Texas' large population growth over the last decade is driving some of the change in voting patterns. Areas that were reliably “red” or “blue” are starting to emerge as battlegrounds. According to the US Census, more than 3.5 million people moved to Texas since 2008 and much of that migration settled in metropolitan counties.
“Most of the numbers are in the urban areas and suburbs, this is why we can see a seismic shift,” said Dr. Michael Adams, political science chair at Texas Southern University. “We have see the suburban vote become very important.”
According to data from the Texas Secretary of State, from 2008 to 2018, Texas went “red” in every senate and presidential election. But in the 2018 senate race, republican incumbent Ted Cruz’s winning margin over his democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke was just three percentage points.
“The democrats really believe that Texas is not only a battleground state, but it’s trending purple,” said Adams.
When you look at the Houston region, changing voter habits are more apparent. During the last presidential and senate elections, Harris and Fort Bend voted Democrat.
“It has changed tremendously,” said Fort Bend County Democratic party chair, Cynthia Ginyard.
Ginyard said president Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was a motivating factor in the county.
“When that happened the calls started coming in, ‘I’ve been on my sofa for 30 years, ma’am but I’m getting up now,’” said Ginyard. “Traditionally every election, major election, every two years, we had less than 10 people running. In 2018, we had 23.”
Fort Bend’s shift is why Congressional District 22 has become such a battleground. A large chunk of the more than 1,000 square mile district is in Fort Bend. Since he was elected in 2008, Republican Congressman Pete Olson won re-election by wide margins. However, in 2018 Olson narrowly beat Democratic challenger Sri Preston Kulkarni.
“This election and probably the last election is where I really saw that start,” said Fort Bend County Republican party chair, Linda Howell.
Howell is talking about the national democratic party becoming much more involved in this district.
“When that happens you’re going to see what they call a battleground happen,” said Howell.
Beyond political parties throwing money and people at campaigns, District 22 is very diverse. Two of the largest school districts, Fort bend and Katy, each report more than 90 languages are represented in their schools.
Editor and publisher of the India Herald and Fort Bend Independent, Sheshadri Kumar said the large southeast Asian population in the district, long involved in local races, is now becoming interested in national races.
“These people are not ideologically liberal that they always voted liberal, that’s not the case,” said Kumar.
Kumar said voting patterns in this community can be influenced by how America’s national political parties view those in power in India and Pakistan.
“The Indian politics has its influence and undercurrent. It has not been so open before, now this time it has become very apparent and people started discussing it,” said Kumar.
However, when KPRC spoke with voters in the district we heard less talk about parties.
“I’m an issue guy,” said Jim Buchanan. “The economy and jobs is very, very important in light of what’s going on with coronavirus and how it’s impacting things.”
“What they represent and what they can do for Fort Bend is what I look for,” said Aristo Gaspar. “A lot of us come from countries where politicians promise you everything and never deliver. We need politicians who will keep their word."
Other Key Races
Democrats were able to flip Texas' 7th Congressional district in 2018 when Lizzie Fletcher beat long-time incumbent John Culberson by six percentage points. That race is again one to watch in 2020 with “Real Clear Politics” putting it in the “Lean D” category.
Another long-time, reliably “red” district is Texas 21st, which covers the Hill Country west of Austin and San Antonio. That’s where incumbent republican Rep. Chip Roy is facing democrat Wendy Davis in a race that’s considered a “Lean R”, though some polls have Davis ahead slightly.
And in north Texas, a congressional seat that’s been in republican hands for decades is in jeopardy. Republican Beth van Duyne and democrat Candace Valenzuela are vying for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Kenny Marchant, who barely won his race two years ago. This race is also considered at “toss up”.