunes. There are still votes to count but it appears Wendy Davis lost worse than any Democratic gubernatorial candidate since Gary Mauro’s 68-31 loss to George W. Bush in 1998. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, Greg Abbott has 59.6 percent of the vote to Wendy Davis’ 38.5 percent, a 21.1 point difference.

She didn’t do all that much better—about 132,000 votes at last count—than Jim Hogan, the Cleburne dairy farmer who fluked into the party’s nomination for agriculture commissioner and then refused to campaign. “I didn’t lose any money,” Hogan told a Houston Chronicle reporter Tuesday night about his experience in the limelight, “and I come out to about the same margin as everybody else.”

That’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it? After a tremendous amount of investment, resources, and volunteer effort, Wendy Davis is on track to do slightly better than Hogan, who spent no funds and no time in pursuit of victory.

Davis lost to Greg Abbott by huge margins in rural and suburban areas and other GOP strongholds. (In Midland County, Abbott won 86-13, for example.) But she also didn’t do that well in urban counties that, according to the well-worn Turning Texas Blue script, ought to be at least trending Democratic. Davis did fine in Travis County (of course) and she won El Paso and Dallas counties but lost Bexar, Harris and her home turf of Tarrant. It’s hard to see a path to victory for a statewide Democrat that doesn’t involve running up the score in urban Texas.

According to a CNN exit poll, Davis lost women 54-45 to Greg Abbott, staunch pro-lifer. She only did better than her opponent in the 18-29 demographic by one point, according to the same exit poll. Well, we could go on…

The Democrats didn’t pick up any Texas House seats from Republicans and actually managed to lose three seats held by Democrats, including an unexpected one (Mary Ann Perez in Houston) where turnout was an astoundingly low 22 percent. Wendy Davis’ Senate seat fell to Konni Burton, a tea party activist who will join a Texas Senate ruled by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and 19 Republican senators, most of which would have been considered on the fringe of the upper chamber a few cycles ago. The one contested congressional district in Texas, hard-won by Democrat Pete Gallego in 2012, was lost to Republican Will Hurd.

What’s it all add up to? This isn’t the first time Texas Democrats have had the tar beaten out them. The question is, given the expectations around Battleground Texas and Wendy Davis, what such a resounding loss might lead to. What parts of the Democratic coalition can survive or evolve? There’s very little to point to as a building block for 2016 and beyond. Can Battleground, et al raise money from national donors? Will the group have credibility left? In a statement tonight, executive director Jenn Brown made allusions, again, to the long-term nature of the project and lauded “the unprecedented data infrastructure” and “the cutting-edge digital strategies that helped connect Texans in every community.”

It sounded good a year and a half ago but in the cold, harsh light of Election Day, it may seem like so many buzzwords to some. Does the perpetual goal of reaching the (apparently impossible to reach) crossover/independent/soft Republican voter get chucked? Do efforts at “expanding the electorate”—a seemingly virtuous project in and of itself—to the young, minority, disenfranchised and poor lose, or gain, urgency? Teasing any answers out, however provisional, will take time and honesty. The reckoning, once again, has just begun. —Forrest Wilder and Chris Hooks

The Anointing of Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor… and Beyond?

When state Sen. Dan Patrick finally took the stage to acknowledge having won the lieutenant governor’s race—fully two hours after the Associated Press called it for him—he didn’t sound like a second-in-command. In fact, he interrupted his new boss’s speech, cutting off a projected live video feed of Gov.-elect Greg Abbott’s acceptance halfway through without acknowledging this, bounding onto the platform to claim his crowd. He spoke not like a grateful winner, either, but like a guy who’s already running for his next job, which is apparently Messiah. After opening with a verse from Proverbs—no “hello” for the half- to quite-drunk crowd that had waited on him for three hours, just a verse—he said he’d been traveling the state constantly, talking to Texans. “Listening to what they want,” Patrick said.  “And what they want is a public servant who will serve them. So here I am tonight to say to every Texan: I am here to serve you, so that Texas can be a servant to the world that is broken, that is hurting and needs leadership.”

Yes! The broken world is crying out, and that cry is for Dan Patrick! And lo, he has heard their cries. How will he answer them?

