Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in 25 years, the longest such streak of futility in the country. However, the rapidly shifting demographics of the state have made Democrats optimistic that they will soon have a path to electoral victory. To date this dream remains unrealized. Texas left both Hillary and grass-roots star Beto disappointed, and it remains unlikely that the state will go to the Democratic nominee for President in 2020. However, Texas is increasingly looking like the House’s largest battleground. Democrats were able to pick up Texas’ two most vulnerable districts, TX-07 and TX-32 (each of which flipped from Romney in 2012 to Clinton in 2016), but these two flips do not fully capture the gains made by the Democrats in 2018. Along with the perennially tight TX-23, five other house races finished within a 5-point GOP margin of victory, many of which were not on the national radar.
The average margin of victory in these nine districts dropped from 26% to 2% in only four years. These districts all share several characteristics: Suburban seats, with an average income more than $10k higher than the national average, and 10% fewer white voters than the national average. A certain amount of the slimming margin of victory can be attributed to the national environment, 2014 was a moderately Republican year, while 2018 was an extremely Democratic one. However, the average shift in these districts was approximately twice what one would expect solely based on the national environment.
Each party has a finite amount of resources in the battle for Congress, so money allocation tells us a great deal about where the key battlegrounds are. In 2018 it was Orange County, in 2020 it appears that it will be the Texas suburbs. The GOP will be vying to reclaim its stranglehold on the state, while TX-23 and TX-24 look to be two of the Democrats’ top pick up opportunities. Texas’ expensive media markets and many competitive districts result in it reaching the top of our Congressional spending projections. We expect it to have the most Congressional spending of any state in 2020 at $116M. After ranking far behind states of similar size in past cycles, Texas received the second most Congressional spending in 2018, and we expect it to be surpass California as the state with the most activity in 2020. It remains to be seen whether Texas’ changing suburban demographics will overcome its traditional red hue, but it serves as an interesting gauge for many of the political currents sweeping the nation.