Texas

The Not-So-Red Wave of the 2022 Midterm Elections in Texas

In the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections, Texans have been watching a few stories.

There are, of course, high-profile stories, such as the defeat of Beto O’Rourke, but there have also been several vote races that reveal a lot about the GOP’s attempt to create a “red wave.”

» TEXAS ELECTION 2022: See state and congressional election results.

Elizabeth Simas, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston and Sergio Martinez-Beltrana Texas Newsroom reporter, joined the Texas Standard to give his analysis of how the midterms went in Texas. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott defeated Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke by nearly a million votes, far more than Democrats had hoped or polls showed. Sergio, how do you see results from the top of the ticket in Texas?

Sergio Martinez-Beltran: I think the unofficial results that we honestly observe are not surprising. Every Republican at the top of the ticket — Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and others — have won their races comfortably. And I think it shows that the majority of Texans either support or at least agree with the political proposals of the Republican majority in the state. And I think a big part of Abbott’s victory was in his messages throughout his campaign. He focused on immigration, the state economy, inflation. These issues, which he spoke to reporters on the gubernatorial campaign this morning, resonate with more voters than the issues O’Rourke focused on, such as access to reproductive health and gun control.

Professor Simas, we’ve seen the Republicans hold on to other national contests – lieutenant governor and attorney general. Republican incumbent Ken Paxton, who has been in the news often due to legal troubles, led Democrat Rochelle Garza by about ten percentage points. So, professor, what do you think of this result?

Elizabeth Simas: I think that, again, repeating what we said earlier, is just a reflection of the fact that we’re just seeing more of the status quo in Texas. Which, on the one hand, sends signals that yes, there is still a Republican majority here and that people are happy with the way things are going. But the “status quo” looks the same as it did in 2018 – not what the Republicans expected. I think, especially since we’ve had Biden as president, we know that the president’s party usually doesn’t do so well in these midterms. And so the fact that the Democrats stayed the same and that we saw, you know, almost the same numbers across Texas as in 2018 actually says a lot, even though it’s not different.

» READ MORE: Texas Republican Party Campaigns Statewide as Abbott, Patrick and Paxton Win Re-Elections

Professor Simas, let’s digress a little and look at how Democrats and Republicans are messaging for the statewide office. Here we discussed many issues: the economy, immigration, abortion. What resonated with voters?

Simas: You know, I think the abortion issue hasn’t been as widespread as the O’Rourke campaign or the Democrats thought it might be early in the campaign. I really think it comes down to economics. But you know that, along with security, there will be big things to do. But these things mean different things to different people. So it’s going to be interesting, I guess.

Well, Sergio, in the run-up to yesterday’s midterm elections, there was a lot of talk of a “red wave” both nationally and in Texas. So Texas has long been red. Have we seen the red wave here?

Martinez-Beltran: We are not. As you mentioned, Texas has long been red. So I think we should also ask the question, what would a red wave look like in Texas? And I think that maybe it was a change of three constituencies in the Rio Grande valley. We know it didn’t work out for the Republicans despite spending a lot of money and investing heavily in the area. You know, most of the frontier counties also went ahead, showing that these counties are still blue and still Democrats. So I think the red wave narrative is not true at the moment.

Well, last night after losing the race, Republican Congresswoman Myra Flores tweeted, and I quote, “There was no red wave. Republicans and independents stayed at home. DO NOT COMPLAINT ABOUT THE RESULTS IF YOU DID NOT MAKE YOUR PLOT!” So Professor Simas, what do you think of this? Are Republicans getting the results they want in Texas? And if not, was turnout a problem?

Simas: I guess the turnout is what it all came down to. I mean, we definitely won’t see too many people changing parties. So both parties needed a lot of voters, and I think both of them may not have achieved their goal. But, yes, if we didn’t get the numbers the Republicans want, that’s certainly what we’re seeing in those results so far.

Well, let’s talk a little about the Democrats now. Obviously, O’Rourke’s defeat is what most people will remember. But Democrats are also struggling to seriously challenge other anti-vote races, such as the lieutenant governor or attorney general. Sergio, is this what the Democrats were expecting, or is this, quote, a “poor performance” for them?

Martinez-Beltran: This is a great question. I think the Democrats hoped to succeed. But I think they actually knew that it would be very difficult to get there. You know, I bet they’re disappointed. I think last night’s results showed that it’s very difficult for Democrats to get statewide office at the moment, as you mentioned. In addition to the gubernatorial race, the Democrats did put in a lot of effort to elect Rochelle Garza, their candidate for deputies. Many said she was the Democrats’ best chance for a statewide seat. She ran against Attorney General Ken Paxton. We talked about him. He is a highly controversial figure who has been indicted, accused of misconduct by the state, and has been implicated in the annulment of the 2020 presidential election results. Thus, he was a struggling candidate, and yet the Democrats failed this time to remove him from office.

Well, Sergio, to continue, have there been any interesting developments since the Texas Legislative Elections?

Martinez-Beltran: Not really. I think ultimately the Republicans are still in control, and that’s what we’re seeing. And I think it will be interesting what will be their priorities next year, in the next session, which starts in January. Do you know what the priorities they will be pushing will be now that they are back in control?

Well, Professor Simas, do the election results show anything surprising about Texas voters?

Simas: I think this really shows a deep partisan split. Even though you talked about how the Democrats didn’t necessarily have the high profile candidates they wanted for other positions in the state. If you look, there wasn’t a huge number of rejections from people who went and voted for the best and then didn’t vote for the Democrats further down the list. We’ve seen pretty much the same thing, or what I’m seeing so far looks pretty similar from both sides, which shows you, I think it’s not so much about the candidate, but about the party. And the Texans are getting really, you know, divided into parties. And so I agree that I think that the priorities of the legislature put forward in the next session will be very important in preparation for the upcoming races, because there is this polarization. And if they catch issues that really push the buttons on one side or the other, we’ll see some interesting racing in the future.

For both of you, how does Texas fit into the big picture as you look at the midterms?

Martinez-Beltran: Well, as Professor Simas mentioned earlier, the Democrats were able to hold their line in some way. And we’re seeing it in constituencies and also in some constituencies. But I think that here you can see that the story of the “red wave” was, again, not completed. In my opinion, the Republicans have failed to succeed in this whole upheaval across the board.

Simas: Yeah. I think Texas is very similar to the rest of the country. It didn’t have to be such a big change. Again, the last time I looked, you know, was probably going to come to Georgia with the Senate, maybe the House of Representatives. But the margin there will be much less than many expected. There were many Democrats who were able to hold the seat. So it wasn’t the real blow to Biden that I think people were expecting.



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