If O’Rourke had made real inroads in Trump territory, then it would make perfect sense to dispatch him to similar territory across the country as the party’s standard-bearer. But he was crushed in Texas’ more rural, lightly populated counties by a 2-to-1 margin. Where O’Rourke was strong was the five most populous, urban-suburban counties, four of which Clinton and Barack Obama won in the past two presidential elections. O’Rourke improved upon Clinton’s performance in all five counties, including a narrow win in the Fort Worth area that Clinton and Obama had lost. But Clinton had improved upon Obama’s performance in all five counties as well, which suggests that O’Rourke benefited more from the continuation of a demographic shift in Texas than his own charm.
What about O’Rourke’s down-ballot coattails? Wasn’t he able to juice Democratic base turnout so much that Democrats flipped two U.S. House seats, two state Senate seats and 12 state House seats?
Let’s not be so quick to give Beto all the credit. All those red-to-blue wins were on urban-suburban turf, the same kind of turf that was fertile for Democrats nationwide. The two U.S. House seat flips in Texas were in districts that Clinton won, districts already primed to turn blue.
Outside Texas, other, less viral Democrats were able to win U.S. House seats in more challenging territory, such as Oklahoma’s 5th District and South Carolina’s 1st District.