November 20, 2020
House Republican Survives Against Odds
in Quest that Required Some Biden Voters
Angie Chen Button
Most Valuable Campaign
The Texas general election in 2020 proved to be amazingly status quo on paper with the all-time party line vote despite a new straight-ticket ballot ban that would have the opposite effect ostensibly. But State Rep. Angie Chen Button of Garland would have been the most glaring exception if she hadn't proceeded as though the blue wave that failed to show up in the down-ballot box score was very real indeed.
Button appeared to be doomed in a Dallas County district that had been safely Republican before President Donald Trump started turning the Texas suburbs blue almost single-handedly during the past few years. The Legislature's termination of the straight party ballot option wasn't going to be anywhere near enough on its own to save an incumbent Republican like Button in a suburban patch of north Dallas that Democrat Joe Biden was going to carry like gangbusters. Button knew that she had to run like she was losing if she had any hope to win.
This began at the polls every day about the time the sun was coming up to introduce herself to voters while pitching credentials that featured a stint as a local freeway commissioner before her election to the Legislature's lower chamber in 2008. Button and supporters spent countless hours knocking on doors and standing back a few feet when someone usually answered.
Button knew she couldn't win without the support of some Biden voters however. She fought aggressively for the mail ballot vote that other Republicans were writing off as though Trump's baseless tirades on postal election theft had merit. Button almost won the mail vote in House District 112 at a time when fellow nominees for the GOP were getting crushed in the postal balloting. That might have been the most critical key to survival in the Button re-election quest.
Button was heavily armed with establishment cash for a rematch with a top-flight challenger in Democrat Brandy Chambers who'd had a huge war chest as well thanks to a historic infusion of funds from national party sources and individual donors from all parts of the United States. Button had staved off an initial Chambers challenge when she beat the Democrat by a mere 2 points in 2018 in a district where the incumbent had won for the first time 10 years earlier with a 16 point margin of victory. Button had gone unchallenged by the Democrats in her first three re-election races when HD 112 had been out of reach before Trump came along and hijacked a GOP that had been too weak and scared to defend itself.
Button had managed to eschew the partisan power games as a relatively moderate Republican who's a former Texas Instruments marketing executive. She chaired the Economic and Small Business Development Committee when Republican Joe Straus had been the speaker of the House where she led the Urban Affairs Committee during outgoing GOP leader Dennis Bonnen's first and only regular session last year.
But the pandemic gave Button an unexpected chance to run as an underdog with the advantages of incumbency - and she used it as a stage to tout a pro-business record while keeping her distance from the runaway train wreck called the Trump campaign. As the product of a family that fled China when she was young to escape religious persecution, Button had to navigate the potential backlash from the attacks by Trump and other Republicans who sought to blame the Chinese government for the virus assault on America.
Button astutely avoided Chambers' attempts to draw her into the public spotlight with demands for debates and other public forums that could be used to showcase the incumbent's ties to the president with the R's by both names. The Democratic nominee who's a lawyer accused Button of hiding and lying about her record by not showing up to defend it in a setting that could have favored the challenger.
Button and other GOP candidates in target races were caught off guard when challengers like Chambers raised hundreds of thousands dollars during the summer with an unprecedented infusion of cash from the national level and individual donors around the country. Chambers had run fairly even with the incumbent in the campaign cash chase before Button raised a half-million more in the contest's final month with a haul of $1.5 million. Button and Chambers raised $2.4 million and $1.9 million respectively for the entire race.
The HD 112 race wasn't settled until Chambers conceded complete with parting broadsides two weeks after the vote in a district where she lost by 223 votes out of almost 69,000 that were cast. Biden carried Button's district without a hint of coattails for Chambers, whose share of support in 2020 actually dipped from just under 49 percent to 48.6 percent while a Libertarian knocked more than 2 points off the incumbent's winning margin.
The historically-hyped tsunami that both sides had been expecting didn't live up to its billing when the Democrats who needed nine more seats for a House majority posted a net gain of none. But the blue wave was no mirage in hindsight in a state where Democrats fared 7 points better on average than they had in 2016 in the swing districts like HD 112 that will be major low-hanging fruit two years from now.