Blues for Texas Democrats, but No Blue Texas as a Slow Vote Tally Lumbers On

The contenders for the 2020 national, state and local elections for Dallas county: From left to right: Beth Van Duyne (R), Genevieve Collins (R), John Cornyn (R), Colin Allred (D), MJ Hegar (D), Candace Valenzuela (D); Top: Joe Biden (D) and Donald Trump (R)
The contenders for the 2020 national, state and local elections for Dallas county: From left to right: Beth Van Duyne (R), Genevieve Collins (R), John Cornyn (R), Colin Allred (D), MJ Hegar (D), Candace Valenzuela (D); Top: Joe Biden (D) and Donald Trump (R) Samuel Corum/Getty Images; Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; courtesy photos
Election Day is a lot like Christmas when you think about it. It’s comprised of equal parts happy excitement and anxiety. The run-up starts far, far too early. It’s filled with traditions and a fair number of lies. (No, Virginia. It’s your parents.) It costs a ton, adults are mostly glad when it’s over and, no matter how much we all want that PlayStation, someone is going to wind up with a pair of socks.

Once again, Texas Democrats got the socks. It’s traditional.

Republicans and Democrats have insisted that this is the most important election of anyone’s lifetime, and a lifetime might pass before we get final results in the Big Show and learn which old white guy, President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden, will lead America.

As of midnight, much was depending on the outcome in Pennsylvania, where the secretary of state said a record influx of 2.4 million mail-in ballots likely won’t be counted until Friday. Trump was leading in early returns there, but only a fraction of votes had been counted by midnight, and the future of the state’s 20 electoral votes and the election’s outcome could depend on the slow count from heavily Democratic urban areas in and around Philadelphia.

Getting a final count was going to take some time in Dallas County, as well, but while the votes were still being tallied in the wee hours, the overall result in the big race was clear enough. Biden won the county. Trump won Texas.

As of 10 p.m., the county's elections results page showed 849,274 votes for the presidential election; Biden and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris had received 66% of early of the votes counted while Trump and Vice President Mike Pence received 33%.

Jo Jorgenson, the libertarian candidate, received just under 1% of votes (8,151).

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins Tweeted around 9:30 p.m. that 121,668 people voted on Election Day. Those added to the early votes and mail-in ballots through last Friday amount to around 920,000 voters. By 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dallas County’s total votes were up by 18% when compared with the 2016 election.

Texas Democrats were hoping to see the state’s electoral votes go to their party’s presidential candidate for the first time since 1976, when Jimmy Carter won the Lone Star State. Democrats also had dreams of regaining the majority in the Texas House for the first time since 2001. They needed to pick up nine seats and defend a handful the party took from the GOP in 2016, but at midnight, partial results reported by the Texas Tribune showed GOP incumbents leading races targeted by Democrats as possible flips.

So, another election, and blue Texas remains a dream. Still, political scientists agreed that they had a better shot this time than in years past. That alone is a big deal, Rebecca Deen, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, told the Observer last week.

Texas Republicans weren’t going down without a fight, though, including a late effort to throw out 127,000 drive-thru ballots in reliably blue Harris County. A federal court ultimately rebuffed that effort, according to NBC News. Gov. Greg Abbott also attempted to limit mail-in ballots, but thanks to the pandemic they came in a flood anyway. It’s uncertain how long those will take to be counted.

In any case, the uncounted votes won’t change the overall all result: Texas is a red state. Still, there were signs that it stands to shift more to the left in the coming years, said professor Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, chair of the political science department at the University of North Texas. The fact that Biden has polled so well here indicates that Texas could be transitioning into a battleground state, he said.

“If [the Democrats] don’t score the big wins, it still shows that … Texas is moving incrementally more in a Democratic direction,” Eshbaugh-Soha said.

At the national level, Eshbaugh-Soha predicted around 8:20 p.m. that former Vice President Biden would come out ahead. In fact, the presidential race was looking neck-and-neck for some time in ruby-red Texas, though the Texas Tribune eventually made the call for Trump by 5.5 percentage points.

“The Republicans may still have the majority support in Texas but it’s a majority that they have to earn by working very hard, not just by showing up." – Mark Jones, Rice University

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The youth voter turnout was also extraordinarily high this year in Texas, which helps the Democrats because that demographic tends to lean left. Still, Eshbaugh-Soha said, the ban against straight-ticket voting will harm the state’s liberals.

Flipping Texas blue at the state Legislature would be a huge boon to the Democrats, particularly now, Eshbaugh-Soha said. Next year the Legislature draws new political boundaries based on the 2020 census, giving the GOP a powerful lever to keep blue Texas a Democrat’s dream.

Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University, said the best-case scenario for the state’s Democrats would be if they earn a net gain of two or maybe three seats.

Three of the closest races are between Republican incumbent state Rep. Sarah Davis and Democrat Ann Johnson for House District 134, Democratic incumbent state Rep. Gina Calanni and Rep. Mike Schofield for HD-132 and Republican incumbent state Rep. Morgan Meyer and Democrat Joanna Cattanach for HD-108.

Although 2020 won’t see the state Legislature flip, Jones said it still shows a growing political trend.

“The Republicans may still have the majority support in Texas but it’s a majority that they have to earn by working very hard, not just by showing up,” he said.

Jones noted that Trump’s win in Texas likely would be smaller than his 2016 victory, when he outpolled Hilary Clinton by 9 points. With 91% of the total vote counted, the New York Times reported that Trump had just a 6.1% lead over Biden in the state.

As of midnight, Texas Democrats appeared poised to hold onto seats the party picked up in the Legislature and U.S. House during the 2018 elections.

Here’s a look at returns from some of the hotly contested down-ballot races in North Texas:

Candace Valenzuela vs. Beth Van Duyne

For Congressional District 24, which covers the Dallas-Tarrant county line, Democrat Candace Valenzuela and former Irving mayor Republican Beth Van Duyne ran a remarkably tight race. The two were battling for a seat that will be vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, who is serving his eighth term.

Valenzuela was scheduled to speak to the media Tuesday evening, but her campaign issued a statement just before 11 p.m. that she would not do so until there is a definitive result.

By 11:47 p.m., Van Duyne had a 1.6-point lead over her opponent, according to The New York Times. That was good enough to prompt Van Duyne to claim victory, though Valenzuela was not ready to concede.

“Beth Van Duyne’s declaration of victory is premature and irresponsible,” Valenzuela’s campaign manager Geoffrey Simspon said in a press release issued late in the evening.”We have seen unprecedented turnout and thousands of votes are still being counted. Our campaign is committed to a full and complete count of all ballots so that every vote is counted and every voice is heard.“

Simpson said outstanding mail-in and provisional ballots still need to be counted before the race is called, though Rice University’s Jones said that Van Duyne is looking good to win.

Although Valenzuela generated widespread Democratic support, Van Duyne, who served in the Trump administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, enjoyed a presidential endorsement. The Dallas Morning News editorial board also backed Van Duyne, causing considerable reader backlash.

In 2015, Van Duyne encouraged Irving City Council to pass a symbolic anti-Sharia law resolution, and many accused her of harboring xenophobic views. She also helped perpetuate a conspiracy theory that Ahmed Mohamed, an Irving Muslim student who was arrested for bringing a disassembled clock to school, was part of an Islamic plot.

MJ Hegar vs. John Cornyn

Like Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 bid for the U.S. Senate, former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar ultimately lost to the Republican incumbent. The Associated Press called the race, and by 9:35 p.m., she was behind by 8 points.

Hegar hoped to beat Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn for a seat that he’s held since 2002. She campaigned on her support for comprehensive healthcare coverage, attacking her opponent for having voted to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act 20 times during his tenure.

Cornyn celebrated his win after 78% of the vote had been counted, according to NBC News.

"It is the honor of my life to serve Texas in the U.S. Senate," he said in a statement released by his campaign. "Inspired by your trust and your patriotism, I will continue to be a strong voice for our values in Washington."

Following her loss, Hegar said her campaign will ultimately send Cornyn the message that his spot is no longer safe.

“I’m not a career politician. Running for U.S. Senate was never my plan,” she said in an emailed statement. “I’m just one of the millions of Texans who saw the world we’re giving our children and thought ‘hell no.’”

Colin Allred vs. Genevieve Collins

Two years ago, Democratic U.S. Rep. Colin Allred beat the odds when he took down Republican incumbent Pete Sessions in District 32, one of a number of pickups nationally that give Democrats the majority in the U.S. House. Republicans considered his hold on the seat shaky and targeted his reelection, but the former NFL player and Dallas lawyer fended off his GOP opponent, Genevieve Collins, despite her endorsement from the president.

With 99% of the vote reporting, Allred came out ahead of Collins by just over six points. He’ll return to Congress, where he’ll be joined by the man he beat two years ago. Sessions left North Texas for District 17 north of Austin, where he defeated Democrat Rick Kennedy on Tuesday.

“This is a victory for North Texans and everyone who believes if we put values first and work hard to deliver results that anything is possible,” Allred said in a press conference on election night. “I’d like to thank my opponent Genevieve Collins for running a spirited campaign and for agreeing to debate the issues that matter to North Texans.”

