On Monday, Texas lawmakers gave a first glimpse at what the state’s new congressional districts may look like. The redrawn map was highly anticipated given that Texas gained two additional congressional seats — the most of any state — during the reapportionment process and because Republicans are fully in control of the state’s redistricting process. Yet the new map, if passed, would not substantially alter the topline partisan breakdown of Texas’s seats. It appears that Republican mapmakers prioritized defending the GOP’s current seat advantage over trying to significantly expand it.
Overall, this map creates 24 solid or likely Republican seats, 13 solid or likely Democratic seats and one swing seat in the Rio Grande Valley. (The state’s two new districts will be placed in the Austin and Houston metropolitan areas, as those two areas fueled much of the state’s population growth since 2010.) But this isn’t that much different than what Texas’s map currently looks like: At present, the delegation is made up of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
This is still a very good map for Republicans, though, because mapmakers strengthened the GOP’s advantage in the state by making a number of potentially vulnerable seats held by Republicans much redder, with the newest Houston-area seat also drawn so that it’s favorable to Republican candidates. As the table below shows, the current map has 11 Republican incumbents in seats that were less than 20 points more Republican than the country as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric.1 But on the new map, all but one Republican-held seat would be R+20 or stronger for the GOP.
GOP incumbents are protected in Texas’s new proposed map
Change in partisan lean in Texas congressional districts held by Republicans, from the current map to the first draft plan proposed by the Texas Legislature
|Beth Van Duyne||TX-24||TX-24||R+3.5||R+22.3||R+18.8|
Given that the GOP controls the redistricting process in Texas, it might seem strange that it wasn’t more aggressive in trying to flip a seat or two held by Democrats. But population growth and demographic shifts in Texas have arguably benefited Democrats so significantly that Republican mapmakers were mostly left playing defense — concerned that some GOP incumbents might soon become vulnerable.
At the top of that list is Rep. Beth Van Duyne, the only Texas Republican defending a seat that President Biden carried in 2020. The new map lines, however, would shift Van Duyne’s district between Dallas and Fort Worth nearly 20 points to the right, meaning that she likely has far more to worry about in a primary than in a general election now after winning by only 1.3 points last November.
Three other Republican incumbents in seats that were less than R+10 also saw their districts move at least 15 points to the right. Rep. Dan Crenshaw ranks among these members, although it’s not clear which seat he may run in: About one-third of his current district is in the new 38th District, but the same is true of the new 2nd District, too, which may also be open, considering Rep. Kevin Brady of the current 8th District is retiring. Either way, Crenshaw — a rising star in the GOP — would be far safer than he is now.
Rep. Tony Gonzales of the 23rd District is the only Republican incumbent who wouldn’t end up in a seat that’s at least R+20, but his perennial battleground district would be reforged into a relative GOP stronghold: His district would be R+13 under the new lines. Like Van Duyne, Gonzalez would breathe far easier under this new map, after he only won by 4 points in 2020.
In order to make many of these seats safer for Republicans, GOP lawmakers moved more Democratic voters into seats that the GOP had previously targeted but now seem to have abandoned. For example, the seat held by Democrat Lizzie Fletcher, who unseated a Republican incumbent in 2018, would go from D+1 to D+25. Meanwhile, the Dallas-area seat represented by Democrat Colin Allred, who similarly ousted a Republican incumbent in 2018, would go from D+2 to D+25. It’s a similar story for almost every other Texas Democrat under this plan. (In some instances, Republican mapmakers also made some super-red seats a slightly paler shade, “unpacking” some GOP voters to boost Republican-held seats. For instance, Rep. Van Taylor’s 3rd District outside of Dallas shifted east to take some red turf from Rep. Pat Fallon’s 4th District.)
One of the biggest takeaways from this map is that almost every seat — Democratic or Republican — would be uncompetitive at its baseline. All but two seats would lean at least 10 points more Democratic or Republican than the country as a whole.
And it’s heavily Hispanic South Texas that holds both of those exceptions. This is a potentially important development as that region might hold opportunities for the GOP since Biden performed worse there than past Democratic presidential candidates. Most notably, the 15th District, represented by Democrat Vicente Gonzalez, would become more Republican-leaning on the new map. He was already facing a difficult reelection bid, as he narrowly won his 2020 race by 3 percentage points after winning reelection by 21 points in 2018. But now under the new map, his district would go from D+2 to evenly split. Meanwhile, Rep. Henry Cuellar’s 28th District would actually become slightly bluer — it only moved from D+4 to D+7 — and could be in play in 2022. (Rep. Filemon Vela’s 34th District doesn’t fall neatly into this category because it went from D+5 to D+17, but it is the other border seat in Texas, and it seems to have gotten a little friendlier toward Democrats, although Vela won’t seek reelection.)
Another notable change under the new map is that it would result in a smaller share of districts with Hispanic majorities despite the addition of two new congressional districts. This could make the map vulnerable to a racial gerrymandering lawsuit considering Texas’s Hispanic population has driven the bulk of Texas’s population growth since 2010. According to census data, the current congressional map included 18 districts with white majorities and nine with Hispanic majorities. But the newly proposed map doesn’t give Hispanic voters any more clout: There are now 19 districts that have white majorities and still nine districts with Hispanic majorities, based on the voting age population.
This is only the first draft of Texas’s new congressional map, so it could still change before it’s passed by the GOP-controlled legislature. The Senate Redistricting Committee is expected to take up the congressional map on Thursday. But remember the GOP ultimately controls the redistricting process in Texas. That said, past congressional maps proposed by Texas lawmakers have been endlessly litigated — and it’s possible that could happen again this time around.