As Harris County judge, Ed Emmett led the state’s biggest county — 4.7 million people — through its most devastating natural disaster. That work won the moderate Republican bipartisan support, even in a county that overwhelmingly went blue in 2016. But last week, Emmett lost his re-election bid in a close race — the closest in the county. And come January, the incumbent will turn his job over to Democrat Lina Hidalgo, a 27-year-old political newcomer who had never attended a meeting of the commissioners court she will now lead (she has, she said, watched them online). At the top of the ticket, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz lost the county by more than 200,000 votes; Emmett’s race — midway down the longest ballot in the country — was decided by a margin of about 19,000 votes.
That result, strategists say, makes Emmett the latest casualty of straight-ticket voting in Texas. In Harris County, more than half a million voters pulled one lever to support every Democrat on the ballot, and just over 400,000 Republicans did the same. Emmett — a moderate who had focused his campaign on persuading the Democrats who favor him to make their way far enough down the ballot to back him — made up much of that difference, but he couldn’t quite eke out a win.
“Keeping the straight ticket option for 1 more election cycle turned out to be a disaster for all Republicans,” Emmett tweeted the day after the election. “Making up the deficit was just not possible.”
Straight-ticket voting will end before the 2020 elections, bringing Texas into line with the vast majority of states. But the change didn’t come early enough to save Emmett — or a host of other down-ballot Republican candidates like judges, who are disproportionately affected by the practice by virtue of their low profiles and low ballot placement.