Two remarkable things happened in politics over the last couple of weeks: one national and one local.
The first is that Democrats absolutely dominated the various elections across the country, which is no small feat in a non-presidential election year. Any Texan who watched in sadness as Greg Abbott trounced Wendy Davis knows that Democrats are just awful when it comes to voting if the main event isn’t on the ticket. This wasn’t even a mid-term. I expected most of them to sleep in.
Yet, that didn’t happen. Democrats picked up two governorships and a slew of state and local positions. Some of those positions have been redder than good chili since before I was born. More surprising to me was the culture war backlash. Not that there was one, but that it was effective. In Virginia, the man who authored their obnoxious and discriminatory bathroom bill, Bob Marshall, lost to Danica Roem, who became the state’s first transgender lawmaker. In fact, all across the country there was a wave of diversity firsts that seem to indicate a complete rejection of Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric.
The second thing that happened was the announcement by Representative Ted Poe of Texas District 2 that he would not seek re-election. At first I was worried about him, concerned that perhaps his leukemia had returned. I didn’t vote for the man, I hate virtually everything he stands for, but fuck cancer.
No, he says he just wants to spend more time with his family. So, I’ll drink to his good health, even though I don’t entirely believe that is the real reason. Poe is the third Texas Republican this year to say they are not going to even try in 2018. I think many of them see some very blue writing on the wall. Still, I raise a glass and say with all sincerity, “To your good health, Ted.”
This means that another Houston district might finally be in play. Previously, only District 7 was considered a toss-up for flipping to the Democrats. John Culberson won by about a third of the point spread he usually does, and he’s already being heavily targeted as defeatable. Maybe don’t run James Cargas for the millionth time, though. I like the guy, but he’s a loser. It’s time for new skin in the game.
District 2 was safe. By what metrics are available, Poe was virtually guaranteed to win again 2018, at least until Trump became the head of the Republican Party and started burning it to the ground. Between gerrymandering and the typical conservatism I see a lot of on this side of town, the GOP seems as strong as it ever was.
That may be changing, though, if the results of the recent election and the abdication of Poe are anything to go by. The Republicans are certainly not going to let the district go without a fight. They’re bleeding badly in Houston, where Hillary Clinton utterly trounced Trump. Texas itself going blue is still highly unlikely, but the major cities have mostly moved solidly into Democratic rule. The loss of District 2 would be a sore blow.
It’s unclear at this point as to who they might run, and a bloody primary is all but inevitable. Poe, for all my complaints about him, was no lightweight, and finding someone who had his ability to pander to the base and not seem terrible to the moderates while also battling this backlash wave from the left will not be easy.
That’s not to say Democrats should rest on their laurels in any sense. In 2016 Democrats ran Pat Bryan, and I really liked the guy. That said, he was rather clearly recruited to serve as token opposition. He was earnest, said all the right things, but he had “fall on your sword” written all over him. I riffed on Cargas, but Cargas does at least try his damnedest. Bryan had a website that looked like it was hosted on freakin’ Angelfire (ask your parents, kids).
In virtually all mid-term elections, the president’s party loses seats in Congress. Not always, and not always enough to flip control when it happens, but it’s a fairly certain bet. It’s not so much an indication of a national opinion shift so much as an example of binary American political thinking. When the Republicans benefited from this in 2010, they used the power of redistricting and things like voter ID laws that typically target Democratic voters to try and stave off their next go-round on this phenomenon.
If 2017 is any indication, it looks like it isn’t going to work. If the Democrats can find a strong candidate and hopefully avoid their own bloody primary, District 2 might just get plucked from Republican hands. I hope so. It would give me fewer angry letters to write.