Criminal JusticeElections 2022FederalImmigration & BorderStatewide NewsTexas Democrats Blame Lackluster Midterm on 2021 Election Reform, Redistricting, and Poor Border Messaging

Election reform, redistricting, and “dark money” donations were just some of the reasons Democrats lost this cycle, according to party leadership.
November 11, 2022
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A memo from the Texas Democratic Party (TDP) reveals its self-diagnosis of the midterm election, blaming the party’s lackluster performance on election reform and redistricting, “dark money” donations, and Republican messaging on the border and crime.

In the end, each of the seven statewide Republican candidates soundly defeated their Democratic challengers by double-digit margins. The GOP gained two seats in the Texas House of Representatives, nearly gained another in the state Senate, and flipped one of the three South Texas congressional districts held by Democrats.

On Thursday, the Texas Tribune posted on Twitter a memo from Jamarr Brown, executive director of the TDP.

“Republicans’ multi-million dollar campaign to flip South Texas failed miserably,” wrote Brown. “Texas Latinos overwhelmingly voted for Democrats up and down the ballot — rejecting right-wing extremism across the Rio Grande Valley.”

“Democrats maintained strongholds across South Texas, a region flooded with Republican dark money and widely seen as a national bellwether for GOP popularity with Hispanic voters.”

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Brown wrote that although Democrats could not win the statewide races, there were things to celebrate and lessons to learn.

The six takeaways Brown identified were “historical midterm trends,” “voter suppression,” “Republican gerrymandering,” “Republican dark money,” “border security and crime-related messaging,” and “lack of deeper investment” from national Democrats.

In particular, the GOP was focused on South Texas’ three congressional districts and the Republicans running in them: Rep. Mayra Flores (R-TX-34) in the 34th District of Texas, Cassy Garcia in the 28th, and Monica De La Cruz in the 15th.

Of those three, only De La Cruz won her race against Democrat Michelle Vallejo. Flores lost to Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15), and Garcia lost to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28).

This was a partial disappointment to state and national Republicans, who hoped to flip more than one of those seats while building upon the red shift in border communities in 2020.

But Republicans saw other success in South Texas.

In Uvalde County, where 19 children and two teachers were killed in a school shooting in May, statewide Republicans were reelected by 20-point margins despite Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke’s emphasis on the massacre and gun control measures in response.

Brown praised Democrats for keeping the congressional districts that went for Biden in 2020, despite the historical disadvantage the president’s party usually faces in a midterm election. But “a loss is still a loss,” he wrote, before listing what he and the Texas Democratic leadership considered the “major challenges” this election.

One of those was Senate Bill (SB) 1, which Brown described as part of “Texas Republicans’ brutal campaign of highly-targeted voter suppression.”

Republicans passed SB 1 in September 2021, claiming it would make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.” According to its proponents in the GOP, the bill updated the election code, ensured consistency and flexibility across jurisdictions, and ensured all legal ballots were counted.

But Brown claimed that election reform efforts like SB 1 intimidated racial minorities from voting, forcing them to begin “the logistical process of jumping through these new Republican-implemented hoops.”

This year’s voter turnout was 45 percent, lower than the 53 percent who turned out in 2018 but well above the 33 percent who made it to the polls in 2014. Since 2018, voter registration in Texas has increased 12 percent, adding 716,000 people to the rolls in just the last two years.

SB 1 was the reason Texas Democrats broke quorum during the special session in July 2021, fleeing to Washington, D.C. for weeks before enough returned to re-establish quorum, allowing Republicans to pass the bill.

Brown then pointed to the 2021 redistricting, calling it a “precise slicing and dicing of our state” to make purple districts redder and blue districts bluer, deepening but narrowing Democrats’ control and giving the advantage to the GOP.

After several lawsuits against the redistricting plan, which the state is obligated to do in the first regular session after the census, state attorneys have claimed that the Legislature has a constitutional obligation to consider redistricting again in 2023.

One of the other sore issues in the memo was funding.

“We as a Party simply do not have as donors the same kinds of corporate oligarchs with absurd amounts of disposable wealth,” wrote Brown, contending that Republicans succeeded in “impacting voters’ decision-making” with well-funded political advertisements from donors. This “Republican dark money,” he alleged, came with the expectation of looser regulations as well as political favors.

In the most expensive race of the election, incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott raised about $26 million more than O’Rourke and outspent the Democrat by over $50 million.

He insisted that national Democratic organizations need to step up and contribute in order to push back.

“[W]e will never be able to flip Texas on our own,” Brown wrote, asking for investment from national Democrats into states “getting bluer” such as Texas rather than those becoming “redder and redder” like Florida.

Putting aside accusations of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and dark money, Brown noted that Republicans did outperform Democrats on the issues of border security and public safety.

“(Border security) is a hugely important issue to our state,” he wrote, and Democrats can no longer “sweep it under the rug and hope voters just don’t pay attention to it.”

He accused the GOP of “fearmongering” and playing on “the racist fears of an almost uniformly white base,” but acknowledged that Democrats cannot “be seen as aloof or oblivious to this issue.”

He also insisted that Democrats must take the issue of public safety from Republicans, calling on them to no longer “cede this rhetorical ground” and instead “be more forceful in reiterating our support for law enforcement, our determination to stop local-level crime, and our efforts to make communities safer.”

An August poll of the gubernatorial candidates showed Texans trusted Abbott over O’Rourke on the issues of “reducing crime” by 13 points and “securing the border” by 19 points.

“It must be mentioned,” Brown wrote, “that in the district we enjoyed the greatest margin of victory, our incumbent Congressman Henry Cuellar has a long track record of speaking and acting firmly in favor of real action on border security and unequivocally in support of law enforcement.”

While there was little to no “red wave” on the national level, Texas Republicans have succeeded in keeping their hold on the state for another cycle. TDP must now prepare for the 2023 session and regroup before the 2024 election with new strategies to take over Texas, where no Democrat has held statewide office in almost 30 years.

The 88th Legislature will convene on January 10, 2023 and end on May 29, 2023. Legislators can start filing bills on Monday, November 14.

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Rob Laucius

Rob Laucius is the Assistant Editor of The Texan. A Texas native, he graduated summa cum laude from Hillsdale College in 2022 with a degree in History and has interned for the U.S. House of Representatives and Veterans Administration. In his free time, Rob enjoys reading and writing, watching movies, and long walks around his neighborhood.