The BETO Effect

The Man Behind the “Blue Wave” in Texas

Beto Rally at the Pan American Neighborhood Park, Austin (Photo: crockodile/Wikimedia Commons)
Beto Rally at the Pan American Neighborhood Park, Austin

By: Jeffrey L. Boney, NNPA Political Analyst

The 2018 midterm elections have come and gone here in the great state of Texas, and all across Texas, especially in Harris County and Fort Bend County, Democrats faired extremely well. The results of many of the key county and statewide political races in Texas were a shock to many voters and political observers.

Nearly every race that had a Democratic candidate in it was won by a Democrat. African American women faired extremely well as a result of this “blue wave” thanks in large part to a man who generated excitement all across the state of Texas and ran one of the most competitive statewide elections in modern times – Beto O’Rourke.

Many would argue that it was their well-run campaigns and endorsements that produced such wonderful results, but it is difficult to ignore the impact that Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke actually had on this year’s midterm election results.

In the most high-profile statewide race of the 2018 midterm elections, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) did for Texas Democrats what no other candidate since former President Barack Obama could have ever done. O’Rourke expanded the electorate to include first-time voters and younger voters, while creating an epic nationwide political movement that should serve as the blueprint for any candidate thinking about running in 2020.

Although he fell short in his quest to unseat Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, Beto O’ Rourke helped flip many Texas counties Democratic, along with several traditionally Republican-held congressional seats across the state. Out of over 8 million votes cast, Cruz only won the contest by a little over 200,000 votes against O’Rourke – 51% to 48%.

The down ballot races had a different outcome, however, thanks to O’Rourke’s star power.

What some were calling a potential “blue wave” turned out to be more like a “blue tsunami” for Democrats, as nearly every countywide race from district attorney, county commissioner, county judge and various judge seats in Harris County, Fort Bend County and many other counties, were contested and the majority flipped from Republican to Democrat – thanks in large part to the impressive campaign ran by Rep. O’Rourke.

In Harris County, longtime Republican incumbent County judge, Ed Emmett, was defeated by 27-year-old Democratic newcomer Lina Hidalgo. All of the Democrats who ran for countywide positions in Harris County, including the highly profiled African American female candidates who were on the ballot for judge seats, won their respective races.

In Fort Bend County, voters made history by electing Brian Middleton as the first African American district attorney in the history of the County. He is also the first Democrat to hold the office of top prosecutor in 26 years.

In another casualty of O’Rourke’s political influence, Fort Bend county voters also voted to elect Democratic nominee and current Fort Bend ISD trustee KP George as their new County judge, versus reelecting Republican incumbent Robert “Bob” Hebert who has been in office for fifteen years. All of the Democrats who were on the ballot for judge seats and county commissioner races in Fort Bend County also won.

Because of this “blue wave” in Texas, several key races also helped Democrats take back control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans. In the Greater Houston area, Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is headed to Congress after defeating nine-term incumbent Republican John Culberson for the Texas 7th District seat.

In what many are considering to be one of the biggest upsets of the midterm elections, both in Texas and nationwide, Democrat Colin Allred knocked off longtime incumbent Republican Pete Sessions to take the Texas 32nd District seat, which is located in Dallas County.

This was a huge win for the Democratic Party and Allred, who is African American, in that Sessions has been in Congress for 22 years and has represented that area since 2003. He was also the chairman of the House Rules Committee, which is one of the oldest and most powerful committees.

There are so many other races that were impacted across Texas as a trickle-down effect of O’Rourke’s campaign. O’Rourke truly solidified himself as a political powerhouse who was able to raise tons of money and electrify a nation with his progressive ideology and charming charisma.

This is Texas, however, and it is a state that has been a Republican-dominated one since 2002, when Republicans took control of the Texas House of Representatives – breaking a 130-year string of Democratic dominance on the state.

Relative to statewide races, Republicans once again retained every seat, although those races were more hotly contested than they have been in several decades.

This Senate loss was not a true loss for O’Rourke, as he led the way for Democrats at a time when they desperately needed a strong person at the top of the ticket at the state level.

The Democratic gubernatorial nominee is usually the person charged with leading the way for Democrats across the state of Texas, but former sheriff Lupe Valdez could not do it, and was absolutely no match for Republican incumbent Greg Abbott, who trounced his opponent by over 1 million votes and easily won reelection – 55.4% to 41.8%.

The influence of President Donald J. Trump should not be ignored either, in that November 6th turned out to be an ugly night for Republicans nationwide. Democrats took back control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since losing it in 2010. Many believe the results of the midterm elections were an indictment on Trump and his administration.

The nationwide and statewide results serve as a huge blow to Trump, who has two more years left in his term and is faced with the uncertainty of what Democrats plan to do to him once they take complete control of the House in January. In 2020, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will once again be on the ballot, along with several Senate seats.

The 2018 midterm elections were not good to Democrats relative to the Senate because the Republicans did retain control, and even expanded its majority in the Senate. Republicans may very well end up with 55 Senate seats when it is all said and done after these midterm election results are compiled.

If that happens, it is going to be a challenge for Democrats to attempt to take over the Senate in 2020, as they would need to pick up about six new seats in traditional Republican states, while also keeping the seats that are currently held by Democrats. Not to mention that 2020 will be another presidential election and Trump will more than likely be on the ballot, making this one of the most crucial presidential elections in recent memory.

Of course, 2020 will be the first general election that will be conducted without the straight-ticket voting option, so it will be important for Democrats to have someone at the top of the ticket who can generate the same level of excitement and turnout as O’Rourke did.

Every single Democratic winner who picked up a new seat in Texas, especially one that has been under Republican-control prior to the 2018 midterm elections, should personally pick up the phone and say “Thank You” to Rep. Beto O’Rourke for creating a “blue wave” that has given them the opportunity to serve and make a difference for their respective constituents and the community at large.

Based off of his tremendous momentum and strong connection to the people all across Texas and the rest of the nation, there is a strong possibility that this won’t be the last time we hear from Beto O’Rourke – maybe even a 2020 run for president? Time will tell.

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