Since the Texas Democrats have fled the state so that Governor Greg Abbott can’t pass a massive restriction on voter protections and access, the main question has been what will it take to bring them back to work? One of the enticements could be that they’ll have to return to run for re-election, but a hard look at the data shows that even this might not be enough to force them back to Austin.
The 2020 election cycle was a grim blow for Texas Democrats who hoped that a blue wave would flip both the state House of Representatives and the Electoral College for President Joe Biden. Neither came to pass, partially because of restrictions on mail-in voting if Attorney General Ken Paxton is to be believed. Nonetheless, while Democrats didn’t take the lower chamber, they didn’t really lose any ground either.
Most of the Democrats that have fled to Washington D.C. are in incredibly safe districts. This is the funny quirk of gerrymandering. While in Texas it tends to lead to overall more safe Republican districts than Democratic ones, the result is that the remaining Democratic districts are also often insulated with significant challenges.
Many of the state representatives who have become media darlings in exile have nothing to worry about. Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas) for instance ran completely unopposed in 2020 to win, and she’s been a favorite on pundit television shows since joining the exodus. The same is true for Chris Turner (D-Arlington) and Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston). Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) has made a name for himself as a firebrand not afraid to take on the blatantly racist nature of the voter restriction bill. He did have an opponent in 2020, he still won by nearly 50 points.
While a complete absence physically from the state might make representatives like this more vulnerable, it’s likely that they are safe enough in Washington to weather the governor’s wrath until he agrees to negotiate.
On the other hand, there are some Democrats who might be feeling the pressure. John Rosenthal (D-Houston) won re-election in 2020 by less than a point, a significant move downward for him from 2018. His area of Houston has some very enthusiastic Republicans, and it’s not unlikely that one of them could use his absence to flip the district. Despite that, Rosenthal has stayed in Washington and sends out videos to supporters regularly. The only other state representative that is even in a mildly competitive district is Rhetta Andrews Bowers (D-Garland). Her district went sharply right in 2020, and she only won re-election by 3.6 points. Like Rosenthal, though, she has given no indication that she will be leaving the fight any time soon.
This means that the only Democrats who might actually be in the state competing for seats are the ones who aren’t in office and looking to flip Republican districts. Since the absence of the Democrats is actively preventing legislation that would make it harder for them to win re-election, it’s possible that they are actually doing more for their party by staying away.