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What Happened In The TX-06 Special Election Saturday?

On it's face, the runoff for the congressional seat south of Dallas-Fort Worth (TX-06) is about as bad as it gets for Democrats. That's because there isn't a Democrat in the runoff-- none of them qualified. The runoff will pit two conservative Republicans who will likely argue with each other about who is Trumpier. (Trump already endorsed the widow of the anti-mask Republican incumbent who had died of COVID.) This morning, the NY Times framed Saturday's jungle primary results as pathetic for the Democrats: For Democrats, Another Bad Election Night in Texas. An alternative perspective, though, could have been: Texas gerrymandering hands the GOP a congressional seat. David Montgomery's report was... meh... and superficial. "Jana Lynne Sanchez, a Democrat who made a surprisingly strong showing for the seat in 2018 and was considered by many as a likely cinch for the runoff," he wrote, "came in a close third, leaving the two Republicans to fight for the seat that their party has controlled for nearly four decades. Democrats who needed a strong turnout to be competitive did not get one. They were hoping for signs of weakness in the Republican brand because of the state’s disastrous response to the brutal winter storm in February or any signs of weariness with Mr. Trump, but they did not see that, either... 'The Republicans turned out and the Democrats didn’t,' said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. 'That’s a critical takeaway. The party has to think very systematically about what’s wrong and what they need to change in order to be successful.'"

All true. But what comes next is the real key to the story: "Since 1983, Republicans have held seat, in Texas’ Sixth Congressional District, which includes mostly rural areas in three northern Texas counties and a sliver of the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan region around Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington. But growing numbers of Hispanics and African-Americans fueled Democrats’ hopes that they had a strong shot of at least getting into a runoff. Mr. Trump won the district by only 3 points in November. Ms. Sanchez, who grew up in the district and built a strong political organization, was widely portrayed as the lead contender in the field of 10 Democrats."

The two rural counties, Ellis and Navarro, are hopelessly red hellholes. But most-- by far-- of the district's residents live in swingy, suburban southeastern Tarrant County. In 2018, the part of Tarrant in the district performed at a D+5 level and gave Sanchez a nice boost. But a boost that was overcome by the massive majorities in the two rural counties for Ron Wright. Ellis County's performance was R+38 and even redder and more rural Navarro County performed at an R+46 level.

In the lead up to the election, Ben Lefkowitz explained the district extremely well for Decision Desk HQ readers:

Texas’s Sixth Congressional District can be separated into two distinct regions. A majority of residents live in Tarrant County just west of Dallas. This piece contains nearly all of the upscale suburb Arlington, Tarrant County’s portion of diverse Grand Prairie, outlying Mansfield, a few neighborhoods in Fort Worth, and a scattering of other, smaller communities. A majority of TX-06’s Tarrant County residents are non-White, and the minority population is close to evenly divided between Hispanic residents and African Americans. The Tarrant County portion favors the Democrats, but this support is geographically concentrated in the eastern side of the county closest to Dallas.
Approximately 30% of TX-06 voters live in the other region: Ellis and Navarro Counties, both just south of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Close to 60% of these two counties’ residents are White, and the combined voting age population is almost 70% White. Suburban Ellis County has a median household income almost $10k higher than TX-06's section of Tarrant County, but the more agrarian Navarro County has the lowest median income of the three counties. Ellis and Navarro Counties solidly favor the GOP. Former President Trump carried Ellis with 66.3% of the vote to President Biden’s 32.2%, and Trump won Navarro with 72.2% of the vote to Biden’s 26.7%.
...What separates TX-06 from the rest of the competitive Texas Congressional districts is how much the district’s Democratic coalition depends upon lower income minorities. Suburban voter transition is important, but the key to increasing Democratic opportunity in TX-06 is minority voter growth in Grand Prairie and the eastern side of Arlington. Southwestern Democratic parties, including the Texas Democrats, historically have difficulty convincing minority voters to vote in off-cycle elections. Southwestern special election Democrats rarely match the presidential topline. Republicans tend to over-perform in off-cycle elections and occasionally win upsets. Texas Republicans know this, which is one reason why Governor Abbott scheduled the blanket primary for Saturday.