“With Greg Abbott, we’ve already been working on our plans to secure the border,” he said. Not “your new governor, Greg Abbott,” but “along with, you know, the other guy,” Team Patrick is already taking the effing reins. Whew!

The couple hundred fans cheered for this as Patrick rattled off less sexy planks—infrastructure and reducing property taxes. Then he held up a ring, saying his father had given it unto him, a ring that long before had been his grandfather’s only possession to leave his son. “There are a lot of people who only have a family heirloom to leave to their children,” he said, “because they lack the education to pursue the American dream.” The ring story was about charter schools. “I believe that every child in Texas deserves a choice of the best education.”

Patrick called for immigration reform, which will be a tricky thing for a state to do by itself, but okay, giving the compassionate line about bringing people out of the shadows—no applause—followed by a nod to preventing ingress of the “criminal element” and “terrorists.” Huge cheers. (One of his fans told me, as we waited for his coming, “If they can put a man on the moon, they can secure the Southern border.”)

After saying he felt proud to lead, Patrick stated slowly, “I believe—that Texas—is America’s last hope.”

“This is where you come to dream,” he said. “It’s where you come for a job. This is where you come to raise your family. And we’re going to make Texas even greater in the days ahead. You know, the world depends on a strong America. When they get in trouble, they dial 9-1-1 and they expect the United States Marines, U.S. Navy, Army, Air Corps and the American taxpayer to bail them out.” Laughs and cheers. America, he went on, has “shed blood and treasure to bring liberty to other people, and all that we ask in return is a place to bury our dead.”

I don’t know whether I perceived or just projected a collective, “Wait, what?” But it was quickly forgotten.

“For the world to depend on America, America must be strong,” continued Dan Patrick, talk radio show host and new lieutenant governor of a very big state that is nonetheless not America. “And we’re weak in Washington today. America looks to Texas. Where else are they going to look—California?” Another laugh.

“So we have a responsibility, Greg Abbott, myself, and all of our statewide leaders… We have a responsibility to give educational and economic freedom so that Texas stays strong until the rest of America wakes up and becomes more like us.”

It didn’t end there. There was also a story about an ugly tie (very good at show and tell, Patrick is) and a long prayer by Pastor Ed Young of Fellowship Church, the megachurch Patrick attends. During that prayer, the half-soused crowd fiercely shushed people in the far back of the room and in the hallway still talking. One journalist tweeted about a “scuffle” between reporters trying to report and people trying to quiet them, but your correspondent wasn’t close enough to confirm or deny.

What I can say is that in that moment, Dan Patrick was being anointed, and I don’t think it was just for lieutenant governor.—Emily DePrang

10:22 p.m.:

10:17 p.m.: Davis: Even in Losing, “We Won”

Wendy Davis concedes from her campaign headquarters in Fort Worth.
Patrick Michels
Wendy Davis concedes from her campaign headquarters in Fort Worth.

For an election night loss, the mood here in Fort Worth has been almost giddy tonight since Wendy Davis took the stage—and only partly thanks to the exhaust fumes that news vans have been pumping in here all night.

It was a family affair here with Davis tonight. She took the stage flanked by her daughters, brother, sister and mother, and thanked supporters she’d gotten to know during the campaign. “Some literally cried as they met me, inspired to believe that someone could and would be a voice for them,” she said. “You have been fighting quiet battles before any of you even knew my name.”

After mentioning that she’d just called Greg Abbott to concede, the rest of her speech returned to an upbeat message: “We won.”

The night’s results haven’t left Democrats much to celebrate, but the strength of her personality, her presence, that launched her into this race gave her supporters something to cheer tonight in this cold garage. As I’m writing this, long after her speech ended, she’s still out hugging supporters in front of the stage.

“We won day by day because you never backed down,” she said in her speech. “And please, please know this. Your work is not in vain. And the only way that we will have lost tonight is if we stop fighting.”—Patrick Michels

10:07 p.m.:

9:39 p.m.: Read what you will into this statement from Battleground Texas, after brutal losses tonight.—Forrest Wilder

“The legacy Wendy and Leticia leave behind – including the nearly 34,000 Team Wendy and Battleground Texas volunteers who reached out to voters on the phones and at the doors 7.5 million times, the unprecedented data infrastructure, and the cutting-edge digital strategies that helped connect Texans in every community – will continue to have an impact as this movement grows in the years to come.”

