Political Parties

Republicans Rising

Some analysts suggest that the rebirth of the Republican Party in Texas among white conservatives can be traced to 1952 when Democrat Governor Allan Shivers clashed with the Truman Administration over the federal claim on the Tidelands. He worked to help Texas native General Dwight D. Eisenhower to carry the state. Eisenhower was generally highly respected due to his role as Commander of the Allies in World War II and was popular nationally, winning the election. Beginning in the late 1960s, Republican strength increased in Texas, particularly among residents of the expanding “country club suburbs” around Dallas and Houston. The election, to Congress, of Republicans such as John Tower (who had shifted from the Democrat Party) and George H. W. Bush in 1961 and 1966, respectively, reflected this trend. Nationally, outside of the South, Democrats supported the civil rights movement and achieved important passage of federal legislation in the mid-1960s. In the South, however, Democrat leaders had opposed changes to bring about black voting or desegregated schools and public facilities and in many places exercised resistance. After passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, southern white Democrats began to leave the party and join the Republicans, a movement accelerated after the next year, when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, providing for federal enforcement of minorities’ constitutional right to vote. Voter registration and turnout increased among blacks and Latinos in Texas and other states.

Unlike the rest of the South, however, Texas voters were never especially supportive of the various third-party candidacies of Southern Democrats. It was the only state in the former Confederacy to back Democrat Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election. During the 1980s, a number of conservative Democrats defected to the GOP, including Senator Phil Gramm, Congressman Kent Hance, and GOP Governor Rick Perry, who was a Democrat during his time as a state lawmaker.

John Tower’s 1961 election to the U.S. Senate made him the first statewide GOP officeholder since Reconstruction and the disenfranchisement of black Republicans. Republican Governor Bill Clements and Senator Phil Gramm (also a former Democrat) were elected after him. Republicans became increasingly dominant in national elections in white-majority Texas. The last Democrat presidential candidate to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Previously, a Democrat had to win Texas to win the White House, but in the 1992 election, Bill Clinton won the Oval Office while losing Texas electoral votes. This result significantly reduced the power of Texas Democrats at the national level, as party leaders believed the state had become unwinnable.