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National Govt & Politics
Despite loss, Beto O'Rourke's run reveals a changing Texas
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Despite loss, Beto O'Rourke's run reveals a changing Texas

Despite loss, Beto O'Rourke's run reveals a changing Texas
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eric Gay, File
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2018, file photo, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, the 2018 Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas, makes his concession speech at his election night party in El Paso, Texas. O'Rourke didn't turn Texas blue, but for the first time in decades, it's looking much less red. Texas has long been a laboratory of conservatism. But cracks in the GOP's supremacy are emerging. The results could reverberate nationally. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Despite loss, Beto O'Rourke's run reveals a changing Texas

Beto O'Rourke didn't turn Texas blue. But for the first time in decades, it's looking much less red.

The midterm elections in Texas ousted a Republican who carried a "bathroom bill" targeting transgender people, drove out a GOP lawmaker who called federal immigration agents on Hispanic protesters and gave Democrats in Houston run of the nation's third most populous county.

For a generation, Texas has been a laboratory of conservatism that tested legal boundaries and churned out Republican presidential candidates. But cracks in the GOP's supremacy emerged this week in unexpected ways and races. As with many things Texas, the results could reverberate nationally.

Predictions that Texas will come into play in 2020 may still be a stretch, but the signs of a subtle shift are more than mere talk.

"This is the most optimistic I've felt since high school," said Dallas state Rep. Eric Johnson, a 43-year-old Democrat who is running to become the first black speaker of the Texas House. "I know for a fact that Texas is a purple state. It hasn't been voting that way because Democrats have forgotten how to win, to a certain degree. But Beto has reminded us."

He was unequivocal about why Democrats broke through this year.

"Beto was the reason," he said.

It remains to be seen what's next for O'Rourke, who came within 3 percentage points of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the closest Senate race in Texas in 40 years. The El Paso congressman, who shattered fundraising records in a Senate campaign, raising more than $70 million, has insisted he's not interested in another office for now. But that has done little to dampen speculation that he could run again in 2020.

Texas' other Senate seat, held by Republican John Cornyn, is up for re-election that year. He called the midterms a "wake-up call" for his party in Texas.

"I don't know whether this is a once-in-a- lifetime confluence of events or whether this represents something of the new normal," said Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate.

On the surface, Texas didn't change much after Tuesday. Republicans continued a 24-year streak of sweeping statewide races and lost only two seats in Congress, both of which had already been trending toward Democrats. The GOP also still comfortably controls the Texas Legislature, even after losing a dozen seats in what was the biggest single-year pickup by Democrats in decades.

But Republicans' big margins shrank in a number of places.

Typically easy wins in five congressional districts around Austin, Dallas and Houston were sliced to within 5 percentage points this time. The driving social conservative force in the Legislature, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, won just over 51 percent of the vote in his first election since pushing a failed North Carolina-style "bathroom bill" that would have required transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate. Not surviving, however, was a Republican who carried the bill in the House.

Texas' last big Republican county, around Fort Worth, also crumbled at the top of the ticket. Fort Worth is "Cowtown," with stockyards and a cowboy image that stands in contrast to Texas' other big and increasingly liberal cities. Of Texas' five largest counties — the others around Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin — Tarrant County was the only one President Donald Trump carried in 2016, doing so by 57,000 votes.

Two years later, O'Rourke won the county over Cruz by 3,900 votes.

"We flipped this state from blue to red. We may be shifting back a little toward the blue," Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Darl Easton said. "But political shifts happen. I'm not overly concerned about the current trend."

Fast-growing suburbs that for years have served as a GOP firewall to Texas' liberal big cities also either flipped to Democrats or were winnowed down to single-digit races. It was an abrupt turnaround from just four years ago, when Republicans coasted into every statewide office with 20-point victories.

The gap drastically shrunk on the coattails of a Democrat whose support for universal health care, marijuana legalization and immigration reform was mocked by Republicans as anathema to voters who've kept the GOP in control of Texas since 1994.

After his loss, O'Rourke urged others to pick up where he left off.

"This team, of which we are all members, in some way is going to stay together, is going to continue to aspire to do great things," O'Rourke said. "There are so many great candidates who are going to come out of this campaign."

___

Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

___

For AP's complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics .

