The Special Election in Texas Was All Bad News for the Democrat Hopes to Keep the House in 2022

(Tom Reel/San Antonio Express-News via AP, Pool)

The outcome of a special election in Texas held on Saturday was covered yesterday by my RedState colleague Bonchie.

The special election in Texas’ Sixth Congressional District on Saturday was not caused by a safe incumbent departing Congress to join the new administration.

That dynamic exists in a handful of districts where Democrat incumbents have left to join the Biden administration, and it would be a true shocker for any of those “safe” seats to change parties in the special election.

The need for a special election in Texas 6 was caused by the unexpected death of Republican Ron Wright in February, only three months after having won reelection for his second term in November 2020. He prevailed over his Democrat opponent Stephen Daniel by a margin of 53-44%.

Wright first won election to the seat in 2018 by the same 53-44% margin, replacing the retired Joe Barton who had represented the district for 17 terms. There is no question that Texas 6 has long been considered a “safe” GOP seat – but it isn’t a one-party district where the GOP can simply take the outcome for granted.

Texas 6 is located south of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and has a demographic make-up of approximately 40% black and Hispanic voters. Pres. Trump carried the district in 2016 by 12%, but in 2020 he won Texas 6 by a margin of only 51-48%. The district has a +6 partisan advantage for the GOP in voter registration.

The special election contest held on Saturday to fill the seat left vacant by Wright began with an “open” primary – the seat could be won if any single candidate received more than 50% of the vote.  If no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, Saturday’s top 2 vote-getters would meet in a runoff to decide the winner.

Twenty-three candidates ended up on the ballot. The GOP swept the top two positions, and the district will remain in GOP’s hands after the runoff. But the story is more interesting when you look closely at some of the numbers in the contest.

Of the top 10 vote-getters, 6 were GOP candidates, and those 6 GOP candidates aggregated almost 53% of the total vote. The 4 Democrats in the top 10 accounted for less than 32% of the total vote. The next three finishers – 2 GOP and 1 Democrat – received approximately 7.5% combined.  So those 13 candidates accounted for nearly 93% of all the votes cast, with the bottom 10 combining to receive the remaining 7%.

The GOP candidates took almost 59% of the 93% among all candidates who received 2% or more, while the Democrats received only 35% of that group – a spread of 24% between the parties.  In a district that has only a +6 registration advantage for the GOP, this outcome means the energy among the electorate is all with the GOP. Democrat voters did not necessarily become GOP voters, they simply didn’t vote.

The outcome wasn’t driven by the lack of a meaningful candidate on the Democrat side. Jana Sanchez — who ran for the open seat against the late Ron Wright in 2018 and received 44% — entered the special election but received only 13.4% of the vote.

In 2018, she was endorsed by all the usual suspects of left-wing interest groups and was strongly supported by the DCCC as part of the effort to flip red seats to blue.

In 2020, she managed the campaign of Wright’s Democrat opponent, Stephen Daniel, so she is known to Democrats in the district and she understands the district.

Nevertheless, she couldn’t break 15% in the open special election.

Recall that in the 2020 election, every House race that was rated as a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report was won by the GOP candidate – all 27 of them. That means they weren’t all really “toss-ups.”

It also means that a lot of supposedly “competitive” GOP seats are not really competitive, and red states “trending” purple is a media-driven narrative. Texas leads that narrative.

The Democrats need to look at every GOP seat they flipped in 2018, and consider the strong possibility that many will flip back in 2022.

The Democrats flipped 40 seats from red to blue in 2018, allowing them to take back majority control of the House. In 2020, they held on to far more of those seats than I thought they would, but in many of the districts, the Democrat incumbent ran behind Joe Biden – meaning there was a significant “anti-Trump” vote in the district.

Many of those districts will be near the top of the GOP target list, especially those in states where the GOP will control the redistricting process over the next 18 months. You can expect that the GOP state legislatures in the states where the districts are located will move some Democrat registered voters out of the district, and some GOP registered voters into the district when the boundaries are redrawn.

The lesson from Texas’ Sixth District isn’t simply that the Democrats lost. The real lesson is that the Democrat Party with Joe Biden in the White House and with near-total control of the federal government in Washington wasn’t even competitive. This is a suburban Dallas district, and the Democrat candidate was an experienced and well-known Hispanic female.

And it wasn’t even close.