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“When Beto O’Rourke proclaimed, during the second round of Democratic presidential debates, that “there’s a new battleground state, Texas, and it has 38 Electoral College votes,” eyes rolled in unison across America. We’ve all heard that nonsense before! Pundits and progressives have been predicting that minority-white Texas would go blue for so long, it’s practically become a running joke. And while O’Rourke came tantalizingly close to knocking off Ted Cruz last fall, that race seemed to have all the hallmarks of a fluke—a Republican senator who even Republicans can’t stomach, running in a strong Democratic midterm cycle against a fresh-faced liberal who eschewed all forms of conventional political wisdom and ran a campaign so novel, so tireless, and so perfectly made for social media that it became a viral sensation. Post-Betomania, most people assumed that Texas Democrats would resume their role as American politics’ saddest underachievers, while Texas Republicans extended their quarter-century run of dominance as their national party’s ideological, financial, and electoral-vote stronghold.
But as people in Texas know, O’Rourke wasn’t blowing smoke. Although Republicans have continued to routinely swat away Democrats in statewide races (they haven’t lost one since 1990), while sending legions of unhinged conservatives to gum up the works in Washington, Democrats have taken control of every big city in the state over the past decade—a process that began in Dallas in 2006, when Democrats swept into power. More important, and more worrying for Republicans, that trend spilled over last year into the sprawling suburbs, long the bedrock of Texas Republicanism. Cruz was only able to beat O’Rourke by trouncing him two-to-one in rural Texas, where just a quarter of the state’s voters live; meanwhile, Democrats captured six Republican-held state House seats in the outskirts of Dallas alone (and six others statewide), while giving Republicans heartburn in some of the suburban U.S. House districts where the party was routinely winning, not long ago, by 20-plus points.
Suddenly, Texas Republicans are on the defensive in their national fortress—and they’re both talking and acting like it. “The tectonic plates shifted in Texas in 2018,” Senator John Cornyn, the powerful Republican who’s facing reelection in 2020 (with just a 37 percent approval rating) said earlier this year. Cornyn has been sounding the alarms ever since November, warning national Republicans against complacency and spelling out the dire consequences for his party if they can’t stave off the Democratic surge: “If Texas turns back to a Democratic state, which it used to be, then we’ll never elect another Republican [president] in my lifetime,” said Cornyn.”
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