A little after 9 p.m. Tuesday, both NBC and ABC abruptly declared Sen. Ted Cruz the winner in his hard-fought race against U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke after vote counts for the pair ran neck and neck for the first couple of hours after polls closed.
Despite O’Rourke's beating all expectations by keeping Cruz close, it was a deflating moment for Democrats. At Democratic congressional candidate Colin Allred’s election watch party at the Magnolia Hotel in the Park Cities, the air went out of the room.
Shortly after the call, however, the crowd got its groove back. Their man, the networks announced, had picked off U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, an 11-term incumbent and chairman of the House Rules Committee.
"This win is also a message to Washington," said Allred, a civil rights attorney and former NFL player. "We are ready for real leadership, we are ready for fresh ideas and we are ready for real change."
Allred successfully closed on Sessions over the last weeks of the campaign by emphasizing the differences between the candidates on healthcare. He would protect those with pre-existing health conditions — like the cancer from which his mother suffered — he said, while Sessions, his opponent, had voted repeatedly to end the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits insurers from discriminating against customers with existing illnesses.
In the campaign’s home stretch, Sessions pledged to make sure those with health problems couldn’t be denied coverage, but he failed to explain how he would do so. It was too little, too late.
"We are ready for real leadership, we are ready for fresh ideas and we are ready for real change." — Colin Allred
Allred and O’Rourke point to a new era in Texas politics, says Republican Texas state Rep. Jason Villalba, who lost his primary to a right-wing challenger earlier this year.
“Even though Beto did not prevail tonight, the message that he sent to Texas was stark and clear: Unless we begin to really focus on the issues that galvanize ordinary Texans like the economy and healthcare and public education, I think we’re going to continue to have very, very close elections,” Villalba says. “I think you’re going to see an increase in the caliber of Democratic candidates because now Beto’s shown that a well-vetted candidate who’s thoughtful and can work hard in the grass roots — they have a shot to win statewide."
Celia Morgan, the president of the Texas Young Democrats, says millennial voters are going to continue to turn out in the state, even if they were disappointed by O’Rourke’s loss.
“In 2016, we had the highest number of young voters turn out [that had in a couple of decades]. Despite that, we saw tremendous gains in Texas [in youth voter participation in 2018], a state that’s supposed to be completely red,” Morgan says. “To be within 5 points in the Senate race and to pick up House seats across the state is an incredible accomplishment. The voting population in this state is going to continue to get younger and that’s only going to bode well for Democrats and progressives as we move forward."
At the legislative level, Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines appears to have been defeated by his Democratic challenger, attorney Nathan Johnson. With 232 of 299 precincts in Senate District 16 reporting, Johnson led Huffines by 7 points.
Incumbent Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, the most notable of the Dallas GOP’s countywide candidates, appears to have gotten waxed by former Judge John Creuzot by more than 20 points. In search of clear victor on election night, Dallas County Republicans turned to J.J. Koch, who won the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court District 2 seat formerly held by Mike Cantrell.
"By all measure, it makes sense for me to be here. My beautiful wife and her support. The amazing blessing of my two children. I have to thank my cabinet ... listen well to Republican women because they have great advice for you,” Koch told the assembled crowd at The Statler in downtown Dallas. “I grew up in New Jersey, both of my parents were union members. I'm the grandson of a congressman who served in Ohio. The reason why I'm a Republican, why I'm standing here before you is that I believe our party promotes freedom. And that is the greatest guarantor of human dignity."
Late in the evening, after 10 p.m., Sessions took the stage to concede to Allred. He blamed his loss, in part, on people who have moved to Texas from California.
“What irony it is that that which we have built has also turned us into a larger metroplex that has gathered people from all over the country including those from parts of our West who have come to Dallas and perhaps not really understood the true nature of Texas,” Sessions lamented.
Update 9:13 p.m. — With about 80 percent of the vote in, both NBC and ABC have called the Texas Senate race between Senator Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke for Cruz. Locally, NBC has called the race in Texas Congressional District 32 for Colin Allred, who knocked off 11-term incumbent Pete Sessions.
Original story: Significant local and statewide races remained in the balance Tuesday night as polls closed at 7 p.m. in Dallas County and much of the rest of Texas. Results of the approximately 5 million early votes cast around the state are trickling in. In Dallas County at least, the so-called blue wave appears to be real, with straight-ticket Democratic voters casting over 100,000 more votes than their straight-ticket voting Republican counterparts and several GOP statehouse members appearing to be in big trouble. Statewide, results are more of a mixed bag.
In Texas' showcase Senate race, it's far too early to predict a winner or even a direction in which to lean, but supporters of Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke showed up in a big way in Dallas County. Sixty-six percent of early voters in the county cast ballots for O'Rourke compared with just 33 percent voting for Cruz.
Despite the murky picture in the senatorial contest, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appears set to return to the Governor's Mansion, with NBC News and the Texas Tribune projecting him to defeat former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, appointed by Abbott after Susan Hawk's resignation in 2016, trails challenger John Creuzot by 20 points among early and mail-in voters. Each of Dallas County's countywide officials will be a Democrat as soon as Creuzot takes office, assuming the challenger hangs onto his lead.
In DFW's most hotly anticipated congressional race, civil rights attorney Colin Allred and incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions are locked in a tough battle in North Dallas' District 32. Over the last month of the campaign, Allred pounded Sessions repeatedly on the representative's multiple votes to repeal Obamacare and end insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions. National exit polls from NBC and CNN showed that more than 60 percent of voters called healthcare their No. 1 issue, which could indicate that Sessions is in real electoral trouble for the first time since he was elected in 1996.
At the state legislative level, Nathan Johnson leads incumbent Don Huffines by 12 points among early voters in Dallas County in a highly contested state Senate contest and Park Cities moderate Morgan Meyer trails Joanna Cattanach by 3 points after early votes were counted. Lisa Luby Ryan, the anti-vaccine maven who knocked off Jason Villalba in March's Republican primary, is well behind Chris Turner in early voting, trailing by 10.