When I was growing up in suburban eastern North Carolina, I, the son of first-generation Syrian immigrants, became accustomed to a world dominated by god, guns, and football. Tradition railed supreme, and all of my friends had been in the area for decades past, owned beach house properties, and happened to know everyone. Suburban America, specifically in the south, has always seemed to me a bastion for conservatism, where citizens who were devout, faithful, and traditional settled down.
The days of sleepy suburbia dominated by party-line votes for conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush seems to be but a distant memory at this time. The 2018 congressional midterms were dominated by suburbs. Charleston, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta shifted towards the Democratic Party, even as Republicans had previously held these districts for decades. GA-06, the former seat of Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich, flipped to gun-rights activist Lucy McBath. This was a sign of the changing times in a neighborhood that has grown increasingly diverse, college-educated, and filled with younger college transplants with a more liberal worldview. Even in these southern towns that were once solely ruled by conservative and traditional ideals, Democrats have successfully made inroads and built grassroots organizations through the rising population of Gen Z and millennial voters.
TX-06: Shifting Suburbia
One such sleeper suburban district that can become emblematic of this overarching trend is TX-06, held by first-term Republican incumbent Ron Wright. TX-06 contains most of the city Arlington as well as the smaller towns of Mansfield, Waxahachie, Eureka, and the Cedar Hill suburbs. A reliably conservative district, TX-06 voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 by 32 points. It voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012 by 15 and 17 points, respectively, even as Barack Obama won the presidency. However, in recent years, the district has seen a continued leftward trend. Hillary Clinton lost the district by 12 points (the best performance for a national Democrat in the century) and Wright won by a measly seven points against communications professional Jana Lynne Sanchez.
While the district is becoming more liberal-favored in recent elections, elections analysts have largely shifted from describing this race as potentially competitive in 2020. This was due to factors such as presidential preference in Texas and the divesting of Democratic resources into more flippable Texas congressional districts such as TX-23 (held by Will Hurd in the Rio Grande Valley region) and TX-24 (held by Kenny Marchant in the Dallas-Fort Worth region). However, the Democratic Party have a few factors up their sleeve which can make this Trump+12 district a potential flip at the House level, even if President Trump carries the district again in 2020.
Underrated Democratic Party Strength in Texas
In 2018, many congressional candidates in Texas, primarily those surrounding big cities such as Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston were boosted by Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 bid for US Senate. As a first-time candidate with considerable monetary funding as well as charisma, O’Rourke was able to come close to Ted Cruz, losing by a two-point margin in a state that voted for Donald Trump by nine points.
In addition, his statewide blitz of advertisements and campaign events helped congressional candidates such as Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher get over the hump and defeat long-entrenched Republicans in previously Republican-safe territory. This effect helped Lynne Sanchez come within seven points in a district where previous Republican representative Joe Barton won by 19 points in 2016. In the 2020 elections, Democrats are bearish on capturing additional congressional districts in Texas, a state that has not voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter.
Biden Polls Competitively
Surprisingly, Democrats are currently in a precarious situation in Texas. Polling indicates Democratic nominee Joe Biden may only trail President Trump by 2.5 points. This is similar to the margin Beto O’Rourke lost in his 2018 Senate bid. Texas, as a whole, is a state still rated by most election pundits as Likely Republican; Elections Daily has it at Leans Republican. After all, there are still suburbs and exurbs outside of the major cities of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio which garner considerable support from Republicans due to a whiter, less-college educated demographic.
Yet, Democrats have been working behind the scenes to thwart the Republican advantage and gain seats on the local level. For example, Beto O’Rourke has recently stepped in with a new organization, Powered by People; this organization plans to canvass and go door-to-door throughout the state, aided by numerous volunteers. While O’Rourke’s campaign infrastructure was not enough to get him to win, the personalized campaign strategy and his ability to come to each Texas county, no matter how conservative, is one that can help in TX-06.
TX-06: Demographics and Electorate
The argument for TX-06 flipping does not depend solely upon shifts towards Democrats at the national level. One shining light for Democrats, however, is the demographic components of TX-06 and its rapid diversification.
Unlike in previous times, this district is only 52.01% white, with almost a plurality of non-white voters. African-Americans make up 20.32% of the district while Hispanics comprise 22.23% This is significant due to the fact that Democrats have not hit their potential ceiling here Uunlike other Texas districts that are majority-white and were previously Republican, much of the electorate in this district are voters who are statistically less likely to previously be Republicans.
