Election 2020

How a Texas Republican Won in the Most Favorable Political Environment for Dems in Modern Politics

Republican Pete Flores, center, stands with his daughter Vicky, left, and state Sen. Donna Campbell, right. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Republican Pete Flores’ stunning victory in Texas on Tuesday was the result of a far superior GOTV effort, political analysts are saying.

Texas Democrats were blindsided when the Republican game warden flipped a Democratic district red for the first time in 139 years on Tuesday. Some of the words Texas Democrats are using to describe the upset are “shocking,” “humiliating” and “just plain not great.”

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Democrats managed to lose what should have been an easy layup in San Antonio’s District 19, which has been called “one of the most favorable political environments for Democrats in modern politics.”

In a statement Wednesday, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa tried to blame his party’s humiliating defeat on Republican Governor Greg Abbott, alleging that the governor had set a runoff for a date that ensured low voter turnout.

“Governor Abbott stole an election, plain and simple,” Hinojosa said.

But according to Justin Miller at the Texas Observer, “the signs of a potential upset were there from the beginning.”

An ugly power struggle among a handful of Democrats trying to jump to higher office culminated in Flores actually winning the special election primary. Meanwhile, the Uresti scandal loomed over Democrats and the embattled San Antonio party apparatus has long struggled to turn out Hispanic voters in off-year elections, to say nothing of low-profile special elections.

Republicans saw an opportunity and pounced. Aiming to shore up his Senate majority, Patrick pumped about $175,000 into the race. Flores and his allies blasted Gallego on TV and radio, casting the well-known but flawed candidate who formerly represented the 23rd Congressional District in Washington, D.C., as a liberal career politician.

Running a decidedly milquetoast campaign, Gallego failed to effectively counter the GOP’s broadsides. Instead he ran radio ads with inspiring lines like, “He’s familiar — what you see is what you get. Pete Gallego — you know the name. He’s been there.”

Gallego raised more than $400,000, but let Flores and his allies go on TV completely uncontested.

While Democrats in the district were in disarray, Republicans were hard at work making over 100,000 calls, knocking on over 20,000 doors, and raising over $300,000 in just six weeks, according to Flores’ campaign strategist Matt Mackowiak:

Republican strategist John Drogin suggested that momentum and morale were a factor too:

Flores appeared on “Fox and Friends” Thursday to talk about his surprise victory: “We had basically an old-fashioned grassroots campaign gettin’ out with the folks in all these 17 counties,” Flores explained. “Face time makes miracles,” he added.

He told “Fox and Friends” host Steve Doocy that people thanked him for just showing up and “not taking them for granted.”

“There’s not going to be a blue wave,” Flores said flatly. “We’re a very conservative population in Southwest Texas — strong believers  in God, and family, and country.”