With historic 68% turnout and over 1.6 million ballots cast and counted, voters in Harris County resoundly backed Democrats Joe Biden for president and MJ Hegar for Senate, but when it came to several local races, Republicans held fast.

“There was definitely a Republican wave that benefited down-ballot Republicans, and it showed that locally, the Republican brand was still strong despite some dissatisfaction with Donald Trump," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor and host of the Party Politics podcast and radio show.

In three competitive races—county commissioner Precinct 3, U.S. House District 22 and Texas House District 132—Republicans were able to capture two positions up for grabs and flip one district. And in U.S. House District 2, Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw was able to ward off a challenge, while incumbent Democrat Rep. Lizzie Fletcher was able to hold onto U.S. House District 7 by about 3 points.

Made with Flourish

Meanwhile, Democratic candidates such as Sri Preston Kulkarni in the U.S. House District 22 race and Gina Calanni in Texas House District 132, despite being well-funded, may have suffered from attacks painting them as being associated with the most liberal wing of the party, Rottinghaus said. It also did not help that Biden signaled interest in moving away from oil and gas based energy sources, he said.

Made with Flourish

Attempts to challenge long-held Republican offices with candidates positioned as experienced moderates did not have as much success for Democrats, one political science expert noted.

"With Kulkarni, they were building on the 2018 methodology, which was to have a diverse moderate Democrat with a military background and try to galvanize some Republicans and Independents over to that type of candidate," said Michael Marshall, a professor of comparative politics at Prairie View A&M University. "You see the same thing with Hegar. Her military background was a big part of her campaign. That 2018 methodology didn’t necessarily work."

Another aspect hurting Democratic candidates may have been the cautious approach to campaigning in person, Marhsall said.

"It wasn’t until September and October that Democrats began meeting people in socially distant ways," he said. "This distance may have been the right thing to do from a public health perspective, but may have hurt the Democrats when it comes to their election process."

That may have been a factor for state Rep. Sarah Davis, a 10-year Republican incumbent in Texas House District 134 who lost to Democratic challenger Ann Johnson.

"This was a district that was long overdue to flip," Rottinghaus said. "Davis has held it together by sheer grit and determination. If she was a different kind of Republican, she would have lost it long ago, but she was able to connect with voters year after year."

In the Precinct 3 commissioner race, similar forces affecting national races may have tilted the balance in favor of Republicans, with Tom Ramsey besting Michael Moore by 20,000 votes. Had Moore won, it would have given Democrats a supermajority on the court.

"Savvy Republican voters saw that and reversed course," Rottinghaus said.