Democrats need to pick up 20 seats in order to evenly split control of the 150-member Texas House of Representatives. It’s an ambitious but reasonable goal. After two consecutive cycles of favorable results, the Texas House elected in 2008 consisted of 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats. Had the party not gone down to disastrous defeat in 2010, the Texas redistricting process would have played out very differently.
So which districts should we be targeting? And what exactly does “targeting” mean? Local factors such as candidate quality will certainly have an effect on the results of a particular race, but for the most part, national political trends are equivalent to destiny for these down-ballot contests. It’s very unusual for a state rep candidate to outperform (or under-perform) the top of the ticket by more than a couple thousand votes–a variance of a couple hundred votes is much more common.
Therefore, a decent starting point is to rate the districts according to top-line partisan voting data. As the metric for the following chart, I chose to average the presidential vote margin with the vote margin for the 6th seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals (Keasler v. Burns.) I have some reservations about his choice of metric**, but it will make an OK starting point.
Democratic-held districts are in blue; Republican-held districts are in red. It gives me some personal joy to see that HD 67 (impeccably-coiffed homophobe Jeff Leach) is the tipping point district, that is, the toughest district that Democrats will have to win if they want to even the score in the Texas House.
Outlined in the broken black line is HD 65. This represents one estimate of where the Democrats might currently stand for 2018. It’s where a 6.5% swing over the 2016 results would produce a Democratic victory. The generic congressional ballot polling average on RealClearPolitics is currently at D+5.5, which is about 6.5 points over the actual generic congressional vote in 2016, which favored Republicans by about 1%. It’s hardly an exercise in precision to use the national polling data in this way (among other problems, one can’t actually match a generic congressional poll to the national congressional vote due to the large number of seats that go uncontested by one of the major parties.)
As others have previously observed, there are some local boys on this target list. Dwayne Bohac (HD 138) represents my old neighborhood on the west side, and his very conservative record is increasingly out of touch with a diverse and educated electorate. Gary Elkins (HD 135) is a professional oppressor of the poor (aka payday lender) who is begging to have a wedge driven between him and his Bible-believing constituents. I really hope we do a good job recruiting candidates for these districts. Historically, Democrats have missed many opportunities in such races because we don’t even bother to field a decent candidate.
As the election cycle moves along, I will update this post with new data as it comes in (particularly, new data from special elections and polls regarding Democratic prospects for 2018.) Also, I have noticed that many of the target districts are clustered together geographically (north of Dallas, west of Houston), so I hope to explore the physical battle lines as well.
* * Building the Hillary-Trump margin into the numbers helps us to see which districts contain larger numbers of persuadable anti-Trump Republicans. But Ranking the districts based on this number means that the rankings are doing some of the candidate’s work for him/her. Convincing these voters to abandon the Republican party is going to be a large part of any successful challenger’s job.