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  • After a post-election vote fight that showcased vote counting troubles in two south Florida counties, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) conceded defeat to Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Sunday, ensuring Republican gains in the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections, and delivering a welcome piece of good post-election news for President Donald Trump and the GOP. “I just spoke with Senator Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service,” said Scott in a statement. “My focus will not be on looking backward, but on doing exactly what I ran on,” Scott said. “Making Washington Work.” Florida elections officials on Sunday announced a final advantage for Scott of 10,033 votes – that was down from just under 15,000 in favor of Scott when the machine recount began, and lower than the nearly 12,500 edge for the GOP before the hand recount started on Friday. For Republicans, the hard fought win gives them a gain of two seats in the Senate for 2019, as the GOP will have a 53-47 edge, provided they can also win a special runoff election for Senate in Mississippi after Thanksgiving. The Scott victory was a rare piece of good news for Republicans since Election Day, as the GOP has lost a number of close House races in recent days. Democrats have now gained 37 seats in the House, with five GOP seats still undecided amid continued vote counting. Nelson becomes the fifth U.S. Senator to lose in November, joining three other Democrats – McCaskill in Missouri, Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Donnelly in Indiana – along with one Republican Senator, Heller in Nevada. While 5 Senators were tossed out by the voters in November, 27 House members – all Republicans – have been defeated. Several more could still lose in the five remaining House contests which are undecided. Hanging over the defeat for Nelson is what appears to have been a ballot design problem in one small part of Broward County, Florida, where thousands of voters did not cast a vote in the U.S. Senate race, which happened at a much higher rate than other areas in that county. The Florida Senate count is at Scott+10,033, right around the margin where the Broward County undervote/bad ballot design could have been decisive. We may never know https://t.co/Gg14C1heaV — Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) November 18, 2018 The ‘undervote’ problems in that area of Broward County were just part of a slew of post-election issues highlighted by the wrangling over the final tally in both the Florida Senate and Florida Governor’s race.
  • Over a week after being publicly ridiculed for losing her seat in Congress by President Donald Trump, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) on Friday night was on the verge of pulling off a stunning comeback in her re-election bid, as the continued counting of ballots in her Utah district finally pushed her into the lead by a slender 419 votes. “Hard to see how she relinquishes that now,” said Dave Wasserman, an elections expert who has been forecasting a possible comeback by Love for several days. Still being tabulated are thousands of provisional ballots in Utah and Salt Lake counties, which take time to verify, as Utah and a number of other states slowly push their way through the votes of the November mid-term elections. The jump into first place for Love came as a judge tossed out a lawsuit that she filed – which oddly would have stopped vote counting in Salt Lake County – a move that her opponent said ‘smacks of desperation.’ “Utah voters deserve better than this,” said Democrat Ben McAdams. With the Utah County numbers posting, Rep. Mia Love has taken a 419-vote lead over Ben McAdams. #utpol — #VoteGehrke (@RobertGehrke) November 16, 2018 But the McAdams lead over Love has slowly withered away in recent days, leaving Love favored by many to win re-election. A comeback victory would be filled with irony, especially after the mocking ridicule heaped upon Love and a number of other House Republicans by President Donald Trump, who said the day after the elections that Love and others were defeated because they refused to embrace him. “Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” the President said, almost seeming to enjoy the outcome. “Too bad. Sorry about that Mia.” President Trump lists Republicans who didn't embrace him and lost. 'They did very poorly. I'm not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it.' 'Mia Love gave me no love and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that Mia.' pic.twitter.com/ZV7EKcWjLX — CSPAN (@cspan) November 7, 2018 Two weekends after the elections, a small number of races remained undecided – with some that could stretch until after Thanksgiving: FLORIDA SENATE – With a manual recount finishing up, and Florida’s 67 counties waiting through Saturday to deal with any other stray ballots, Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) seems headed for victory over Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). This will give the GOP a big victory, and a 2 seat margin in the U.S. Senate. From a statistical/electoral/historical perspective, Scott's defeat of Nelson is pretty much unmatched in recent political history. Beating a swing state opposition party senator without a hint of scandal in a midterm… It's quite impressive. — (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) November 17, 2018 CALIFORNIA 39 – This is the first of six (or maybe seven) undecided House races. 