Are Democrats truly competitive in Texas, or was 2018, when Beto O’Rourke nearly beat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, merely a Beto buzz?

The answer will go a long way toward defining politics in Texas for years to come.

Right up to the final moment Dec. 9 that candidates could file to run in the March primaries, some Democrats probably held out hope that Beto O’Rourke would change his mind and challenge Sen. John Cornyn.

But that was never likely, and the absence of O’Rourke or a candidate with his pull at the top of the ticket isn’t the only major difference from 2018 that will determine how Texas goes next year. In a presidential year, that race greatly influences what happens all the way down the ballot.

That could mean a continued surge of anti-Trump voters to the polls. But Republicans maintain a structural advantage, and the heat surrounding the Trump presidency and impeachment will motivate plenty of Republicans to go to the polls to defend him, too. And the overall effect will be much different if his opponent is, say, Elizabeth Warren rather than Joe Biden.

Another factor that could make 2020 very different from 2018 is simply that Cornyn is not Cruz. Cornyn, seeking his fourth term, doesn’t generate the antipathy that Cruz did, especially coming off his 2016 presidential run.

Cornyn wears his Republican badge proudly as a Senate leader and Trump defender. He remains a serious legislator on issues important to Texas, such as health care and trade, eager for bipartisanship where it’s possible and ready for battle where it’s not. Having drawn no significant primary opponent and likely to face a relatively unknown Democratic challenger, he looks formidable.

Races further down the ballot are much more likely to be competitive. Several Republican-held congressional seats are open, giving Republican newcomers a chance but also giving Democrats a shot in districts where they haven’t competed in years.

Overall, both parties are behaving as if Texas will be in play. Like the rest of us, they don’t quite know yet how competitive the situation is — more than in most recent elections, but up to 2018 standards? That will be the big story for Texas for the next 11 months.

Editorial by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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