One longstanding media obsession -- exemplified by the other-worldly coverage of Beto O'Rourke in 2018 -- is the tantalizing prospect of Democrats loosening the GOP's grip on Texas. Buoyed by some recent headway (including gains within the Congressional delegation and the state legislature), Lone Star Democrats were hyping a special election to fill a vacant suburban seat in the state's lower chamber. It was a 'bellwether,' they declared, spending enormous sums of money and other resources in an effort to flex their muscles and make a political statement demonstrating that Texas is trending purple. Here's a taste of how they were framing the race heading into Tuesday's vote, with Beto himself going all-in on the contest:
The first critical election of 2020 is happening now in Fort Bend, TX. Victory for Eliz Markowitz means we can win the state house and build the team to defeat Trump in Texas. Join us to knock on doors this last weekend before Election Day. https://t.co/jRr8swVw1S— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) January 24, 2020
.@BetoORourke has done something extraordinary in #HD28 for an extraordinary candidate — win or lose tonight.— Rob Friedlander (@robsfriedlander) January 28, 2020
Powered By People:
-Knocked 41k+ doors
-Recruited 1,100 vols from 155 cities in 19 states
His organizing strength is going to be an absolute gamechanger in TX in ‘20. pic.twitter.com/9oF6QvXSsc
Politico described the race as an "early test" for both parties in the nationwide battle over state legislatures in 2020, and the Texas Observer called it a "weathervane for the Texas suburbs." O'Rourke's efforts reflect the emphasis Democrats are placing on the special election to replace a retiring Republican legislator...O'Rourke isn't Markowitz's only supporter among past and present 2020 contenders. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has organized volunteers for the Democrat, and former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) have endorsed her. Democrats need to flip nine house seats to gain a majority. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee touted a poll Sunday showing Markowitz "neck and neck" with Gates.
Beto made this campaign his latest cause celebre, with national Democrats swooping in to boost their party's nominee with high-profile endorsements. They funneled more than $1 million into the race (for a state House seat that would not impact the balance of power in Austin), and organized relentlessly. But the GOP also took this fight very seriously, testing its ground game and turnout capabilities while also spending heavily. As a result, overall turnout was historically massive. The results, in case you missed them earlier:
A 16-point beatdown. The Texas media, including some left-leaners, were pretty unsparing in their immediate verdicts and analyses:
With historic runoff turnout, no shortage of money or on-the-ground resources, & high-profile support from Beto, Markowitz still comes up 4 pts short of Dem candidate's performance in 2018. Hard for TX Dems to spin this one https://t.co/zE9E2BFAXg— Justin Miller (@by_jmiller) January 29, 2020
The Democratic line has become, "oh well, it was a safe Republican seat anyway," but that's not how they treated it leading up to election day. They set the expectations bar high, then failed spectacularly. Despite President Trump's soft in-state popularity (Gov. Greg Abbott sailed to re-election in the midterms, despite lukewarm numbers for Trump), perhaps the press should tone down their giddy "battleground Texas" narratives a little bit. I'll leave you with this:
For reference, Trump carried Texas by nine points in 2016.