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We're moving this one to our uncalled races tab. https://t.co/FeGWU7SsoE — Daniel Donner (@donnermaps) November 17, 2018 UTAH 4 – As mentioned above, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) now has the lead. This would be a big save for Republicans, who have had very little to cheer about in the past 10 days since the elections. In fact, there has been an almost daily drumbeat of Democratic victories each night since then, as they edge closer to a possible pickup of almost 40 House seats, their largest gains since 1974 after Watergate. BREAKING: As expected, #UT04 GOP Rep. Mia Love (R) has pulled into the lead over Ben McAdams (D) by 419 votes. Hard to see how she relinquishes it now. https://t.co/nfsptUdHiN — Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) November 16, 2018 NEW YORK 22 – This seat can probably be called for the Democrats by the AP and other organizations, as absentee ballot counts on Friday went clearly for Democrat Anthony Brindisi, leaving Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) behind by over 3,000 votes in this northern New York district. This is not a spot where the GOP should have lost. @Redistrict Brindisi lead in NY22 has surged to more 3000 votes! I see no path to victory for Tenney. She's falling further behind as more ballots are counted, that's a losing combination, a larger deficit, and fewer votes left to count. https://t.co/ae1Ny8Osws — Kevin O'Connell (@Kevtoco) November 17, 2018 NEW YORK 27 – Indicted Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) still leads by over 1,000 votes in this western New York district, with one big cache of absentee ballots and provisionals to count next Tuesday around Buffalo. Democrat Nate McMurray has been winning a majority of absentee ballots in recent days in counties where he lost the Election Day vote, making some wonder if he has a chance to win this race at the last minute next week. This is the equivalent of betting a horse that’s maybe 9-1. It might win. Nate McMurray continues to gain ground in counties that he lost to Rep. Chris Collins in. Biggest test will be Tuesday when the Erie County absentee and affidavit votes will be counted. https://t.co/f5nincKkZx — WGRZ (@WGRZ) November 16, 2018 GEORGIA 7 – While the race for Governor is over, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) has a 419 vote edge in this suburban Atlanta district, with all of the votes counted. Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux announced on Friday afternoon that she would ask for a recount. While a recount doesn’t usually switch the outcome, we have certainly seen in Florida and other states in recent days where there are tabulation errors uncovered – so you can’t say this is in the bag for the GOP – but they are favored. News: We will file for a recount of the 7th district race. With a margin of only 419 votes (0.14%), we want to make sure every vote was counted correctly & fairly. It is crucial that every eligible vote is counted & every voice is heard. #GA07 #GAPol — Carolyn Bourdeaux (@Carolyn4GA7) November 16, 2018 TEXAS 23 – Even though she’s behind by just under 1,000 votes, Cindy Ortiz Jones spent the week in Washington going through freshman orientation, but that may not work out for the Texas Democrat, as Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) seems like he’s in good position in this race, leading by 0.5 percent. Hurd’s people on Friday were declaring victory, but it wasn’t clear if Jones would press for any kind of vote review. Republicans are favored to hold on to this border district, but it was much closer than anyone had predicted. Bexar County has finished counting, leaving only six votes left to count (Kinney & Upton). @WillHurd has won by 928 votes, this race is over #TX23 — Connor Pfeiffer (@ConnorPfeiffer) November 16, 2018 Democrats right now have a net gain of 36 seats – they should win at least two of the undecided races left, and have an outside chance at others. Right now, the new Congress stands at 231 Democrats to 198 Republicans, with six seats undecided. One final note – this extended time of vote counting is totally normal. Reporters follow it every two years, but many partisans think there is something amiss.
  • Deputies say Rick Swan’s body was found in a burned travel trailer east of Claremore on Thursday. Investigators tracked down Kevin Foster, the victim’s stepson at his home in Bixby and arrested him for first degree murder and first degree arson. “He certainly denied the fact that he had been in Claremore yesterday,” said Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton. “And we know by multiple sources and video that he was.” Sheriff Walton says it was well known that Foster and Swan had been in a feud.
  • A public memorial service is scheduled for country music star Roy Clark. His longtime manager, Jim Halsey, says the service will be at Rhema Bible Church in Broken Arrow on November 21st. Clark passed away yesterday at his Tulsa home after complications from pneumonia. He was 85-years-old. The legend was known for his music and his 24 years on Hee Haw. KRMG will be at the memorial. Tune to NEWS102.3 and AM740 KRMG for the latest.  
  • Ironically, the 2018 edition of the Blue Dome Arts Festival was the largest, best-attended, and by all accounts most successful in the event’s 15-year run. But when Jo and Chris Armstrong saw the sign go up that Santa Fe Square has begun leasing spaces, they knew that was the last nail in the coffin. “That’s great for Tulsa, it’s great for the Blue Dome District.  As a business owner down here, it’ll be great for our business, I’m certain of that. For the festival, it means more construction,” Jo Armstrong told KRMG Friday. More construction, and less space. The hotel which just opened nearby would have closed off a quarter of the space the BDAF once had. And while the Armstrongs considered moving the festival, they decided it just wouldn’t feel right. “If we move it, it’s just not the same. It’s not the Blue Dome Arts Festival. It’s more than the fact that we use the Blue Dome as our office. It’s that it’s this iconic landmark that is the heart of the festival, and it’s important to be near it. We could shrink the festival down and do things very, very differently, but unfortunately still yet the festival is diminished, and it’s only going to get more and more so while this stuff is happening for now, until new things can be figured out... potentially... maybe.” Another complication is the state’s new liquor laws, which no longer allow for “low-point” beer consumers to leave the premises from which it was purchased. That means they would have had to fence in the entire festival, at great cost, and face fines for every individual citation issued. She says while she knows closing the festival is the right decision, that doesn’t make it any easier. “This has been a hard day,” she said. “I’m not gonna lie.”