The biggest shocker of Election Day 2010 is now official, and the GOP's tally of Democratic seats flipped now rises to 62:
In a surprise upset in southern Texas, Blake Farenthold, a former radio show co-host with no prior experience in politics, has officially beaten Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a Democrat who had held his seat in the 27th district since 1982...“Although I gained votes during the manual recount, I did not surpass my opponent’s lead,” Mr. Ortiz said in a prepared statement. “Therefore, with great respect and admiration in the democratic process, I congratulate my opponent, Mr. R. Blake Farenthold, in his election to the 27th Congressional District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Ortiz was just the highest-profile victim in what was a disastrous night for Democrats in Texas in general, and Latino Democrats in Texas in particular. Not only did Ortiz fall to defeat, but so did Ciro Rodriguez in the 23rd district, which also reaches into the Rio Grande Valley. At the state legislative level, the news was just as bad. Three Democrats representing heavily Latino areas in South Texas (Solomon Ortiz Jr, Abel Herrero, and Yvonne Gonzales-Toureilles) all were beaten. Also, Democrat Rene Nunez, who represented much of the Rio Grande Valley on the state Board of Education, was upset by his Republican challenger.
The preferences of Latino voters in Texas do not seem to have changed dramatically in recent years. Comparing the 2006 Senate exit polls (since Rick Perry faced three challengers that year) to the 2010 gubernatorial exit polls, we see that both KBH and Perry ran about 15-20 points behind their statewide totals among Latino voters.
So, what happened? It looks like Texas Latino voters stayed home in far greater number than their Anglo (and infinitely more conservative) counterparts.
This isn't reflected in the exit polls: the exits claim that Latinos made up 27% of the 2010 electorate, as opposed to just 15% of the 2006 electorate. But the numbers, as you can see, simply don't match up. Consider the drop off in the heavily Latino 27th Congressional district from the 2008 with the two most heavily Anglo districts in the state (the 4th and the 8th):
Turnout comparsion, Texas Congressional Districts, 2006--2010 (percentage in parentheses is the percentage difference between 2010 and 2006)
TX-04 (79% white): 165,269--186,116 (+12.6%)
TX-08 (80% white): 157,058--202,798 (+29.1%)
TX-27 (67% Hispanic): 109,314--106,480 (-2.6%)
The belief that Texas would eventually evolve into a swing state, or even a blue state, was predicated on the state's growing Latino political influence. 2010 was clearly a significant bump in that evolution.
The Democratic Party, both in Texas and nationwide, would be well served by figuring out why.