State Sen. Kirk Watson sent out a fundraising email Friday, Dec. 27, asking for campaign funds — but not for himself.
“I’m asking you to make a donation to the group that’s doing all it can to flip the Texas House in 2020,” Watson wrote. “Here’s why I’m asking.
“First, Texas Democrats built a historic movement in the 2018 elections and picked up some State Legislative and Congressional seats that nobody thought we had any shot to win,” Watson wrote.
That was a reference to the gain of 12 Republican-held seats in the Texas House, bringing the Democrats to needing just nine more to become a majority in the House for the first time in two decades.
The Democrats also upset longtime Republican members of Congress —Pete Sessions in Dallas, and John Culberson in Houston.
“We’ve been building momentum throughout 2019, leading up to a big 2020 — investing in organizing, local races, and winning special elections,” Watson continued.
“With the big end-of-year fundraising deadline almost here, it’s our last chance to make sure Texas Democrats have the resources they need before 2020 begins,” Watson wrote. “We need the resources now in order to maximize our wins.
“So I’m asking you — Will you help us continue to build power in Texas from the ground up? We have a real chance to flip the Texas State House for the first time in 20 years, and the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC) needs our help.”
And then, a few more details of when and how to contribute, and its urgency.
Watson is a popular legislator, Austin’s former mayor, and one of the guiding lights in a 31-member Texas Senate dominated by Republicans, 19-12.
He knows that the results of the 2020 elections in the House are ultra-important for the Democrats to stave off partisan gerrymandering during the redrawing of legislative and congressional districts by the Legislature in 2021.
He also knows the Democrats have no hopes of gaining a majority in the Senate in 2020.
But if the Democrats can gain an additional nine seats in the 150-member House in this year’s elections, they will go from being outnumbered 83-67 by the Republicans to a 76-74 Democratic majority.
And that is enough to elect a Democrat to the powerful position of House speaker, and insure they would have a seat at the redistricting table in 2021.
Meanwhile, Republicans are also trying to target several Democratic districts, including several of the ones they lost in 2018.
Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman from El Paso, has shifted his focus to electing more Democrats to the Texas House.
O’Rourke, who missed in his effort to carry momentum from a narrow loss to Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 to win the 2020 Democratic nomination, at least became well-known in his home state.
Plus, his grassroots campaign was partially credited for some of the Democratic gains in the 2018 elections.
After he decided to run for president, rather than against Texas’ other Republican senator, John Cornyn, he held true to his pledge not to get in that race after his presidential try failed.
That almost certainly made him more popular with the dozen candidates who were already seeking the Democratic nomination.
But the notion that he could be a help in some state House races is borne out in part by the fact he carried nine of the 17 Republican-held House seats where the Republican won by less than 10 points.
He has asked his campaign donor base to help in those races, by sending money to an organization called “Flip The Texas House,” which has targeted the districts.
O’Rourke has also been campaigning in some special elections — in particular House District 28, southwest of Houston, where Eliz Markowitz, an educator from Katy, is in a Jan. 28 runoff.
In a seven-person race in which she was the only Democrat, she got 39 percent against second-place finisher Gary Gates, a self-funding businessman, with 28 percent.
The seat has been represented by popular State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, a doctor who left the House to take a position with The University of Texas.
If Markowitz should win the race, that will give the Democrats a leg up on closing their gap with the Republicans in the House.
O’Rourke, campaigning for Markowitz earlier in December, introduced himself as “Beto O’Rourke, volunteer for the Eliz Markowitz campaign.”
Markowitz and Gates are likely to face off again March 3, for the next term beyond the remainder of Zerwas’s current one.
Markowitz is the only Democrat that will be on the primary ballot, while Gates has one competitor — Schell Hammel — for the Republican nomination.