Texas Democratic Losses Reflect Broader Statehouse Trend

By: - November 19, 2020 12:00 am

A woman watches election night coverage at Ector County Republican Headquarters in Odessa, Texas. Democrats won the White House, but they faltered in their attempts to gain control of legislative chambers in Texas and other states. Eli Hartman/Odessa American via The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — In her first bid for public office two years ago, Democrat Joanna Cattanach challenged an incumbent Republican state representative in Dallas County and finished just 220 votes short.

So Democrats had reason to be optimistic when Cattanach, a journalist and educator, signed up for a rematch against three-term Rep. Morgan Meyer. Many predicted that demographic changes in Texas, coupled with animus against President Donald Trump, would make 2020 the year Democrats rode a long-anticipated “blue wave” back into power in the Texas House of Representatives.

It didn’t turn out that way.

Meyer supporters staged campaign yard parties and knocked on doors, while Cattanach relied heavily on virtual campaigning because of the pandemic. Moreover, Cattanach said she was unable to overcome highly effective Republican messaging portraying Democratic candidates as weak on law and order and supportive of proposals to “defund” the police.

“He definitely saw me coming this time,” Cattanach, 40, said of the 46-year-old Meyer. “It wasn’t just him. It was the whole Republican Party.”

Cattanach, who lost this time by 1,600 votes, was one of many Democratic casualties in a dreams-to-dust political saga that consumed tens of millions of dollars and engaged top national strategists from both parties, but again forced Texas Democrats to put their years-long comeback hopes on hold.

Texas, the nation’s second most populous state and the biggest in which Republicans control all the levers of power in state government, was supposed to be the crown jewel in a massively funded Democratic effort to flip Republican-led legislatures across the country. But that campaign, tied to census-driven legislative redistricting that will shape political power for the next 10 years, ignited an equally fierce pushback from Republicans.

Although Democrats won the White House in the Nov. 3 election, they conspicuously faltered in their attempts to gain control of legislative chambers in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the biggest bounty of all, Texas.

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