Texas House District 28’s special election offered a first test of the theory that red Texas may be trending blue in the age of Trump. The suburban district west of Houston offered Democrats an opportunity to grab a seat and the narrative just days before the 2020 Iowa caucuses.
HD28 is a red district in a county, Fort Bend, that has been trending blue. Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump 51-44 in 2016. Republican incumbent John Zerwas won HD28 +9 in 2018. His decision not to seek another term left it open and the Democrats pulled no punches to try to take it.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren endorsed the Democrat. Former veep Joe Biden did the same. Julian Castro campaigned for the Democrat. Mike Bloomberg bumbled his way into town and apparently knocked on the wrong doors. Beto O’Rourke practically lived in the district for the last few weeks, showing up everywhere giving speeches for the Democratic candidate, Dr. Eliz Markowitz. If one were to go by Twitter, the Dem would win 90-10.
The Republican majority in the Texas House is just 9 seats heading into the November general elections. A Dem pickup of HD28 would narrow the number of pickups they need to take a majority and give them momentum for the general election when this seat and all others in the Texas House are on the ballot. They could make the case that Texas is starting to list to the left. That was their opening and closing argument.
But after early voting, Republican Gary Gates sprinted to the lead going away, 59% to 41% over the Democrat. The lead was surprisingly strong and held up as the count wore on. He finished the night winning 58% to 42%, with 30,000 votes cast — a new record for a Texas House special election by about 9,000 votes.
To be sure, both parties knew the stakes. In addition to the big-name endorsements, Democrat groups and PACs poured money in by the hundreds of thousands. Numerous Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, endorsed Gates and supplied air support and support on the ground. Texas Republicans from the state party to the streets of the district took this race very, very seriously. Partisans on both sides knocked on thousands upon thousands of doors.
Gates overcame an enormous Democrat effort to poach the seat and begin their case for turning Texas blue.
Instead, the district became deeper red by a wider margin than it was just under two years ago, and wider than anyone expected. It’s gone from a tied bellwether, as the Democrats were promising just days ago, to a blowout. Beto has suffered a beatdown and is a bust. None of the Democrats vying for the White House have any sort of coattails in this Texas district.
If HD28 is a harbinger for November, the Republicans have a lot to look forward to — and the Democrats will remain on the fringes of power in the Lone Star State.
Rice University’s Mark Jones was among the first to call it, just after the early voting totals emerged.
.@GatesforTexas with an insurmountable 59% to 41% lead in the EV in #txlege #HD28. The only doubt remaining is whether Gates’ double digit margin of victory starts with a 2 or 1. A bucket of cold water on D hopes of flipping the #TX House in November 2020.https://t.co/viQ37s39n9
— Mark P. Jones (@MarkPJonesTX) January 29, 2020
Aaron De Leon, political director of Associated Republicans of Texans, put the victory into context for PJ Media.
“Texans have been heard loud and clear,” he said in a written statement. “We will not allow dozens of radical progressive PACs, run by Democrat elites and failed Democrat presidential contenders, to buy our state legislature.”
The 2020 elections have begun.