The Beto effect may not have won Democrats a Senate seat, but it may have provided insight into Texas' political future.
In the closer-than-expected race between Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz, Democrats across the state and the country watched as one of the nation's reddest states took another step towards purple territory. Although Cruz retained his Senate seat, relying on the state's conservative roots in areas like the panhandle and the Eastern corridor, the results were unprecedentedly close for an incumbent Republican running in a state like Texas. And while it seemed as though Republicans were the overall victors, Democrats managed to shift the judicial balance of power.
Democrats picked up victories in four of the state appeals courts that serve Austin, Houston and Dallas. This has given the party majority control on seven of the state's 14 appeals courts, which is quite substantial given they previously held only three. On the Third Court of Appeals in Austin, judges often hear objections to laws passed in the capital. “This is a big, big, big win for us in Texas,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s one of the significant waves that we had.”
Texas maintains a "straight-ticket voting" option, which allows voters to choose candidates along party lines. By checking a single "Democrat" or "Republican" box, all the candidates on the ballot will be determined. The Beto effect prompted historic voter turnout among Democrats, and "straight-ticket voting" allowed his influence to trickle down to local trial and appellate courts.
In Harris County, which includes Houston and surrounding suburbs, 19 of the 59 county, family, and juvenile Democratic judges who ousted Republican incumbents were black women. Nearly all of these seats have been traditionally occupied by white men, progressively changing the face of the county's judiciary.
Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University explained that the sweep, “had everything to do with Donald Trump, Beto O’Rourke, and the Democratic Party generally.”