“As we’ve said from the beginning, change in Texas won’t happen overnight. But we’re proud of the progress we made together this year – and Battleground Texas is just getting started. We have no doubt our grassroots movement will ensure Democrats win many more victories in the future.”

9:36 p.m.It looks like Denton has banned fracking… at least if you believe the mayor, who’s called it for the ban passing. The margin right now is 60 percent to 40 percent, a pretty decisive victory, though not all the votes have been tabulated.—Forrest Wilder

9:26 p.m.:

Ted Cruz speaking at Greg Abbott's campaign headquarters.
Jen Reel
Speaking from Greg Abbott’s campaign headquarters in Austin, Ted Cruz said Abbott’s win is the end of Obama lawlessness.

9:12 p.m.:

8:57 p.m.: At Davis Headquarters, the News Sinks In

One of tonight's safe Democratic winners, Dallas-Fort Worth Congressman Marc Veasey, surrounded by supporters offstage at the Davis event.
Patrick Michels
One of tonight’s safe Democratic winners, Dallas-Fort Worth Congressman Marc Veasey, surrounded by supporters offstage at the Davis event.

It’s a little hard to gauge the crowd reaction to news that the AP has called the governor’s race for Greg Abbott, or that early vote totals show the Texas GOP performing even stronger than expected.

It’s hard, in part, because the crowd is still filing in here, carrying their first cups of red wine and greeting friends. It’s also hard for me to gauge their reactions because Wendy Davis’ staff isn’t letting reporters beyond the metal gates that set the press pen off from the rest of the crowd.

But as reporters stare into their Twitter feeds and refresh their browser pages, few in the crowd seem glued to their phones. They’re jockeying for prime real estate by the stage. There are about 200 people here now, and a couple hanging by the press table stopped by to say they think it’s far too soon to call anything. After all, the polls just closed in El Paso. There must still be voters waiting in line somewhere. (As I type this, there’s news now that Davis has called Abbott to concede.)

Lola Winder, a lifelong Fort Worth resident and a veteran of Democratic election night parties like these, said she’d just gotten a text from her son about Abbott’s projected win. “If the people voted for him,” she said—if the projections hold—”it shows how stupid the people of Texas are.” The only reasonable explanation, she said, is that most Texans haven’t felt the damage from GOP leaders’ cuts to public education and bad planning for the state. “It hasn’t hit them in their pocketbooks yet,” she said.

Laney Yarber, standing next to her, said that if Texas somehow managed to swing even further right this year, it’d certainly make the Democratic reaction that much stronger four years from now. Tonight’s results, she said, were a sign that our democratic system has been given over to money interests. “Capitalism destroys democracy,” she said. I asked what she thought about the early projections of Abbott’s win, and she waved down the line of reporters parked at laptops beside me. There’s just been too much noise, she told me. “Used to be religion was the opiate of the people,” she said. “Now it’s the media.” —Patrick Michels

8:42 p.m.:

8:34 p.m.: 

The party gets underway at Greg Abbott's campaign HQ in Austin.
Jen Reel
The party gets underway at Greg Abbott’s campaign HQ in Austin.

8:24 p.m.:

8:05 p.m.: The AP has called it for Greg Abbott. The margin is so big that the gubernatorial race this year was called a few minutes after 8 p.m. The Texas Tribune has called the lt. gov race for Dan Patrick.—Forrest Wilder 

8:03 p.m.: It’s much too early to say anything definitive but so far it does not look like a good night for Democrats. We only have early vote totals and about two percent of the precincts from today’s vote so far, but Greg Abbott and company are racking up 15-point spreads against Wendy Davis and the Democratic ticket. Dems are also trailing—though by much less—in the one competitive Texas Senate race (Wendy Davis’ old seat) and the House races we’re following. That could change but so far the GOP candidates have a big lead.—Forrest Wilder

7:50 p.m.:

7:42 p.m.:

7:18 p.m.:

6:50 p.m.: Waiting for Wendy in Fort Worth

Arlington's BlueBeats warm up onstage while the crowd slowly freezes.
Patrick Michels
Arlington’s BlueBeats warm up onstage while the crowd slowly freezes.

