Texas Democrats in the recent runoff in House District 28 in Fort Bend County may have gotten out a bit in front of their skis.
The runoff was to fill the seat vacated last year when seven-term incumbent John Zerwas, R-Richmond, retired to take a job at the University of Texas. It pitted Democrat Eliz Markowitz, an ebullient educator, against Gary Gates, a self-financing apartment developer who lost several other tries for political office.
The Democrats, led by former presidential candidate and former El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke, turned out hundreds of door-knocking volunteers. Many were veterans of O'Rourke's near-miss effort to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and unsuccessful try for president.
But the results in the runoff – Markowitz losing to Gates by 16 points – left Democrats dismayed and Republicans elated. The race was hyped nationally as the Republicans’ demonstration that Red-state Texas could turn blue in 2020, from the top of the ticket on down.
After Republican Gov. Greg Abbott paid to bus in hundreds of volunteers to knock doors for Gates, his blowout win gave the GOP something to crow about. Gates got 17,457 votes to Markowitz's 12,617. That's a total vote of 30,074. Gates beat Markowitz by 4,840 votes – about 16%.
The possible good news for Markowitz and the Democrats is that they have another opportunity to capture the District 28 seat in November. Markowitz is unopposed in the March 3 Democratic primary for the seat. Gates has an opponent – Schell Hammel – but is presumed fairly certain to be on the ballot in November. In 2018, incumbent Zerwas got 44,414 votes to Democrat Meghan Scoggins' 37,584. That's 54.2% for Zerwas to 45.8% for Scoggins – a margin of 8.4 points.
But the interesting figure is that the turnout, even in a non-presidential election year, was 81,998 – close to triple the total vote of 30,074 in the special election runoff. In other words, it would be uphill for the Democrats to push Markowitz to victory in November. But it's not impossible. This is a long way of pointing out that the total turnout in District 28 in the Nov. 3 general election will dwarf the number of people who showed up to vote Jan. 28.
Now, whether the Democrats will be able to work that to their advantage or whether the Republicans can again beat back the challenge remains to be seen, but there will be a hot presidential race at the top of the ballot, followed by a presumably hot race by Democrats to unseat Texas' senior senator, Republican John Cornyn.
That should get lots of national attention as part of a multi-state effort by national Democrats to break up the GOP's 53-47 hold on the Senate. `
Texas voters should be at the polls in maximum numbers. The question may be that, in this first year without straight-ticket voting – punching one button or checking one box to vote for all the candidates of one party – how far down the ballot voters from each party will go to mark each race.
That's particularly true as Democrats wage a do-or-die effort to gain the nine additional seats to win control of the Texas House of Representatives – when the legislators elected in 2020 will in 2021 draw legislative and congressional districts for the next decade.
Guess we'll see in November.