According to the 2016 exit polls conducted by CNN in Texas, Latino voters voted for Hillary Clinton by a 25 point-margin, and black voters voted for Clinton by a staggering 73-point margin. If more voters from the African-American and Latino community turned out against the incumbent Republican Party and Trump and continued to vote down ballot for Democrats, Republicans could face unexpected losses due to increased turnout.
Texas Democrats have consistently focused on the demographic changes and the predominant Latino population within Texas being favorable towards their chances of carrying the state. As a whole, the Hispanic population has not been a solid Democratic turnout group within Texas until very recently. In 2004, a CNN exit poll showed a mere one-point advantage for John Kerry over incumbent Republican president George W. Bush amongst Latinos. In addition, Republicans made a concerted effort to appeal to many issues that Latinos cared about. Education and immigration reform were two major priorities. However, the party has started to solidify its grasp in the deep south and in predominantly white areas. As a result, even some formerly conservative Latinos have jumped ship to the Democratic Party.
This is only further helped by the recent electoral victories by Democrats in the Tarrant County region. O’Rourke became the first Democrat to win Tarrant County since Lloyd Bentsen in 1988. The district has seen a recent transformation and boom in business, with large corporations such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Lockheed Martin becoming a large part of the growing workforce in the area. With Dallas real estate costing almost 9% more than in Fort Worth and a recent population spike within Fort Worth, younger college-educated professionals who tend to be more diverse help create a new base of Democratic support. As these professionals move to the suburbs around Arlington and Cedar Hill in the future, we can continue to see continued competitiveness in TX-06.
Continued Support is Needed
However, the Democratic Party cannot take these voters for granted and expect a wave of Democratic support. As of 2020, there are no statewide officeholders in Texas from the Democratic Party. The state is not considered a true tossup on the scale of Arizona or Wisconsin. While the Latino vote spiked from 27 percent to 40 percent from 2014 to 2018, the rate is still 12 points behind white voters and 11 points behind black voters in 2018. There is still a lot of room left for increased voter registration and engagement.
In addition, this district in particular, spanning southeastern Tarrant County, gerrymanders much of Fort Worth. It includes wide-spanning rural areas that have predominantly voted Republican in previous elections. For example, Ellis County, containing the cities of Waxahachie and Midlothian, voted for Donald Trump in 2016 by a 45 point margin and is likely to do so again even in a Democratic wave year. Navarro County, a smaller county, still voted for Trump by a whopping 49 point margin. With these two sources for Republicans, Democrats have to focus on increased turnout in Arlington and Cedar Hill through novel GOTV operations in order to pull off the upset in TX-06.
A Strong Democrat vs. a Controversial Republican
Luckily for Democrats, the incumbent currently occupying TX-06 is a relative newcomer with recent controversy. Ron Wright, who was previously an advisor to former Congressman Joe Barton and the tax assessor for Tarrant County, has only been in office for one term. TX-06 is almost plurality non-white, but Wright ultimately voted against the final George Floyd police reform bill as well as many apolitical bills such as the the Workplace Violence Prevention Act.
In addition, Wright has a history of making headlines for controversial comments. In 1997, he seemed to mock African-American Vernacular English. He also lamented that white males were the only group of citizens with no federal protection. These comments, especially in a diversifying and increasingly cosmopolitan district, added fuel to the fire. They could potentially encourage extra donations to the district as the story gains more steam in the local media.
In addition, Stephen Daniel, the Democratic candidate for office, has a similar background to many of the winners of competitive 2018 seats. Daniel is an older millennial born and raised in the area with a strong slate of endorsements. He has indicated a focus on greater healthcare access, an issue that Democrats won heavily with in 2018. Even as many House races are still stepping into gear, Daniel has received high-profile endorsements from fellow Congressman and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who has high name recognition within the area. In addition, while Wright is currently outpacing Daniel by $300,000 in donations, most of these donations have come from large donors. Daniel has been spending more money online and getting more grassroots support from outlets like the AFL-CIO.
Is TX-06: A Future Swing Seat?
If Democrats want to pull away with this race, their continued trend of growth within the suburbs and support in the increasingly diversified DFW area must continue. Stephen Daniel has the personal background, image, and fundamentals on his side to make this race a close one. However, with the continuing coronavirus pandemic, it will be much tougher to have similar GOTV efforts.
At this moment, Stephen Daniel has the chance to energize and excite voters within Tarrant County. This could be enough to overwhelm Ellis and Navarro counties in vote totals in TX-06. While this district still leans for Donald Trump in 2020, with enough excitement behind Daniel, we could potentially see a race that is too close to call on election night. The old America has undergone a complete 180, and we are unlikely to see suburbia return to what it used to be ever again.