In his neo-Nashville classic, “Long Way to Go,” about the time he found a bug in his drink, Alan Jackson reminds us that it’s important on rainy days like this to always look for the bright spots.

For Texas Democrats who’ve spent 20 years under their own private raincloud, this year’s race for governor has been about finding bright spots. Even if Wendy Davis couldn’t win—if her campaign wasn’t flawless and Greg Abbott didn’t commit some fatal gaffe—she might at least help loosen the GOP’s grip on the state. So maybe it’s appropriate that this race ends with torrential downpours across the state!

Or maybe that’s a really lame stretch. But so, I submit to you, are all of these weather puns echoing behind me from the TV platform here at Times Ten Cellars. “Wendy Davis hopes the weather doesn’t rain on her parade,” went the latest. What a party it will be here in this Fort Worth winery parking garage. This is Wendy Davis election night HQ, slowly filling in right now with campaign staffers and supporters and musical gear. Later tonight, I’m told we’ll hear from North Texas Democrats, including Congressman Marc Veasey, state Sen. Royce West, and state Reps. Rafael Anchia, Nicole Collier and Toni Rose.

For now, though, the stage is empty. Before a giant Texas flag on the wall, there’s a Lucite podium with a “Wendy” sign at the end of an elevated catwalk. It’s a little chilly in here, but blessedly dry, and staffers are shuffling in with coffee and drinks from the Rodeo Goat across the street. We’re at a winery, but evidently I was wrong about the bar being close by.—Patrick Michels

5:43 p.m.: What I’ll Be Watching (Dave Mann, @ContrarianDave)
I’ll be keeping an eye on the down-ballot statewide races tonight: attorney general, comptroller, ag commissioner and land commissioner. The outcomes are all foregone conclusions. The size of the Republican victory is all that’s in doubt.

We do have some characters to follow. The obvious one is Ken Paxton, who appears poised to win election as the state’s top law enforcement official after admitting to violations of state securities law. My favorite thing about the Paxton story is that his defense—his defense—is that he didn’t willfully violate the law; rather it was simple incompetence. And this man is going to romp to victory tonight, or so it seems.

Paxton has perfected the art of the non-campaign so far this fall—rarely appearing in public. That only confirms my theory that Republican candidates could seclude themselves in a walled fortress for six months and still win the election.

We’re also electing a new comptroller tonight to replace Susan Combs, who everyone in both parties seems ready to kick out the door. I admit to having a soft spot in my heart for Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate. The comptroller’s most important job is making accurate revenue forecasts so state legislators know how much money they can allocate in the state budget. Collier, a businessman and CPA, says he’s been making accurate forecasts for years. Collier has said he offers boring competency. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change? He also produced one of this election cycle’s best ads.

No matter, Glenn Hegar—a young, ambitious Republican state senator from Katy known primarily for carrying the 2013 anti-abortion bill famously filibustered by Wendy Davis—is expected to win the comptroller’s race.

While we’re talking about characters, let’s take a moment to honor Jerry Patterson, the outgoing land commissioner. Patterson, a gun-toting, tell-it-like-it-is history buff, always kept things interesting, and if you want some color commentary on the election tonight and you’re in Austin consider tuning into KLBJ, where Patterson will be offering his services. We’ll miss Jerry. Somehow I just don’t see George P. Bush being as lively. —Dave Mann

5:33 p.m.: Congressional District 23: Battleground in the Big Bend  (Melissa del Bosque, @Melissalalinea)

Dem. Pete Gallego Vs. Repub. Will Hurd
Congressional District 23 has the distinction of being one of the largest districts in the country. It ranges 500 miles from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso. It’s the only congressional district in Texas that is competitive, and it’s been at the nexus of a battle between Democrats and Republicans for several years. Both parties see the majority Hispanic district as crucial in the debate over whether Republicans or Democrats are appealing to the country’s fastest growing demographic. Republican Candidate Will Hurd has been vying for the district since 2010. This is the first time he’s won the Republican primary and he’s up against a formidable Democratic opponent in Pete Gallego, who is the incumbent. Gallego is an attorney and a former state representative from Alpine with considerable name recognition in the district. Hurd, a former CIA operative in the Middle East, works in cybersecurity and is based in San Antonio. Hurd has said he’d like to do away with Obamacare but hasn’t specified what he would replace it with. He also said he’d treat drug cartels like the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Gallego is advocating for comprehensive immigration reform and fixing Obamacare rather than scrapping it.

