From Texas Political Almanac
2010 was the year of the Tea Party, as political enthusiasm by the far right helped fuel turnout and result in a wave election that saw the Republican Party gain 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and recapture the majority. Republicans also gained six seats in the U.S. Senate and 680 seats in state legislative races. This left Republicans in control of 25 state legislatures and 29 of the 50 State Governorships.
The election year was set in motion with the January 19 Special Election in Massachusetts to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. The Special Election was won by Republican Scott Brown over Attorney General Martha Coakley. Brown had pledged to be the 41st vote against health care reform, earning him national support and attention.
Brown's win, combined with poor polling by Democratic leaders and the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling allowing unlimited and undisclosed corporate cash to finance SuperPAC groups such as FreedomWorks, American Crossroads/GPS, and others, led to numerous upsets of Democratic incumbents such as Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Jim Oberstar, Rep. Ike Skelton, Rep. John Spratt, and Rep. Rick Boucher. In Texas, Representatives Chet Edwards, Ciro Rodriguez, and Solomon Ortiz were defeated for re-election.
Ultimately, Tea Party success was seen in elections such as that of Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio's early polling was strong enough to convince Republican Governor Charlie Crist to run as an independent. In Utah, Sen. Bob Bennett was upended in a state convention nomination by Mike Lee, who easily won the General Election. In Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey's strength in Republican primary polling convinced Sen. Arlen Specter to switch parties, where he lost the Democratic nomination to former Congressman Joe Sestak. Toomey narrowly won the General Election over Sestak. In Kentucky, Secretary of State Tray Grayson lost the GOP nomination to insurgent Rand Paul despite Grayson's establishment support. Successful Republican candidates that were not necessarily Tea Party favorites, but whose success may have been driven by overall Republican enthusiasm include the Illinois seat won by Mark Kirk and Ohio's Rob Portman.
For all of the Republican success, however, a number of high-profile challengers were unsuccessful. Key among these were Nevada's Sharon Angle, who challenged Sen. Harry Reid. Reid had been polling with a net-negative favorable rating and was a key target by national groups such as Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS. In Connecticut, Linda McMahon failed to overtake Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for the open Senate seat despite the latter being exposed for comments suggesting he had served in Vietnam while he hadn't. In Alaska, Republican Joe Miller lost to incumbent Lisa Murkowski, who had waged a write-in campaign after losing the GOP primary. Lower profile challenges against newly-appointed Democratic Senators Michael Bennett of Colorado and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York were also unsuccessful, demonstrating at least some of the limits of Republican enthusiasm.
The electorate in Texas during 2010 was not dissimilar to any other state in the nation where Tea Party activity had generated enthusiasm and activity among the Republican base. Republican primary contests were the first indicator, as longtime incumbents such as Delwin Jones of Lubbock and Tommy Merrit of Longview were defeated by more right-leaning challengers. By November, Bill White's 42.3% was roughly equivalent to Barack Obama's 2008 showing of 43.7%. The difference was that below White, Democratic candidates fared much worse, polling at roughly 35% of the vote each. In a more normal year, a 7.5 point spread over downballot ticket-mates might have made White competitive against Perry. But 2010 wasn't a normal year.
The Republican ticket was largely intact from the 2002 and 2006 slate as few candidates left office to make room for advancement. The challenge by Kay Bailey Hutchison to Rick Perry for the Republican nomination for Governor was supposed to be a highly competitive contest. But Hutchison's campaign skill and the sharpness of her campaign team had eroded significantly since the last real challenge faced by the candidate in 1994.
Perhaps the most interesting political activity in the state involved the prospect of a Senate Special Election to replace Hutchison. Bill White had initially announced his statewide ambition to run for such an election before changing gears for the Governor's office in December 2009. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst was the presumed front-runner for Hutchison's seat, but it was assumed that he would not enter the race until as late as possible. With no impending resignation by Hutchison during her primary race against Perry, the enthusiasm for the Senate seat during 2010 waned, along with the number of challengers.
Harris County Democrats had been hoping that 2008 represented the final turn around the bend for continual electoral success. Demographics have been to the advantage of Democrats as Anglos - primarily older, wealthier ones at that - had been dying off or moving out of the county and have been supplanted by minorities within the county. The results in November, however, demonstrated that the 2008 results may not represent the normal electoral pattern for the time being. Republican candidates running in the entire county generally carried about 54-55% of the vote in contested races.
Differences in turnout explain much of the difference, as many GOP strongholds turned out at extremely high levels for non-Presidential cycles while Democratic strongholds turned out to vote at more normal midterm levels. This also had an impact on a few district contests, as County Commissioner for Precinct 2, Sylvia Garcia, lost to Jack Morman 50.9% - 49.1%. In House District 133 on Houston's west side, former State Rep. Jim Murphy defeated Kristi Thibaut in the third contest between the two. In the Inner Loop/Galleria-based House District 134, newcomer Sarah Davis unseated four-year incumbent Ellen Cohen. Both Garcia's and Cohen's losses came in spite of Gubernatorial nominee Bill White carrying each district. In the case of District 133, White lost by 15 votes while Thibaut lost by over 3,700. The trend of legislative losses was comparable to the nationwide version where Democratic legislators at all levels were turned out of office by similar turnout phenomenons.