The Police Are Still Popular

Elections
A police officer secures the area with a police cordon after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, August 3, 2019. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

The race for mayor in America’s twelfth-largest city has ended, and the results are promising for moderates and conservatives. Fort Worth, the oft-overlooked city beside its more famous counterpart, Dallas, has rapidly expanded in the last decade. It is now bigger than San Francisco and continues to be the largest city helmed by a Republican. Mattie Parker’s recent victory in Fort Worth’s mayoral race shows that conservative candidates can win in big cities when they campaign on broadly popular positions, such as policing. 

It is easy to look at Parker’s win in Fort Worth as another example of Texas’ deep-seated Republican roots. However, Fort Worth is a majority-minority city that doesn’t have a long history of Republican governance. Nor was this a case of low voter turnout. The mayoral runoff election had over double the number of votes cast in the previous cycle. 

Nevertheless, Mattie Parker won by over 7,000 votes to become the youngest mayor of a major city by distancing herself from partisan politics. She eschewed mudslinging and instead ran on a moderate platform of increasing jobs and supporting law enforcement. Fort Worth policing has been in the public eye since the inexcusable shooting of a black woman in 2019. The officer responsible will stand trial this August, and it was a prominent topic of discussion for the candidates. 

Mattie Parker importantly did not dismiss concerns about local law enforcement, saying she was looking to “refocus community policing” during her term. She did, however, oppose measures to divert funding from the police department, which helped win her the endorsement of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. She argued their endorsement showed she could help with “reconnecting [the] community with the police department.” 

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Prioritizing policing was important to voters, according to the Tarrant County Republican Party chair Rick Barnes. Barnes said that people knew about liberal mayors in Austin and Dallas, and voters wouldn’t let “their city go in that direction.” Republican leaders throughout the state warned voters that Parker’s opponent, Deborah Peoples, would defund the police. While we don’t have exit polling on the Fort Worth race, national polling suggests this is a viable strategy. For all of the discussion about “reimagining” policing, only 18 percent of Americans favor defunding the police. Parker’s win confirms that it’s an issue people will turn out for.

As conservative strategists observe candidates grappling with city policing across the country, they should look to Parker’s campaign as an example of how to win urban districts. Despite electoral difficulties, Parker effectively campaigned on a unifying message that supported law enforcement while recognizing that most still have concerns about their local PD. If Republicans want to win back cities, the Fort Worth model is a good place to start. 

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