Texas House Races to Watch
There’s not a whole lot of shaking up going on in the 150-member state House this election. Thanks to the endless rejiggering of redistricting most Republican and Democratic districts will barely budge from the status quo. But that being said there are maybe a dozen House races in the mix that are worth keeping tabs on this evening.The dynamic in many of these districts is a familiar one: Rapid demographic change (read: increasingly minority) in older suburbs is putting what were once solidly Republican areas within reach of Democrats… Yet, Democrats have struggled to capitalize on the opportunity. Elsewhere, races will turn on the strength of candidates and turnout that may depend on factors beyond the control of individual campaigns.

Here are just a few of the races we’ll be keeping an eye on.

HD 105 (Irving/Dallas)
This immigrant gateway community is more than 65 percent minority, but Democrats have been unable to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Linda Harper-Brown several times. This year, Harper-Brown did lose… in the GOP primary to Rodney Anderson, a tea party-ish title executive who served one term as state rep from Grand Prairie before being redistricted out. He now faces Democrat Susan Motley, a disability rights attorney. Motley is backed by Battleground Texas.

HD 23 (Galveston)
In Galveston’s HD 23, Democrat Susan Criss, a district court judge is trying to hold HD 23, which was represented by Democrat Craig Eiland for two decades. Criss is up against Republican candidate Wayne Faircloth, an insurance agent. Faircloth has said he’d like to do away with the troubled Texas Windstorm Association, which provides insurance coverage to coastal residents who can’t get a policy anywhere else. Faircloth would like to see insurance companies compete on the free market instead. This is a big deal for residents of hurricane-vulnerable Galveston, still recovering from Hurricane Ike.

HD 43 (Coastal Bend/South Texas)
After the Republican sweep of 2010, state Rep. J.M. Lozano was the last Democrat standing from the Coastal Bend area. With his redrawn district that sits west of Corpus Christi looking more Republican after redistricting, Lozano took the path of self-preservation and switched parties and won in 2012. Now Lozano is running against Democratic challenger Kim Gonzalez, a 34-year-old assistant district attorney from Nueces County. Lozano who owns a Wingstop restaurant franchise says voters have moved on from his party switch. Meanwhile Gonzalez has characterized Lozano, also 34, as a party-hopping flip flopper. Observers say it will be a tight race.

HD 41 (Rio Grande Valley/South Texas)
In the solidly blue Rio Grande Valley, it’s always worth noting when a Republican takes on a Democrat, especially Bobby Guerra who is from a well-known family with deep political roots in the Valley. Guerra, 61, is the incumbent and pretty much a centrist candidate who represents parts of McAllen, Edinburg and Mission. His Republican opponent Elijah Casas is a 24-year-old recent grad from the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg who says he is running to challenge the Democratic dominance in the Rio Grande Valley.—Melissa del Bosque

3:49 p.m.: What I’ll Be Watching (Emily DePrang, @deprangy)

Dan-tastic!
“Bananagrams™” is a term that gets thrown around all too often in our state’s political discourse. So is “bonkersville” and “apeshit.” When pundits overuse such terms, they then find themselves at a loss for how to describe impending life under the rule of this or that new iteration of Republican extremism in Texas. Remember when some people thought state Sen. Dan Patrick winning the nomination for Republican candidate for lite guv was thought good news for Democrats because, seriously, who would vote for an extremist talk radio host over the charismatic and experienced Latina Democrat, Leticia Van de Putte? Ah, simpler times. But polls suggest Patrick will overcome Van de Putte tonight, if only by being smart enough to campaign exclusively within view of people who already planned to vote for him. If so, he’ll take the gavel of the Texas Senate, controlling the legislative agenda and possibly eliminating one of the last toeholds of Texas Democratic influence: the two-thirds rule. I’ll be at Dan Patrick’s results-watching party tonight, tweeting from @deprangy.

