While Donald Trump won Texas handily, Hillary Clinton won most of the state’s big cities. Dallas County went blue by a big margin, and Democrats dominated local races. While they flipped a handful of state house seats, Democrats fell short of the gains they had hoped for. In Dallas County, just one seat moved from red to blue.
There was a lot of heat in the presidential race, but most down-ballot races in Texas weren’t competitive.
Dallas County played host to a handful of state house districts that Democrats hoped to take from incumbent Republicans. In the end, Republicans kept all but one seat.
“All of our state reps ran excellent campaigns, I am so proud of them,” said Phillip Huffines, who chairs the Dallas County GOP. “They worked tirelessly for weeks and months and I’ve never seen anyone work so hard in a campaign knocking doors. And here in headquarters we were doing the same for them,.”.
Huffines says the party’s volunteers spent hours working the phones to capitalize on a boost from the top of the ticket. Dallas County saw about 100,000 extra GOP voters show up in the March Republican primary, thanks in large part to Donald Trump.
“Our data shows that we have 60,000 of what I call ‘Trumpites’ because they have never voted before,” Huffines said. “And they obviously are interested in the Republican ideas or philosophies or tey wouldn’t have voted in our primary. And we have reached out to them and that was a lot of our phone calls that we were making here were to those individuals.”
Huffines says he plans to cultivate those new Trump voters into more active party members. But he also wants to strengthen outreach to black, Latino and Asian-American voters.
“Normally after a large election like this, a party goes into hibernation for many reasons, but that’s not going to happen under my watch,” he said. “We’re going to focus on growing the party, expanding the party. If that means getting more resources, that’s what we’re going to be out doing. And we’re going to take the fight to the Democrats.”
As Republicans celebrate big wins nationwide, Democrats are finding hope in local numbers.
“Once again we won every single Dallas County-wide race,” said Carol Donovan, who heads the Dallas County Democratic Party.
Donovan said another bright spot was adding one more house seat to the blue column. Lawyer Victoria Neave won House District 107 in the eastern part of the county from three-term GOP incumbent Kenneth Sheets. In the three other races thought to be competitive, though, the party lost. In one, House District 105, Democrat Terry Meza came in just 120 votes short of replacing Republican incumbent Rodney Anderson.
“We were very proud that we did provide that competition, because if you don’t run somebody, you’re not going to win,” she said.
Donovan says that, historically, the party has struggled to find Democrats in Dallas County interested in running for state house seats that favor Republicans. This year, they ran candidates in nearly every one. As the county grows more diverse, Donovan hopes to win more victories.
“I had an old professor who said you throw enough mud against the fence and some of it will stick. And I certainly don’t want to equate our candidates as mud, but if you continue to run, you continue to be competitive, you do all the right things, then eventually you’re going to break through with the type of demographics that are in these areas,” he said.
For the foreseeable future, though, Republicans continue to dominate in Texas. Democrats made no gains in Congress or the state senate. While Democrats had hoped to pick up as many as twenty state house seats from Republicans, in the end they won just four.
“That’s a kiss your sister election. A lot of work went into it, not very much came out of it. So a lot of disappointment,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.
Democrats did make some local gains elsewhere in the state, including some county-wide seats in Houston, but Jillson says the next election two years from now may be even less favorable for them.
“Congressional elections, lower turnout. A very popular Republican governor is going to carry the Republican slate. [Democrats] may give back more than they won yesterday when the 2018 elections roll around,” he said.
Further out, though, Jillson says things look sunnier for Democrats. In the long term, he says demographic trends favor them in urban counties like Dallas.