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The Texas Republican primaries are intensifying as challengers have emerged in recent weeks for Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. But despite all the Republican maneuvers, Democrats remain silent on the main plans.
Texas Democrats are on hold as they plan for the 2022 cycle for two main reasons. First, the party establishment is waiting for former US Representative Beto O’Rourke to announce whether he will run for governor.
Second, and crucially, incumbents and potential candidates across the state are awaiting the release this fall of new district maps to decide whether they will retire, run for re-election, or consider running for office. statewide. The new maps will come from the 10-year redistribution process in which lawmakers redraw the district boundaries of Congress, Legislation, and the State Board of Education.
“There’s a lot of planning and strategizing behind the scenes,” said Royce Brooks, executive director of Annie’s List, the group of Democratic women in politics in Texas. “All Beto decides to do is domino that affects everyone.”
For months, O’Rourke toured the state, knocking on doors, participating in rallies and meeting with voters. The former Democratic presidential candidate has said he is not ruling out a race against Abbott.
A number of national Democratic agents and officials have said that due to his 2018 near victory over Republican Senator Ted Cruz, O’Rourke was granted the right of first refusal to be the party’s candidate for the post of governor. It doesn’t hurt that he has also demonstrated his ability to fundraise at the top of the ticket and enjoys national recognition.
In an interview Thursday, O’Rourke said he was not concerned about keeping other potential candidates statewide on hold until he makes his decision.
“The filing deadline is not until December,” O’Rourke said.
More than a dozen Democrats interviewed for this story speculated that O’Rourke would run, while quickly adding that they had no direct idea of his thinking. Most said they came to these conclusions by observing their spring travel schedule.
Over the past month, O’Rourke made stops in Houston, Prairie View, Brenham, Longview, Wichita Falls, Dallas, Denton, Texarkana, San Angelo, Austin, Marshall, Henderson and Center. Many of these towns and villages are in off-the-beaten-track corners of the state, an echo of his often-touted 254-county tour in the 2018 campaign.
O’Rourke said he hoped anyone planning to run in 2022 would be singularly dedicated to the battle for voting rights, referring to efforts by Republicans in the Texas Legislature to overhaul election laws he said and other Democrats, equivalent to removing voters.
“Really, anyone who cares about this state and the state of our democracy should focus on this issue. It’s existential for America and for Texas.”
Whether or not O’Rourke leading the 2022 ticket would be helpful in bringing down the ballot candidates is a matter of debate in Democratic circles.
More than a handful of Texas Democrats are worried about his September 2019 statement – “Damn, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47”, will hurt candidates for state legislature and Congress . O’Rourke made the comment after a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso that left 23 people dead.
But other Democrats dismiss the thought, suggesting that Texas views on guns are changing, that any Texas voter who could not vote for O’Rourke on that statement would never vote for a Democrat anyway, or that he’s in a league of his own. in the Democratic world of Texas.
Assuming he goes for it, he’s one of the few Democrats in Texas who is a proven fundraiser. During his Senate race in 2018 he raised $ 80 million and during his presidential bid in 2019 he raised $ 19 million.
Fundraising from state offices is easier than for the Senate or for being president, as donors cannot give more than a few thousand dollars to federal candidates.
Beyond O’Rourke, there are rumors that former US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro or US Representative Joaquin Castro could run for governor. Otherwise, the field of potential candidates is a mix of current and former state lawmakers.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo remains a highly anticipated candidate, especially among female Democrats, but so far she has not expressed interest in running statewide next year.
And there are Democrats who have announced nominations for statewide offices, but few are well funded. The two most notable candidates are Mike Collier, who ran for lieutenant governor two years ago and is running again, and former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski, who is running for lieutenant governor. Attorney General.
At the bottom of the ballot, Texas Democrats are bracing for the worst this fall, when the Republican-controlled Texas legislature releases its redistribution cards for the state House and Senate and for the US House.
For federal races, Republicans will have a freer hand than in decades spent in creating cards, unless Congress is able to reinstate the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which required voting rights law. States and jurisdictions with a history of suppressing voters to change their vote. political rules and maps with the federal government to make sure they don’t hurt voters of color. The so-called “preclearance” provisions were gutted in 2013 by the United States Supreme Court.
There is a silver lining that Congress could pass the John Lewis Advancement of Voting Rights Act, which would restore preclearance, but for now, that’s a long-term possibility.
“What is frustrating is that if the John Lewis Voting Rights Act were passed and signed, preclearance would be restored and Republicans would not be able to discriminate as they see fit,” said Matt Angle, director. of the Democratic group. the Lone Star project.
Rebecca Acuña, the 2020 state director for the Biden campaign, said she was hopeful Congress would pass a bill to restore preclearance.
“Democrats are focused on protecting voting rights and are still watching to see what the redistribution looks like, but the world is watching Texas and the Democrats in Texas,” Acuña said.
In a traditional electoral cycle, candidates tend to roll out their campaigns in the spring and summer of the dead year, but this year, potential candidates are still watching and waiting for new district cards.
The entire Texas electoral calendar could also be pushed back, due to the delayed enumeration amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the ripple effect on redistribution and the ability of the Texas legislature to draw maps .
Some statewide Democratic candidates could emerge once the cards are finished. If a Democratic incumbent finds himself in a fragmented district where he has no chance of being re-elected, the idea of running statewide – always an incredible challenge for Democrats – might actually be more easy as re-election.
Beyond who’s running for what, the mood is mixed among Texas Democrats.
For some, Republican legislative advances on reproductive health and gun policy exacerbate disappointment in 2020, as despite expectations and enthusiasm, Democrats have made almost no gain in the state beyond. of President Joe Biden, now former President Donald Trump to a six-point victory in Texas.
“There is a very steep climb here when you look at everything from access to abortion to reproductive rights, to access to health care, to voting rights and to access to ballots,” said Aimee Boone Cunningham, a prominent Austin-based activist and former president of Planned Parenthood. Board of Directors of the Federation of America, reflecting a level of Democratic exhaustion that can be found in the state.
“Republicans are engaged in this sustained and relentless attack on these fundamental tenets of our democracy, and it should be frightening, and it should be disheartening. But that doesn’t mean we can’t and won’t retaliate, but anyone who isn’t afraid right now is not paying attention, ”she said.
There are also structural issues ahead beyond the redistribution.
Most of the parties in power at the presidential level lost legislative seats in the first mid-term of an administration. On Capitol Hill, the feeling is almost certain that Republicans will take over the American house, and many of their primary targets are in Texas.
There’s nowhere the GOP is more offensive than in South Texas, where the Democratic stronghold turned to Republicans in 2020.
Harris County GOP outgoing president Lillie Schecter is optimistic. She points to recent meetings of Democrats, most of whom avoided social contact during the COVID-19 pandemic last year. She quotes friends who see old friends as a source of growing enthusiasm within her party.
But she said her goal would be to “hold our ground and not give in [of their 2018 and 2020 gains] next electoral cycle.
“I like the idea of offensive opportunities, but I’ve been here for a long time to have ’10 and ’14 [Republican waves] deep in my heart so my number one goal is to hold on.
Former Texas Democratic agent Jason Stanford described this upcoming cycle as potentially as volatile as he has seen it in years. It highlights actor Matthew McConaughey’s own deliberations on running for governor as a third-party or independent candidate.
“It sounds like Abbott, McConaughey and Beto,” he said. “It’s chaos to sort out. People underestimate the chaos in this stuff… They like to plan for a win, but to some extent it must be luck.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list of them here.