Law & Order: Houston
I’ll also be keeping an eye on the district attorney race in Harris County, where Democrat Kim Ogg is polling neck-and-neck with the incumbent, Republican Devon Anderson, who was appointed after her husband, DA Mike Anderson, died in office. Both Ogg and Anderson want to ease drug sentencing for small amounts of marijuana, but Ogg more so, and she also wants to reform the grand jury system. A win for her would be a symbolic break from the hang-‘em-high ‘90s in Harris County, for which Anderson, like her husband before, has expressed nostalgia. It would also inspire hope among Dems who see Harris County as Patient Zero for the long-awaited spread of blue.—Emily DePrang

3:47 p.m.: What I’ll Be Watching (Christopher Hooks, @cd_hooks)

Top of the Ballot—Abbott’s Banquet
For the most part, running for statewide office as a Republican is like racing in the pinewood derby—momentum carries you through. Greg Abbott was the favorite in his race for governor the moment he announced, with tens of millions of dollars in tow. He ran a sometimes-mediocre campaign, and provided Davis with a lot of opportunities to hit him. But he remains the favorite. Dan Patrick, the second man on the GOP slate, had a fierce and weird primary, but he ultimately beat David Dewhurst like a rented mule—and he’s been coasting ever since. His opponent Leticia Van de Putte, who’s been campaigning hard across Texas, has had difficulty getting traction.

At Observer HQ, I’ll be keeping track of the gov and lite gov races as the results come in—there’s also John Cornyn’s race against the quixotic but earnest effort of David Alameel. But I’ll also be at Greg Abbott’s big shindig at The Moody Theater in Austin’s W Hotel, where country singer Pat Green will be serenading BBQ-chomping supporters and where Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Cornyn,and both George P. and Jeb Bush will be hoping to help Abbott ring in a new era of Republican dominance in Texas.

The Battle of Senate District 10
I’ll also be keeping tabs on the race for Davis’ soon-to-be-former Senate seat, in a Republican-leaning district that Libby Willis hopes to hold for the Democrats against a challenge from tea party activist Konni Burton. The Senate is already set to lurch hard to the right thanks to a series of bitter GOP primary runoffs, but Burton would be yet another wild card. Formerly the vice president of the particularly ferocious Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, she’s spent the last few months of the campaign making her case as a level-headed woman of the people, while voters got mailers suggesting that without her in office, doctors will kill old folks with impunity and topless men wearing the shin guards of Roman soldiers will parade proudly through the streets. The latter, to be clear, was a scary mailer from the National Family Council accusing Willis of pushing “the radical homosexual agenda.” Burton has said her campaign had nothing to do with it.


Picking up Davis’ seat would be a big symbolic win for Republicans. It would also be of little strategic significance if the Senate abandons its time-honored two-thirds rule in favor of the “however many votes we need” standard that could win the day if Dan Patrick becomes lt. governor. Putting Willis in office, and keeping this seat in Democrats’ hands, is one of Battleground Texas’ top priorities. Willis is a familiar face in Fort Worth politics; she’s been a preservationist and community activist for years. The race could prove to be a close one, and a fascinating one to keep watching tonight.—Chris Hooks

3:45 p.m.: What I’ll Be Watching (Patrick Michels, @patrickmichels)

Reporting from Wendy Davis HQs
Wendy Davis kicked off her campaign for governor a little over a year ago in Fort Worth, and tonight that’s where she’ll end it too. Even in the months before her campaign officially began, perception of her candidacy was carefully managed by a host of advisers, including longtime players in Texas Democratic politics and D.C. veterans who rode in with Battleground Texas. I’ll be there to report on the scene at the moment of truth—the end, win or lose, of Texas Democrats’ most promising statewide campaign in decades. Whether the crowd is celebrating or sulking, they won’t have to go far for the wine.—Patrick Michels

3:37 p.m.: What I’ll Be Watching (Forrest Wilder, @Forrest4Trees)

Davis—Can she lose and still win?
Whether you think Wendy Davis ran a great campaign or a terrible one, she was always facing the Sisyphean task of winning in Texas, which has been brutally unkind to Democrats for almost a quarter of a century now. So, there’s a lot of chatter about what—short of a highly unlikely win—constitutes a moral victory. It’s largely about expectations now. Among political wags, the absolute floor is considered Bill White’s 55-42 loss to Rick Perry in 2010. If she matches that or does worse, it’s going to be (another) setback to Democrats, Battleground Texas and the entire Purple Texas project. Republicans hope it’ll be a fatal blow, drying up Battleground’s money and proving that turning Texas blue was an MSNBC pipe dream. At that point, I think lots of folks will feel that Battleground’s organizing efforts were so much hype and it’s all over but the crying.

