The Washington Post - 03.03.2020

(Barré) #1


Politics & the Nation


middle-class suburbs of Fort
Worth have been a stronghold for
statehouse Republicans for de-
cades. But candidate Joe Drago
says he and the other Democratic
challengers in this rapidly grow-
ing county will break that streak
this year.
“We are seeing working-class
people moving out of urban areas
and into the suburbs, and that has
changed the demographics pro-
foundly,” h e said. “We believe a lot
of these people are Democrats.”
Sprawling housing develop-
ments filled with young, diverse
families have crowded out the
cattle farms and open fields in
Drago’s district, convincing Dem-
ocratic leaders that they have a
chance to flip his and 21 similar
state legislative districts this No-
vember. Democrats need nine to
take control of the Te xas House
for the first time since 2003.
The party plans to funnel tens
of millions of dollars into the
effort, an unprecedented push
that could become one of the
most consequential political bat-
tles of the year. If Democrats are
successful, it would raise ques-
tions about Te xas’s future as a
Republican bulwark in national
“Republicans really haven’t
come to grips with an under-
standing of what is happening in
Te xas,” said Manny Garcia, execu-
tive director of the Te xas Demo-
cratic Party. “You have a rising,
new Te xas electorate.”
Minorities now make up more
than half of the population in
once solidly Republican Ta rrant
County, where Drago’s district is
located. Wavering support for
President Trump in the suburbs
has further boosted Te xas Demo-
crats’ confidence, as well as blow-
back to conservative GOP policies
on health care and education in
the state.
Backed by an infusion of cash
from donors nationwide, the
state party plans to capi tal ize on
the moment using tactics and
organizing efforts rarely de-
ployed in local races, including
opposition research.
But many political analysts re-
main skeptical of Democrats’
chances, and Te xas Republicans
say they are prepared to slow, if
not stall, Democrats’ suburban
gains, which included picking up
14 state legislative seats in 2018.
GOP strategists’ confidence
was boosted in January when the
party won a special election for a
Te xas House seat in suburban
Houston. Former presidential
candidate Beto O’Rourke and a
host of other prominent Demo-
crats campaigned heavily to flip
the seat in Fort Bend County, but
the GOP candidate won by 16
percentage points.
Republicans are hoping to
mount a successful defense state-
wide and have reenlisted the help
of political strategist Karl Rove,
who helped shape the GOP’s rise
to dominance in Te xas decades
ago. Rove is working with con-

sumer data to identify and regis-
ter new GOP voters in Te xas
“One lesson from the 2018 elec-
tion is, some of our candidates
had gotten a little overconfident,”
said James Dickey, chairman of
the Te xas Republican Party. “But
nobody is doing that in 2020.”
Republicans are fighting
against a tide of demographic
change. Since 2016, Te xas has
added 2 million registered voters,
about half of them under age 25,
and 36 percent of them Hispanic,
according to To m Bonier, execu-
tive director of Ta rgetSmart, a
Democratic data firm.
Te xas Democrats say they be-
lieve there are an additional
2.3 million unregistered eligible
voters, the vast majority of whom
are people of color or under age
In parts of Ta rrant, which in-
cludes Fort Worth and its sub-
urbs, the population changes
have turned the area into a politi-
cal battleground. T arrant County
was an epicenter for tea party
opposition to former president
Barack Obama’s policies. But
Trump carried the county with
just 52 p ercent of the vote in 2016,
and O’Rourke narrowly won it in
his 2018 contest against U.S. Sen.
Te d Cruz (R).
Now Democrats are targeting
five statehouse seats there, and
Republicans consider the chal-
lenge to be a defining threat to
their party’s effort to cling to
power statewide.
“We are the last urban county
in Te xas that is red, as all the other
large urban counties in Te xas
have already turned blue,” said
Jeremy Bradford, executive direc-
tor of the Ta rrant County GOP.

“We know we are now ground
zero for these races... because
we are kind of the last defense in
keeping Te xas red, and that is not
something we take lightly.”
Minority voters are registering
at higher rates in Ta rrant County
than they are in Te xas and nation-
ally. The number of Hispanic reg-
istrants there grew by 6.4 percent
since November 2018, higher
than the state average of 5 per-
cent, according to a Washington
Post analysis of data from L2, a
nonpartisan voter data firm.
Drago’s district is centered in
Mansfield, a suburb where the
population has grown nearly ten-
fold over four decades.
In the 1960s, Mansfield was
nationally known as one of the
last Te xas school systems to inte-
grate as local officials defied fed-
eral court orders for years. To day,
white, black and Latino children
account for about 30 percent each
of the student body.
Drago said the region’s i ncreas-
ing diversity will power his cam-
paign as he works to drive up
Democratic turnout in a district
that Cruz carried by fewer than
100 votes in 2018.
Drago will be counting on vot-
ers such as Bernadette Amao,
who in December bought a 4,000-
square-foot house in one of Mans-
field’s newly built subdivisions.
She checks the mail regularly to
see whether her and her hus-
band’s voter registration cards
have arrived.
“I always vote, and that will be
especially true this year,” said
Amao, who immigrated to Te xas
from Nigeria in 1997 and says
Trump is too divisive. “If local
Republicans continue to support
President Trump blindly, I will

