While all eyes in politics are focused on the Democratic National Convention, suburban Dallas may not look like the center of American politics. But in one crucial sense, a slice of it is precisely that: Texas House District 112, centered in Richardson, is the tip of the spear in the battle against gerrymandering nationwide. It’s the most flappable of 11 prime seats, of which only eight are necessary. And those 11 state house districts significantly overlap with nine congressional districts that are also ripe to be flipped, making Texas one of several Southern states where multi-level shifts toward the Democratic Party are underway.
Virginia, which was solid red in 2004, is now solid blue from top to bottom, and now other states, from Texas to North Carolina, seem poised to follow a similar trajectory—if Democrats are smart enough to see the opportunity before them, and seize it.
That’s why a lowly suburban state house district could loom so large in the midst of such national chaos.
If you want to help put an end to gerrymandering in American politics, you’ll get the most bang for the buck by donating to challenger Brandy Chambers
If you want to help put an end to gerrymandering in American politics, you’ll get the most bang for the buck by donating to challenger Brandy Chambers in her race to unseat a five-term incumbent whom she came within two points of defeating in 2018.
That’s according to Sam Wang, a Princeton neuroscientist turned election nerd, turned anti-gerrymandering crusader, who’s taken the “moneyball” approach developed by the Oakland A’s and applied it to politics, developing a metric he calls “voter power.” The A’s lacked the money to compete in high-stakes bidding wars, so they developed new measures to identify undervalued players they could more easily afford. Unless your last name is “Bill Gates” you’d be wise to at least give some thought to Wang’s innovative metric.
“Voter power is complicated because it depends on the closeness of chamber control, how many voters there are per district, and how close the tipping-point districts are,” Wang told Random Lengths. “It depends most of all on how close a chamber is to the edge of control. In that respect, TX/MN/KS currently appear to be right on the edge.”
For ease of comparison, the race with maximum voter power is set to 100 and other races are set to some fraction of that. In Texas, there are 11 house races with voting power of 70 or more, while Democrats only need to win 8.
But Texas is also a hotbed of potential Democratic gains in Congress. Rachel Bitecofer, who first predicted the 2018 Blue Wave, has identified nine House seats that could flip in Texas, stretching from the suburbs of Houston to those of Dallas-Fort Worth, and from the outskirts of El Paso to Austin. HD 112 sits largely inside a House seat that already flipped in 2018, but most of the flappable state House and congressional districts overlap. And that, in turn, increases the chances of MJ Hegar, self-described “combat veteran and working mom,” running to replace Senator John Cornyn. Hegar’s race isn’t considered top-tier, but that could easily change in the weeks ahead. Cornyn’s favorability is low—which isn’t likely to change—but so is Hegar’s name recognition, which gives him a chance to try to define her.
Most other Southern Senate races are similarly seen as long-shots, but those on the ground see them as steps on a journey that will ultimately bring them success, if not this cycle, then soon.
But the potential in this cycle is palpable—and reflected in the prominence given to Southern Democrats at the ongoing convention, as noted by Angie Maxwell, co-author of The Long Southern Strategy.
“The number of southern speakers at the DNC shows that the party is not focused solely on recapturing states lost in 2016 (PA, MI, WI). The party is also looking at where it can grow and expand its options in terms of a path to electoral victory,” Maxwell told Random Lengths News. “Southern states who have or have almost elected Democrats to statewide offices, such as LA, VA, and NC (Democratic governors) and TX, FL, and GA (where [Stacey] Abrams, [Beto] O’Rourke, and [Andrew] Gillum made major inroads in 2018) are also some of the states hit hardest by COVID-19, which give Democrats an opening in an election that will take place amid a pandemic that the Trump administration has failed to control.”
This governance crisis vividly underscores profound differences between the parties, not just Trump’s temperamental unfitness. But taking full advantage of it will require a level of sophistication that’s been lacking in the past, but starts to seem possible, as Maxwell went on note:
The Democratic Party and the [Joe]Biden campaign are smart to work to (1) recapture the 2016 states that flipped red (MI, PA, WI); (2) reignite the Obama coalition that handed Democrats 3 southern states in 2008 and 2012 (FL, NC, VA); and (3) invest in southern states that are at the tipping point of turning blue (GA, TX). The party has to have both a short term Blue Southern Strategy and a long-term Blue Southern Strategy—which is exactly how the GOP flipped the South red over the last 50 years.”
One thread in that trajectory can be found by looking at what the Chambers campaign says regarding issues on her website.
“Once again in the 2019 session, the legislature in Austin focused on fringe issues instead of making real progress on critical issues like property tax reform and access to healthcare,” the introduction charges. “Our current representatives continue to put bandaids on issues instead of curing problems. Brandy is a problem solver who will put regular Texans first.”
The site follows with sections on climate change, criminal justice reform, education, fair maps (“Politicians shouldn’t pick their voters”), fighting human trafficking, health care (Medicaid expansion) and jobs (fighting wage theft, passing paid sick leave, and more). Much of what’s there is fairly universal practical common sense. One could find similar positions all across the country in districts that flipped in 2018. But there are also specifically local or statewide references, particularly when it comes to addressing particular shortcomings or shining examples to build upon.
Georgia is another Southern state whose Democratic activists see as inevitably turning blue in the near future—perhaps even this year at the presidential level, and ultimately top-to-bottom, as Virginia is now. This year—like California in 1992—there are two U.S. Senate seats up at the same time, one a special election to fill a partially completed term. That election pits the Republican appointee, Kelly Loeffler, against the Democratic challenger, Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr.’s former congregation.
Loeffler is ahead in the polls, but she’s quickly acquired Trumpian baggage. Shortly after her appointment in January, she got a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, where she became an overseer of the overseers of the company that made her rich—Intercontinental Exchange—which runs a dozen stock exchanges. (She was an executive there first, then later married the CEO.)
Then, in July, players on the WNBA Atlanta Dream came out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, after Loeffler, a team co-owner, criticized the social-justice movement. “Black lives matter,” their joint statement said. “We are the women of the Atlanta Dream. We are women who support a movement. … It is not extreme to demand change after centuries of inequality. This is not a political statement. This is a statement of humanity.”
Then, in early August players for the Atlanta Dream appeared in t-shirts endorsing her opponent: “Vote Warnock.” Pictures of them flooded social media ahead of a nationally televised game with the Phoenix Mercury.
Across the chest of the black T-shirts were two words “Vote Warnock,”
So, it could be called a “volatile race.”
The other Georgia U.S. Senate race is already seen as a toss up. The incumbent is Republican David Perdue, running for a second term. The Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff was the Democratic nominee for Georgia’s 6th Congressional district in a 2017 special election, which gained him national attention. Underlying both races, the massive voter registration work driven by Stacey Abrams prior to and surrounding her 2018 gubernatorial race has continued to shift the electorate, even as GOP voter suppression efforts have continued as well.
In short, Georgia is a microcosm of American politics today. Whatever happens in November, there is no doubt which party stands for the future, and which stands for the past.
Random Length News