Your percentage may vary, but I think if Davis can keep it within six points, say 52-46, then that represents a modest step forward for Democrats, a proof of concept that a long-term rebuilding project in Texas could yield victories in the long-term. Moral victories don’t count for much in electoral politics, but Texas Democrats are in such a deep rut that it’s not reasonable to expect one candidate, one campaign, to winch the whole apparatus out in one cycle.

If Davis does better than expected, she’ll probably lift up much of the rest of the down-ballot with her, though it will be interesting to see what sort of break there is between Davis and the rest of the ticket. If it’s close, then the debate will begin on whether Davis could have won had she run a better campaign.

Turnout, Turnout, Turnout
For whatever reason—dejected voters, unappealing candidates, malaise about our fallen world—turnout so far in 2014 has been anemic. Compared to 2010, 16,000 fewer people voted early, despite at least 1.3 million more Texans and a substantial increase in registrations.

Democrats have remained upbeat, saying the low turnout is due to Republican-leaning voters (read: Anglos) not making it to the polls. Still, it’s difficult to see how a low-turnout election in Texas could possibly close the huge gap between Democrats and Republicans. Texas has the politics it has largely because many, many people—young, minority, less-educated… Democrats—simply do not show up. If that doesn’t change, the status quo probably won’t budge.

It’s raining across much of Texas today, which may dampen turnout even more. It will be interesting to see if we even reach the paltry 38 percent turnout of registered voters in 2010, or whether it will be closer to the pit of 34 percent in 2006. I suspect it will be somewhere in between.

I’ll also be keeping an eye on Harris County, which, despite being 70 percent minority, is basically a purple county that could very well swing Republican this year. Early voting totals there were abysmal: Compared to 2010, 69,000 fewer people showed up at the polls and the turnout rate was down a whopping 21 percent.

If Republicans do well in Harris County, picking up county offices and maybe even a House seat or two, that’ll just be insult to Democratic injury.

#Hoganmentum
Jim Hogan is that nice fellow who actually does agriculture for a living who’s running for ag commissioner as a Democrat, but who also refuses to campaign. Every cycle, the Democrats manage to have someone on their ticket who is an embarrassment. See: Lloyd Oliver, Kesha Rogers and Gene Kelly. Hogan, despite his bizarre non-campaign, can actually make a plausible case as ag commissioner. He has no fealty to special interests, he seems genuinely interested in doing right for the small farmer and rancher, and he’d probably spend more time doing ag business than the last guy, who seemed more interested in stoking fears about narco-terrorists at the border and angling for higher office than tending to his post.

Still, Hogan is not a “real” candidate in that he hasn’t raised money, hasn’t really campaigned and says funny things like “you ever seen a goat eat a watermelon?” For that reason, I think he’s an interesting benchmark. Imagine if he does as well or better than, say, Mike Collier, an experienced Houston CPA with some intriguing ideas for the comptroller’s office. What if he does better than Leticia Van de Putte? What does that say about the ability of even respectable Dem candidates to reach their people? If, on the other hand, there’s a big dropoff between Hogan and the more serious candidates, we can chalk up Hogan’s surprise appearance on the ballot of a bit of a fluke and all go eat some country boy stew.

Fracking Ban in Denton
Can a medium-sized city in an oil-and-gas state pass a fracking ban? Well, the cool thing is we will find out soon. Anecdotally, it seems like the pro-ban forces have a lot of energy on their side, though, of course, not the money. Even if the ban passes, it will face lawsuits and a likely lobbyist-led assault on this unprofitable facet of “local control” at the Legislature come January 2015.But even if it proves to by symbolic, a ban on fracking could resonate with communities in shale plays across the nation.—Forrest Wilder

8:00 a.m.: At long last, we’ve arrived at Election Day 2014. We’ve got reporters in Fort Worth, Houston and Austin covering the returns. Please check back here later today for live coverage and analysis from the whole Observer team. Make sure to follow @texasobserver for up-to-the-minute updates.

