When you get right down to it the midterm elections, with some minor exceptions, turned out just about as predicted.
The Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Republicans tightened their grip on the Senate majority, adding at least two seats to the razor-thin margin that previously left them little room for error or GOP no-shows on crucial votes.
El Paso’s Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, meanwhile, gave Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz a run for his money and even outperformed polls that showed O’Rourke chipping away at the incumbent’s lead in the closing days of the campaign. O’Rourke ended up losing by about 225,000 votes out of more than 8 million cast statewide – and in Tarrant County he upset the ruby-red political apple cart by outpolling Cruz, 312,477 (49.89 per cent) to 308,608 (49.28 per cent).
Beto had consistently polled in the low-to-mid 40 percent range for much of the campaign and, guess what, he finished with 48.3 percent of the vote. Unlike the last presidential election where the polls hopelessly underestimated Donald Trump’s chances of upsetting Hillary Clinton, the polling this time around was mostly accurate.
Elsewhere on the blue vs. red front in Tarrant County, Democrat Beverly Powell racked up nearly 52 percent of the vote to unseat Republican State Sen. Konni Burton. In fairness, that District 10 seat has long bounced back and forth between the two parties but Burton, a Tea Party conservative, may have turned out to be too far right for the district’s taste after replacing liberal Democrat Wendy Davis, who gave up the seat to run for governor in 2014.
Thinking about Davis and her quest for the governor’s job brought to mind the career of the late former Gov. Ann Richards and the current fascination with Beto O’Rourke, a connection I wrote about back in September when Democrats’ fantasies of a Beto upset were ebbing and flowing with each passing poll.
Richards, Davis, and now Beto all captured the attention of the nation and the national media, most notably among East Coast reporters and editorial writers.
All three candidates played big nationally but learned to their dismay that while the political sun rose to the sound of thunderous applause in the east it set with a thud in Texas.
Politico’s Tim Alberta examined this phenomenon two days before the election:
“Somewhere along the line, the rock-concert crowds and record-setting fundraising and JFK comparisons obscured a basic contradiction between Beto O’Rourke the national heartthrob and Beto O’Rourke the Texas heretic.
“He endorsed Bernie Sanders’ ‘Medicare for all’ plan.” He called repeatedly for President Donald Trump’s impeachment – a position rejected by Nancy Pelosi, and nearly every other prominent Democrat in America, as futile and counterproductive. He flirted with the idea of abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He took these positions, and others, with a brash fearlessness that reinforced his superstardom in the eyes of the Democratic base nationwide. But it likely stunted his growth among a more important demographic: Texans.”
Alberta’s point was that Beto may have become so caught up with his charismatic persona that he swung too far left for Texas.
Karl Rove, the Texas political guru known as the “architect” of George W. Bush’s successful campaigns for president, said on Fox News election night that he thought O’Rourke might have won if only he’d been willing to modify his most extreme views and espouse more centrist ideas.
I admit to growing fond of Beto’s campaign after being an early skeptic. He hit a nerve with young voters, wealthy college-educated suburbanites and even college and high school age voters.
Those younger voters often turn out with great zeal at rallies but frequently do not show up to vote. Not so with Beto; they turned out in force. Hopefully, Betomania has created if not a blue wave at least a new wave of young voters who will continue to boost voter turnout in Texas. Our numbers are traditionally among the worst in the nation.
A post-midterm betting pool in the U.K rated O’Rourke as a 10-1 favorite to become president of the United States. If in fact he runs nationally he will need to tone down many of his stances.
That same pool, by the way, lists President Donald Trump’s odds for re-election at 8-5.
Voter turnout nationally soared – a great sign, even though fewer than half of those who are eligible to vote actually go out and do it. In Tarrant County, it’s worth noting, voter turnout exceeded 55 percent.
Before all the votes had been counted – and votes were still being tabulated in several locales days after the polls closed – results showed that 97 million persons had voted, compared to less than 79 million in the 2014 midterm election.
One of Beto’s young supporters was in the doldrums over his loss but I pointed out that this election, with the Democrats now controlling the House, shows the strength of our democracy.
Theoretically, divided government leads to gridlock and keeps Congress from dealing with the nation’s problems. But Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress the last two years and we still saw plenty of gridlock – not to mention mean-spirited, even vicious, legislative conflicts and confrontations.
It seems unlikely, given the unbridled partisanship that shapes our politics these days, but maybe the power-sharing arrangement that will be forced on the parties in January will lead to an occasional compromise if not to unmitigated bipartisan governing. We can hope.
At the very least, the election has restored some semblance of the balance of power the nation’s founders had in mind when they conjured up the bold and noble experiment that became the United States of America. It’s a balance that’s desperately needed at a time when people and politics are polarized as never before and some politicians seem willing to do almost anything to impose their will.
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org