not be voting for any of them.”
Polls show that Trump’s popu-
larity has been declining across
suburban Te xas, which Demo-
crats say helped them pick up two
congressional seats in 2018.
“From mid-2016 to now, I just
keeping having more and more
people come up to me and say, ‘I
have been voting for Republicans
for years, and I just can’t do it
anymore,’ ” said Matt Angle,
founder of the Lone Star Project,
a Democratic-aligned political ac-
tion committee.
Angle is referring to voters
such as Kathy Griffin, a 68-year-
old Mansfield resident who has
voted for Republicans in the past
— i ncluding for Sen. Mitt R omney
(R-Utah) during his 2012 presi-
dential campaign. By 2018, she
was so disgusted with Trump she
planted a sign for O’Rourke, then
the Democratic candidate for U.S.
Senate, in her yard.
“I hope we run [Trump] out of
town on a rail, tarred and feath-
ered,” said Griffin, a retired
schoolteacher. “He’s a liar... so
for me, it will be Democratic up
and down the ballot.”
Republican leaders say they
are confident that Trump won’t
be as toxic for the party in the
suburbs as he was two years ago,
particularly if Sen. Bernie Sand-
ers (I-Vt.), a democratic socialist,
is the Democrats’ presidential
“Now, there is a choice on the
ballot, and it’s not just Trump
versus nobody or just a question
about whether, ‘Do you like
Trump?’ ” said Chris Murphy, an
Austin-based GOP strategist.
The healthy economy achieved
under Republican leaders will
boost their chances of maintain-

ing control, Republicans say. D ra-
go’s Republican opponent, Mans-
field Mayor David Cook, predicts
that voters — even the diverse
newcomers to his district — will
reward Gov. Greg Abbott and
other Republicans for the state’s
3.5 percent unemployment rate,
which is near a record low.
“Texas is still a Republican-
leaning state,” C ook said. “A nd the
people who are moving to Te xas
do so for a reason — the economy
is great in the U.S., and it’s even
better in Te xas.”
But when it comes to other
local issues, Drago and other
Democratic candidates say the
political dynamics are on their
side, including Republicans’ re-
fusal to expand Medicaid and
increase funding for public
In Mansfield, for example, par-
ents have been complaining that
school overcrowding has forced
some students to be bused to
other locations.
“Our state constitution charges
us with providing a good, strong
public education, and there is a
tendency on the Republican side
to not put an emphasis on public
education,” Drago said.
In response to the GOP losses
in 2018, Abbott and Republican
lawmakers pushed through an
$11.6 billion plan to boost fund-
ing for public schools.
“On public education, the state
is moving in the right direction,”
Cook said.
One issue in Ta rrant County
expected to remain especially di-
visive is gun control.
Last y ear, after a shooting at a n
El Paso Walmart killed 22 people,
some Republicans worried their
policies were at odds with subur-

ban residents who were clamor-
ing for more restrictions on fire-
arms. But GOP leaders say the
political consequences of the gun
debate shifted in December when
armed security guards at a Fort
Worth church shot and killed a
gunman who opened fire during
Sunday services.
“You have had absolutely tragic
events that have happened with
guns, but there have also been
equally tragic events that have
been prevented by guns, too,” s aid
Bradford, of the Ta rrant County
For national Democrats, how-
ever, the party’s success last year
in flipping both houses of Virgin-
ia’s legislature serves as a model
for what they think is possible in
Te xas.
Jessica Post, executive director
of the Democratic Legislative
Campaign Committee (DLCC),
noted that Te xas and Virginia
both allow unlimited campaign
contributions to legislative cam-
paigns. Those laws will enable the
DLCC to partner with labor
unions and other left-leaning
groups to spend heavily on Te xas
“I think we will see even larger
levels of spending in Te xas than
we saw in Virginia,” Post said.
Still, Cal Jillson, a professor of
political science at Southern
Methodist University, remains
skeptical that Democrats will
have the resources to turn out a
lot of nontraditional voters.
“The Democratic institution in
Te xas has been so weak for so long
that even if they knew where
every one of those people were,
they would not be able to create
the volunteer force needed to get
there on the doorstep to register
and turn them out,” Jillson said.
But here in Ta rrant County,
Democratic House candidate
Lydia Bean remains convinced
she can pair big money with
grass-roots campaigning to help
flip Ta rrant County.
Bean’s m other ran for the state-
house seat two years ago and
received 46 percent of the vote
after spending just $30,000.
Bean, who runs a nonprofit orga-
nization, plans to raise nearly
20 times that amount this year.
As s he canvassed for votes near
Six Flags Amusement Park, Bean
walked with a digital device iden-
tifying names and addresses of
potential voters. At the home of
one Latino couple, Bean discov-
ered that the wife was not regis-
tered to vote.
“What do you think about
Trump?” Bean asked the couple.
“I think he is doing a good job,
and the economy is good,” said
Gus Medina, surprising Bean.
Despite that letdown, Bean
still considered her visit to be a
“I think he’s persuadable, and
now we know his wife is not even
registered,” s aid Bean, who will be
back at Medina’s door before No-
[email protected]

Lenny Bronner contributed to this

Democrats count on growing diversity to flip Tex. House

Texas’s suburbs are reshaping its political map, and state and national Democrats are pushing for results similar to Virginia’s blue wave.

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