Today is a day politicians, consultants, volunteers, true believers and even millions of citizens have been waiting for. Tens of millions of dollars have been raised and spent, tomes of half-truths and spin have been written and tossed away, and tens of thousands of volunteers have given countless hours of their lives walking blocks and making calls.

At the end of all of it, though, there’s not much room for surprises in most of the races happening tomorrow. Turnout during early voting has been lower than many had hoped. Democratic statewide figures have struggled to break out. In the Legislature, only one of the state’s 31 Senate seats is up for grabs, and only a handful of state House races are competitive.

At the top of the ticket, you might have heard of Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott. They’ve spent more than $83 million in their headlining bout to reach the governor’s mansion, but most polls over the last few months have Davis trailing by double digits. At this point, it’s the margin that matters most.

If Davis performs similarly to, or worse than, 2010 Democratic nominee Bill White, who lost to Perry by 12.7 points, a lot of people will argue that the Democratic investment in Texas this cycle yielded little. If Davis does substantially better than Bill White, many will argue the opposite.

Then there’s the lieutenant governor’s race, pitting two state senators, Leticia Van de Putte and Dan Patrick, against each other. The story is much the same here, although Van de Putte hopes that Patrick has alienated a large number of Republican-leaning voters—and that dynamic hasn’t been captured by the polls.

There are a number of other statewide races. Three Democrats—Sam Houston, the party’s nominee for attorney general; Mike Collier, the party’s nominee for comptroller; and Steve Brown, the party’s nominee for a seat on the Railroad Commission—have won plaudits from newspapers and others for being relatively thoughtful in running credible campaigns against Republicans Ken Paxton, Glenn Hegar and Ryan Sitton, respectively. But they’ve struggled to win attention in a state with pretty low levels of civic engagement.

Then there are two other statewide races where Republicans face even less opposition. In the land commissioner race, Democrat John Cook, a former mayor of El Paso, faces the impenetrable armor of George P. Bush, who has a pretty unbelievable amount of money. And there’s the race for agriculture commissioner, where the eccentric Democratic nominee, Jim Hogan, won his primary seemingly on accident and refused, on point of principle, to campaign against GOPer Sid Miller.

In the Texas Senate, only Ft. Worth’s District 10, Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be former seat, is really being contested. Libby Willis is doing her best to hold the seat for Democrats against Konni Burton, a tea party organizer who’d be one of the chamber’s most far-right members. Willis has benefited from substantial last-minute investments from Dem donors, and Tarrant County has seen a substantial increase in voter participation, but the district—and the fact that it’s a midterm election year—probably favors Burton.

There’s also the 150-member state House, where only about a dozen races bear close scrutiny tomorrow. Democratic organizing engine Battleground Texas has focused its efforts on a number of seats, including Galveston’s House District 23, where Democrat Susan Criss will be trying to hold Craig Eiland’s former seat against GOPer Wayne Faircloth. In South Texas’ HD 43, Dem Kim Gonzalez aims to defeat incumbent GOPer J.M. Lozano.

The Metroplex rounds out much of the rest of the House action, including House District 105, Dem Susan Motley v. Rodney Anderson; House District 107, Dem Carol Donovan v. Kenneth Sheets; House District 108, Dem Leigh Bailey v. Morgan Meyer; and House District 113, Dem Milton Whitley v. Cindy Burkett.

Other wildcards include Houston’s House District 149, where incumbent Democrat Hubert Vo is squaring off against Republican Al Hoang in a campaign which included the threat of box cutter violence over allegations Hoang collaborated with communist Vietnam, and Arlington’s House District 94, a GOP-leaning district which features Democrat Cole Ballweg facing off against a tea party activist named Tony Tinderholt, who’s proven to be all kinds of crazy.

Oh, and there’s Congress, too. While John Cornyn faces little threat from Democrat David Alameel, or Green Party nominee Emily “SpicyBrown” Sanchez, there is one potentially interesting race in Congressional District 23, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego is being challenged by a Republican named Will Hurd. Gallego is probably the favorite in the race, though his district has switched hands repeatedly in recent years.

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Published at 8:00 am CST
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