Can Democrats Take Texas?

The left’s white whale is within reach.

Peter Ramirez
4 min readOct 11, 2020


Illustration by Peter Grabowski.

Twenty-nine million people, thirty-eight electoral votes, and one potential deathblow to the GOP’s re-election efforts if current polling holds. The Lone Star State last voted for a Democrat in a statewide race in 1994. Could that change next month?

Before we talk about 2020, let’s look at 2018.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke came within 2.6 points of knocking off Republican Ted Cruz. Even more impressive, voter turnout was a measly 53% (which is usual for a midterm election.) When turnout is low, Republicans generally are at an advantage. In 2016, for the presidential election, turnout was 59%. Had the 2018 midterm election with O’Rourke and Cruz seen turnout normally reserved for presidential elections, it is possible O’Rourke could have unseated Cruz.

O’Rourke, it should be noted, did not run as a “Blue Dog Democrat,” which is usually the blueprint for a Democrat in a conservative state. Such campaigns normally boast moderate credentials and even some socially conservative views. O’Rourke, however, held positions to the left of the Democratic base. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15,” he once declared.

Let that sink in — a gun-confiscating Democrat came within inches of winning a Senate seat in Texas.

Perhaps no other state has an urban/rural political divide as Texas does. Almost half of the entire vote in Texas comes from five counties: Harris (Houston), Dallas, Tarrant (Fort Worth), Bexar (San Antonio), and Travis (Austin). In 2016, Hillary Clinton won these five counties with 54.9% of the vote share. In 2018, O’Rourke increased that lead to 60.6%.

This is where population growth comes into play.

Let’s compare the O’Rourke midterm race with the previous midterm election from 2014. In 2018, half a million more people voted in Harris County (Houston) than 2014. In Dallas County, it was 300,000 more votes, and the other three counties (Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis) it was about 200,000 more votes.

The rural parts of the state, as Kirk Goldsberry of FiveThirtyEight notes, are “staunchly red, but they’re also staunchly stagnant, too” (in terms of population growth). He adds that if Democrats can just keep this…



Peter Ramirez

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.