Texas 6th Preview: Lone Star Landmine

Is A Change About To Come To Arlington?

There is to be a Special Election soon in the Texas 6th, a sprawling Arlington and Other Shit district that went from Romney +17 to Trump +3 in just 8 years, and which Ted Cruz also only won by 3% in his Senate bid in 2018. The special election, caused by the death of the previous member, does not currently have a date, but it is expected reasonably soon - on or by May 1st is the latest I've seen, and when that date is clarified, I'll update this piece. (Update: May 1st, according to Greg Abbott.)

The District

The GOP won it by 8% at a Congressional level and 3% Presidentially, but this is a seat with two ends. It's southeast Tarrant County - Arlington - and then some of Ellis and a bit of Navarro counties stretching out down away from Dallas. Calculations from a handy J Miles Coleman - he of Sabato's Crystal Ball - map of the race in 2018 has the Tarrant part of the district casting over 70% of the total votes, making the district the political equivalent of a Motown band in the late 60s - there's a star, and everything else is a bit player compared to it.

Arlington going blue has been the story of the district moving, and the district is actually more diverse than the Romney +17 descriptor would make it seem. Only 52% white, the district is 20% Black and 22% Hispanic, of which most of the ethnic diversity is in Tarrant. The thing is, Tarrant is full of white, well-off social liberals who loved Mitt Romney, didn't quite like Hillary enough to switch, and now are running to the Democratic Party. The failures of the Democratic Party with Hispanics in the state, and nationally, also hurt in this almost 1/4th Hispanic district.

The rural areas saw boosted shares of total votes cast in 2020 compared to 2018, because, well, rural, low propensity turned out, which they then did at lower levels in Georgia than everyone else. The GOP will win those, but winning them by less than they did last time could spell some trouble, especially if Arlington continues to move in the way that the rest of the fucking English speaking world is moving these days.

The 2022 motivation is less clear - this district will get ripped to shreds in a year and change, and if the Democrats win this it will be a moral victory, and perhaps indicative of a broader electorate signal. There are some issues with using specials as a broader signal, but the only one I really find persuasive is turnout. If we get some weird, 22%-of-2020-votes-cast shit, then it's meaningless, whether Democrats win or not. But if you see that number above 50%, it will be a usable data point to predict 2022.

It will be a valuable one, too, as the 6th gives us an opportunity for two different stress tests - one, that well-off white social liberals won't move right in meaningful numbers without Trump, and that the Democratic Hispanic problems are in part that low propensity Hispanics broke overwhelmingly for Trump. If those two things are true - and both were in Georgia - then the district will swing to the Democrats. If they actively try for the seat - with money and effort - and lose ground, then my tentative belief that Democrats are House favourites in 2022 will be rocked.

Prospects

So, this is the part where I say the take I've had in my head since the seat opened up - Joe Biden should have won the district, and it was a fairly pathetic result to lose by 3. The district - a diverse, socially liberal seat without too many whites without a degree should have gone blue. What we can't say with certainty, but I feel very confident about, is that Biden's numbers with white voters and Beto's numbers with Hispanics would have left the seat as a dead tie, because Beto outran Biden by 14% with Hispanics, and correcting that would move the seat left by about 3%. If Biden had managed to actually meaningfully advance off 2018 with college whites, the district is his, and honestly, it would be so fairly easily. That inability to convert those voters at the pace or speed that many expected, led by polls that just entirely missed reality, was a shock.

Given my prior beliefs - that rural whites and low propensity Hispanics won't turn out like they did in 2020 - I feel pretty good in saying that the electorate that will vote on special election day (and in the weeks before) will be an electorate that would have voted for Joe Biden. I expect Tarrant to cast a greater share of votes this year than 2020, I expect the % of the electorate with a college degree to rise, and I expect Black voters in the district to be motivated to continue the arduous work of bailing out white America, because that seems to be the life that white America demands of them. That said, I don't think Democrats are favoured - after all, the GOP did outrun Biden/Trump by 5% downballot.

There are three wrinkles in this conversation, which all matter. The first is that the widow is running, which could engender some sympathy from voters, making this election a harder data point to extrapolate from, and the second is a related point, which is that I have no idea who the Democratic nominee will be. I can't pretend to be too eager to run the guy who managed to underrun Joe Biden by 5% again, but I'm not sure who would be better. Neither of those issues radically change my assessment of this race.

My first thought, from the moment the race unfortunately triggered, was that we would get a result better for Democrats than November 2020 and not good enough to credibly contend, in other words, a 3-5% loss with a couple of tied internals that gets certain parts of Twitter excited. That remains my prediction - something between the Presidential result and the House result, one that is good news for Democrats but not great news, or inarguably good for them. Again, I expect the GOP to win this seat. But I won't be surprised if they lose it, because of the third wrinkle this race has seen.

The third wrinkle to this race - don't worry, I hadn't forgotten about it - is the song of fire and ice that Texas had to live with (and, in many places, is still living with). Or, maybe better, the song of ice and ice. The cold snap has exposed the state as woefully unprepared for huge amounts of snow, which leads to debatable positions on how southern states should prepare for freak snowstorms. That Texans got absolutely fucked by ERCOT, and are staring at 5 figure power bills that are a fucking disgrace, is not up for similar debate. This debacle - and the way that Democrats from AOC to Beto have stepped up to the plate, while Ted Cruz cut and run to Cancun - has the potential to sour people on the Texas GOP, especially if the threat of people actually having to pay those sorts of expenses is still hanging in the air on voting day.

At the end of the day, the race is Lean R. I get the case for Likely R, even if I think it is a bit more aggressive than I'd put it these days - especially in volatile Texas, whose political realignments are so wild and unpredictable that we should probably all learn the lessons of 2020 and adopt some more humility about the Lone Star State. The GOP could win this by 10 or more, or they could lose this by 5. All in, I think the GOP wins by more than Trump and less than their now-deceased member did - a result that won't change the narratives of November 2022 but will greatly inform good psephology of it. That said, this is a potential landmine for the GOP, and a goldmine for Democrats. Let's see who best takes advantage.