Despite losing 40 seats in the US House during the 2018 midterm elections, the GOP still had a few reasons to celebrate. By the end of the night, they had picked up two seats in rural Minnesota, and held onto a handful of competitive districts, Texas’s 23rd district being one of them. This purple seat is one of the most competitive in Texas.
Texas’s 23rd congressional district, currently represented by congressman Will Hurd, stretches across Texas’s vast southwestern plains, connecting the outskirts of El Paso to the suburbs of San Antonio. As a result of its uniquely mixed voter base, split between urban voters in El Paso county, rural voters in the center of the district, and suburban voters in Bexar county (San Antonio area), this district is extremely competitive come election season. Since Congressman Hurd was elected in 2014, elections in this purple Texas district have been decided by a margin of only 1.3 points on average.
Recently, Congressman Hurd announced that he will not seek reelection in the upcoming 2020 race, leaving this extremely competitive district vulnerable. Democrats see this as a prime pickup opportunity, as in 2016, then-candidate Hillary Clinton won this district by a margin of just over three points. Texas’s 23rd district, in fact, is among one of just three districts in the nation that was won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and then by a congressional Republican in 2018. With a left-leaning 2016 presidential result, and no strong incumbent to run, this race will certainly be an uphill battle for Republicans.
This being said, it’s important to look a bit deeper into this district’s makeup and to assess exactly how tough it would be for another Republican to be elected come 2020. Firstly, this district has an extremely large Hispanic population. Approximately 68% of the population here is Hispanic, followed by a white population of just under 25%, and a black population of nearly 4%. However, despite only 30% of Hispanics voting for Trump in 2016 nationwide, Texas Hispanics have a more purple, evenly split voting record; Republican Governor Greg Abbott, for example, received approximately 42% of the Hispanic vote.
Looking into how the population of the state is dispersed, just under 22% of this district’s inhabitants live in rural areas, leaving the remaining 78% in urban areas. Although this sizeable rural population is helpful to the Republicans, and is instrumental to a GOP win in 2020, it’s actually the suburbs of San Antonio that would, in theory, push the Republican over the finish line. Out of the 210,000 votes cast in this district during the 2018 midterms, about 105,000 of them came from Bexar county. Of these votes, Congressman Hurd won 55,191, leaving his opponent with only 50,517. Although a 4,600 vote difference may not sound like much, especially in a race where more than 210,000 ballots were cast, this difference is what determined the outcome of this election. Bexar county alone accounted for about 50% of all votes cast last election, wielding massive influence over who ends up in congress. The next largest county in the district, El Paso county, accounted for only about 8% of all votes cast.
After having said all of this, what does it mean? It means that a GOP victory here is still possible, even if made difficult by the retirement of a popular incumbent. If the Republican can maintain decent turnout in the rural parts of the district, while also carrying Bexar County he/she will be favored to win. Alternatively, if the highly competitive San Antonio suburbs turn against the GOP, even by a small margin, it’s game over for Republicans. Rural counties in this district are not likely to turn on Republicans, just as urban centers aren’t likely to break their blue voting record, leaving the focus of our attention on the purple Texas suburbs in the east.