Despite Democratic gains, Texas Republicans successfully defended majorities in the state’s congressional delegation and in both houses of the state legislature, as well as its monopoly on statewide offices. So the final outcome in Texas, however harrowing for those who had political near-death experiences, fell within the national pattern of red states, especially in the South.
But the Democratic surge in the state illustrates the potential for growth and, with apologies to O’Rourke’s family, an impetus for him to re-engage in Texas politics. O’Rourke was not the sole cause of Democratic turnout, but he certainly was the catalyst for bringing out Democratic voters usually dormant in midterm elections. He also raised a record-setting $69 million during the campaign without relying on contributions from political action committees. The party cannot afford to underestimate this source of practical political strength.
2020 is the obvious next step for O’Rourke. Cornyn has already announced that he intends to run for reelection. But he is one of the least popular top-tier statewide officials in Texas; in June 2018, before the Brett M. Kavanaugh hearings and the election environment gave his ratings a boost, his positive job approval among Republicans was only 46 percent, 28 percentage points lower than Cruz’s, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Cornyn’s relatively soft support among the GOP base, coupled with presidential year turnout among Democrats, makes Cornyn appear less formidable in 2020 than Cruz in 2018. Should O’Rourke instead choose to exit the stage — or wait for the next round of elections for state government in 2022 — the assets Democrats gained this year may well dissipate.