Districtwide, the Republicans wound up with 62% of the vote and all the Democrats together... just 37%. In Tarrant County, though, the combined Democratic field did much better-- but not better enough. Between them, the Democrats took 45.55% of the vote and the Republicans took 53.65%. The three top vote-getters:

  • Susan Wright (R)- 9,165 (17.4%)

  • Jana Lynne Sanchez (D)- 8,284 (15.7%)

  • Shawn Lassiter (D)- 5,965 (11.3%)

There were no Democrats among the 3 top vote-getters in either Ellis or Navarro counties. The Democrats failed to win votes in the rural counties, although perhaps a progressive populist would have been better than the not very compelling centrist-leaning candidates who were unable to turn out the needed voters in the bluer areas of Tarrant County. Maybe someone backing Medicare for All and a Green New Deal would have inspired more Democrats to come out to vote. We'll never know. But... while many folks look at the Democrats' failure to secure a spot in the runoff for Texas' 6th congressional district as evidence that Texas is a lost cause and can't be flipped, our old friend Julie Oliver told me this morning that "winning in Texas must be intentional-- finding candidates with progressive values who connect with their communities by running real field programs and then throwing out the DCCC playbook and consultants (who get paid regardless of the outcome). One such candidate who isn't getting written up in the national media is Junior Ezeonu, who ran for city council in Grand Prairie in a crowded field and secured a spot in the runoff-- and I believe he's going to win." Grand Prairie in a minority majority city but there are 7 white Republicans on the 9-member city council. Junior's going to change that.

Montgomery's analysis for this morning's Times emphasized that Sanchez "came up 354 votes short after the Democrats splintered the party’s vote, and Mr. Ellzey nudged her aside for the runoff. Mrs. Wright won 19.2 percent of the vote to Mr. Ellzey’s 13.8 percent. Ms. Sanchez got 13.4 percent of the vote. The large field may have cost Ms. Sanchez a runoff spot, but in the end Republicans won 62 percent of the vote and Democrats 37 percent, not auspicious numbers for her hopes of winning if she did get in the runoff."

At the last minute, one of the other Democrats, Lydia Bean, desperately launched a deceptive and vicious consultant-inspired attack ad against Sanchez-- claiming, falsely through an out-of-context piece of debate, that she was against Biden's infrastructure plan-- and that likely cost her the 354 votes she needed to make it into the runoff. Bean came in 8th (4th among Democrats) with just 3.7% of the vote.

“Democrats have come a long way toward competing in Texas but we still have a way to go,” Ms. Sanchez said in a concession statement on Sunday morning.
She said: “We’ll keep fighting for a healthier, equitable and prosperous Texas and to elect leaders who care about meeting the needs of Texans, although it won’t happen in this district immediately.”
The Republican runoff was already showing signs of being fought along familiar right-of-center turf.
Ms. Wright’s general consultant, Matt Langston, assailed Mr. Ellzey, a former Navy pilot who was endorsed by former Gov. Rick Perry, as “an opportunistic RINO”-- a Republican in Name Only.
And one of her prominent supporters, David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, which has spent more than $350,000 on mail, social media and texts against Mr. Ellzey’s bid, on Sunday called on the second-place candidate to pull out of the race. He said it was more important for Republicans to unite behind Mrs. Wright’s candidacy in advance of the critical midterm congressional races next year.

In districts like TX-06, if Democrats keep pitching themselves as acceptable to Republicans they will never win. Republicans have their own candidates and they certainly don't need to find a Democrat who is Republican-lite or Republican-friendly. And that's no way to stoke Democratic turnout. The Democratic Party consultant class will keep growing rich while Republicans keep winning seats.

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