Texas Democrats are poised to win in 2018

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

If you’re a Democrat, you ought to be hopeful and excited about our chance to win in Texas in 2018. A wave is coming.

Voters in midterms reliably deliver a shellacking to any president’s party. This trend is supercharged by the countless offenses of the past year: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s bizarre bathroom fetish, the Republican crusade against healthcare, a tax bill that loots the treasury to enrich Republican donors, and the everyday disaster that is Donald Trump’s presidency.

Democrats, the wind is in our sails. Even Abbott’s political advisor agrees: the enthusiasm gap Republicans face is real. Nationally, reviewing more than 70 special elections for state and federal office in the past year, Democrats outperformed in 74 percent of them and by a 12 percent margin on average. And here in Texas, polls in three Republican-held congressional districts showed Democrats ahead or slightly behind. Justin Nelson, our Democratic nominee for attorney general, released a memo showing a single-digit race against indicted Republican incumbent Ken Paxton.

Texas Democrats are ready. In 2016, a whopping one million Texans joined the voter rolls — the majority being women and people of color — and we expect future registration gains to be just as favorable. Moreover, the Democrat at the top of the ticket in 2016 received more votes than any Republican in a midterm election, and we narrowed the presidential margin in Texas to single digits for the first time in decades. In short, we now know that there are enough Texans who share our values. When they are mobilized, we can carry Texas in 2018.

My best case for optimism: the record number of Democrats running up and down the ballot. Statewide races attract press attention, but look at what’s happening locally. Texas Democrats are contesting more congressional, state House and state Senate seats than in any cycle in 25 years. With 111 candidates running in all 36 congressional seats, the path to yanking the U.S. Speaker’s gavel from Republican hands runs through Texas.

Hundreds of hard-fought primaries and general elections across the state will be the shot of adrenaline we need. Democrats’ biggest challenge has been the sheer size and scale of the state. It’s tough for any one campaign to talk to every voter. This year, we’ll have Democrats campaigning in every corner of Texas. That means frequent, in-person reminders on the phone, online and at the door to tell hundreds of thousands of Democrats that their votes are valuable.

Conventional wisdom says that statewide coattails carry local candidates. Virginia showed us the reverse can be true: statewide candidates saw a 1 percent boost in vote share where there was a Democratic statehouse candidate on the ballot, and a 1.5 percent turnout bump compared to 2016. That means recruiting a Democrat to challenge a Republican was worth about 550 top-of-ticket Democratic votes per district. That’s approximately 30,000 votes statewide, or 2 percent of the new Democratic governor’s overall vote. It accounts for nearly 20 percent of the Democratic attorney general’s statewide margin-of-victory.

That’s why we’re running everywhere. Fact is, the news media was setting expectations, looking for us to draft LeBron James. Instead, we were building the Spurs, a team that together could accomplish greatness.

Already, some congressional candidates in swing districts are posting incredible fundraising hauls, outpacing Republican incumbents. We’ll be outspent in some districts, but we’ll have a coordinated army of volunteers, an advanced tech infrastructure and small-dollar contributions from everyday Texans to fuel candidacies, local parties, partner groups and a rapidly growing base of fired-up activists.

If we’re going to take advantage of this historic opportunity, Democrats must adopt a winner’s mindset right now. Today’s Democratic Party won’t look like those of Lyndon Johnson, Barbara Jordan, and Ann Richards; it will be more youthful, more diverse, more engaged and more progressive. But we must have this in common: an unapologetically bold Texas swagger. Those candidates won because they were winners. Not underdogs. Not inevitable moral victors “taking one for the team.” Texans just win.

There’s never a shortage of naysayers — cynics in the media, jaded pundits, Republican trolls. But now’s the time for activists, not pundits. We will show we have the grit to fight and win, no matter the circumstances.

Let’s get to work, win these races, save Texas, and save our country.

Cliff Walker

Political director, Texas Democratic Party

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