Texas’ 32nd Congressional District covers parts of Dallas, Richardson, Highland Park and Garland.

“I’m disappointed that it’s not going to break our way tonight.' – House candidate Genevieve Collins

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Allred was raised by his single mother while he attended schools in District 32. He said it has been an honor to represent his home district over the last two years.

He said the work during his last term did not come without reward.

He said he has helped secure the Garland VA hospital to better serve veterans, helped passed a trade deal to support Texas jobs and fought against a tax on North Texans’ health care. He said he knows there is still much work to do, but he is optimistic.

“The reality is that the challenges facing our nation are daunting and it’s going to be a hard and long fight to beat this virus,” he said. “But our history teaches us that when Americans work together we can overcome anything”

Among his campaign promises were the expansion of health coverage and decreasing costs for medication and out-of-pocket expenses. He also said there needs to be more investments in transportation and clean energy jobs.

Soraya Santos, a local community activist, said she was happy to hear any Democrats held onto their offices. To Santos, Allred is more than the better alternative to Collins. Santos said he is a dependable vote when it comes to reproductive rights, immigration and healthcare.

While he is not as far left as she may wish, Santos said she has faith that he can be pushed that way. “I also understand that he’s trying to hold on to his seat in an area that wasn’t blue for a long time until he was elected two years ago,” she said.

Collins would have been the first congresswoman in the district.

“I’m actually really excited about where we are,” Collins said before her race was called. “We’re seeing Republicans turn out nationwide. The Republicans are coming out in huge numbers today, on Election Day. That’s how I know we will be victorious by the end of this night.”

Not quite. Collins conceded to Allred not long after The Associated Press called his win. “I’m disappointed that it’s not going to break our way tonight,” she said. “But I know that Dallas County deserves a remarkable voice, someone to stand up for it and someone who will always have a strong backbone. And I’ll always continue to be that voice.”

Allred said he works for her voters, too.

“I will keep working for each and every one of you,” he said. “Even if you didn’t vote for me, I will be your representative in Congress too.”

Dallas ISD

Also on the ballot for Dallas ISD voters was a sweeping $3.7 billion school bond package that would help upgrade around 200 schools, according to CBS-DFW. If passed, it would be the largest bond package in Texas history. Results were not available late Tuesday.

The plan would include 14 replacement schools and 10 new ones, according to the outlet.

There has been some confusion as to whether passing the bond would result in a property tax increase, but trustee Miguel Solis insists that the tax rate would remain unchanged.

“On November 3 you are paying 24 pennies to DISD in property taxes and on November 4, regardless of whether it passes or fails, you will still be paying 24 pennies,” Solis told CBS-DFW.

Two races for Dallas ISD board also appeared on Tuesday’s ballot. Elections for Districts 2 and 8 were planned for May but postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In District 2, incumbent Dustin Marshall will enter his third runoff election for the seat: In the special election in 2016 he had a runoff, as well as his reelection for a full term in 2017.

In the Dec. 8 runoff election, the North Dallas resident, who earned 40% of votes Tuesday, will be up against East Dallas resident and DISD parent Nancy Rodriguez, who received 45% with 91% of precincts reporting.

District 2 includes East Dallas to Lakewood and wraps a circle around the Park Cities, including Uptown, Oak Lawn, parts of Northwest Dallas and Preston Hollow. The district pulled in more than 58,000 votes — an incredibly high number for a Dallas school board race.

District 8, held for the past seven years by 2019 mayoral candidate Miguel Solis, was looking to have a new trustee Tuesday night: attorney Joe Carreón. The district includes parts of Old East Dallas, parts of southeast Dallas and winds to Northwest Dallas.

Carreón earned 51.5% of the vote, a narrow win over charter school teacher Alicia McClung’s 48.5% with 70% precincts reporting. Both candidates grew up in Dallas and attended DISD schools.

Collin County Is Still Red

The suburbs were where much of the electoral action was this year, with Democrats expecting to gain support from women disenchanted with the Trump administration. In suburban, staunchly GOP Collin County, immigrants from California and other more left-leaning states also raised the possibility of an electoral shift.

That didn’t happen.

The tightest race in the county was between Republican Matt Shaheen and Democrat Sharon Hirsch for Texas House District 66. For most of the night, the two were neck and neck with only about 1,000 votes separating them. By the end of the night, the prize fell to Shaheen with 49.7% of the vote against Hirsch’s 48.5%.

Most of the other Collin County races saw Republicans leading by 10-13 points.

Taylor Adams and Lauren Drewes Daniels contributed to this story.
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
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