As millions of Americans across the country were sending a message to President Obama, Texas voters turned back the efforts of Wendy Davis and her bi-coastal backers who were attempting to turn Texas blue. With a field of strong conservative candidates and a vibrant party organization, Republicans in the Lone Star State continued their twenty year record of winning all statewide elections in a state with twenty-nine statewide elective positions.
Heading the GOP ticket in 2014 was twelve-year incumbent U. S. Senator John Cornyn who by racked up a margin of 1,260,000 votes over his Democratic opponent, David M. Alameel, a wealthy businessman from Dallas. Cornyn led the statewide effort by gaining 61.6% of the vote in the Senate race. The statewide Republican candidate with the next largest vote has a familiar sounding name: George P. Bush. Son of the former Florida governor and nephew and grandson to two presidents, the 38-year old Bush was in his first political race and was elected Land Commissioner, easily defeating former El Paso Mayor John Cook.
Most media attention, however, was focused on the gubernatorial contest involving State Senator Wendy Davis and Attorney General Greg Abbott. Davis became a national liberal celebrity after her 2013 senate filibuster attempting to stop a bill placing restrictions on abortion services. Withsupport from several major liberal contributors both in Texas and elsewhere, Davis raised more than thirty million dollars for her campaign. Davis??? heavy use of negative ads against Abbott contributed to a negative favorable-unfavorable rating contrasted with a 57-35 positive rating for Abbott. When the votes were counted, it was no contest at all as Abbott rolled up a margin of nearly one million votes, obtaining 60.4% of the total. Abbott was able to cut his losses in the state???s six biggest counties to less than 50,000 votes while building up an advantage of 425,000 votes over Davis in the 29 suburban counties surrounding Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas-Fort Worth. His largest percentage of the vote, however, came in the Small Town counties formerly home to the state???s ???yellow dog Democrats??? where he received 77.9% of the vote for a margin of 387,000 votes over Davis.
While Davis tried the typical Democratic charge of a Republican ???war on women,??? it clearly backfired on her. According to the NBC News exit poll, Abbott got the votes of 54% of women in Texas, including 62% of married women. Building on the previous efforts of his predecessors, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry, Abbott obtained 44% of the Hispanic vote and 72% of Anglo voters across the state. The Texas GOP???s success extended also into legislative contests as the party increased its advantages in the congressional delegation (25R-11D), state senate (20R-11D), and state house of representatives (98R-52D). The one state senate seat picked up by the party was the district formerly represented by Wendy Davis. Meanwhile, a young attractive Republican candidate named Will Hurd recaptured the 23rd congressional district that has flipped back and forth over the last decade. Hurd becomes the first African-American Republican in Congress from Texas. Two of the three state house districts captured from the Democrats will be held by Hispanic Republican legislators.
Much of the 2014 success in Texas is due to the party???s on-going efforts to reach out to all Texans, an approach that is critical as demographic changes occur in the state. Nevertheless, overall population and voting electorate are distinct properties and in 2014 Anglos comprised roughly two-thirds of the electorate in Texas while one in six voters was Hispanic. Beyond the dedicated efforts and the qualifications of the various candidates, much of the credit for the Republican success goes to GOP chairman Steve Munisteri and the state party organization. Elected in 2010 with a pledge to pay off the state organization???s debts and put the party on a solid financial footing, Munisteri has been a prodigious fundraiser and kept the party in the black while increasing financial and staff support for the election effort. With the assistance of the Republican National Committee, the Texas GOP opened and staffed a number of ???Victory Centers??? around the state with a special effort to reach Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American voters. These efforts will continue beyond the election as the state party looks forward to the presidential contest of 2016. Munisteri has succeeded in building a strong party organization dedicated to conservative principle as well as winning elections. He has been able to keep factionalism and any divisive tendencies in the party to a minimum and the result has been a series of overwhelming victories for the conservative cause in Texas. Given the results of recent elections, one must wonder if Democratic political strategists have already written off Texas from their 2016 presidential campaign playbook.
Wayne Thorburn is author of Red State: An Insider???s Story of How The G.O.P. Came to Dominate Texas Politics, published this year by University of Texas Press. He lives in Austin, Texas.