After 2018 ‘wake-up call,’ Tarrant Republicans scramble to fend off Democrats in Texas House races

One in a series about elections for the Texas House of Representatives

AUSTIN — Texas Democrats like their chances this election cycle. If you need proof, look no further than deep-red Tarrant County.

For years, it’s been the largest urban county in the state still voting Republican. In November, Democrats will compete in seven of the eight state house districts held by the GOP in the county. Democrats came within a few thousand votes of victory in five of those races in 2018.

So is the Democratic challenge real this year?

Republicans are not taking it lightly, but despite Democrats’ growing strength, GOP lawmakers remain confident they will keep Tarrant red.

“Last cycle was a wake-up call for a lot of people who perhaps have been complacent when they’ve had a challenger,” said State Rep. Craig Goldman, a four-term Republican incumbent who has a Democratic and Libertarian challenger. “I’m going to run a vigorous campaign and I know my fellow state house candidates will as well. I feel confident that we will win.”

Democratic momentum

When she took over as chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party in 2013, Deborah Peoples said she knew there were more Democrats than were being reflected in the election results. But they weren’t engaged — and many weren’t voting.

“They didn’t vote because they didn’t feel we had a chance,” she said.

She wanted to grow the vote by expanding the number of races the party was competing in. Slowly, the party started ramping up its infrastructure and candidate recruitment.

Then came 2018. On the tails of a galvanizing U.S. Senate run by former congressman Beto O’Rourke, Democrats made huge strides. They won the county for O’Rourke, took over a seat on the county commissioners court and one justice of the peace position. More surprisingly, they gave state house Republicans some very close calls.

That got people’s attention.

Alisa Simmons, the president of the Arlington NAACP, had long considered a run for House District 94 in southeast Tarrant but didn’t see a viable path to victory.

“I’ve always looked at this seat and just was not very confident that I could win for a variety of reasons,” she said. “I’d think, ‘I’ve got little kids, I don’t know if my job would let me.’ Maybe I was just too chicken. I found all sorts of excuses not to run.”

That changed in 2018 when the Democratic challenger to Republican incumbent Tony Tinderholt garnered 44% of the vote. That convinced Simmons she could make a serious challenge.

With significant Black and Latino populations, the district always had the demographic potential to flip, she said. The excitement from the last election has carried over, but she knows it will be a difficult road.

“This district is or has historically been conservative,” she said. “This is not going to be easy. But it’s doable.”

Republicans are ready

Luke Macias, political consultant for Tinderholt, said there’s no doubt the 2018 election gave Democrats hope. But this year,

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