Though internal divisions in the Democratic Party's base fed the growth of the Republican Party, not all of this growth can be attributed to Democratic defections. As the state's economy gradually diversified, the suburbs grew, people migrated to Texas from other states, and religious conservatives became more involved in politics, the natural Republican base in the state grew. It was only a matter of time before Republican activists and candidates overcame the entrenched Democrats whose own electoral base was steadily eroding.
Republican fortunes were foreshadowed in 1952 and 1956, when conservative Democrats led by then-governor Allan Shivers engineered Democratic support for Republican presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower. Subsequently, John Tower's election in 1961 as the first Republican U.S. senator since Reconstruction marked the beginning of a long Republican climb that would span over four decades. A critically important milestone in the Republican ascent occurred in 1978 when Bill Clements won the governorship in 1978, the first time since 1869 that a Republican won election for Governor in Texas. Clements was defeated four years later in 1982 by Democrat Mark White, but returned to win the governorship again in 1986.
Republicans continued to erode - if unevenly - the Democratic Party's dominance of state politics over succeeding years, as this chapter's feature on The Rise of the Republican South illustrates. The Republican Party reached a summit of sorts in 1998, when it won all 27 state-wide offices. Just two years earlier in 1996, Republicans won control of the Texas Senate with a slim majority (17 of 31 seats) and have held control in subsequent elections. In the Texas House of Representatives the Republicans enjoyed a sharp gain in the number of seats in the 1984 election (a Presidential election year that saw the reelection of Ronald Reagan). The party has made steady gains since then, and finally established a majority in the House in 2002, allowing Tom Craddick to become the first Republican Speaker of modern times.
The erosion of the Democrats' historical base of conservative whites and the growth of a newly reorganized conservative base in the Republican Party polarized the ideological orientations of the two parties beginning in the 1970s. As a party, the Democrats shifted to the more liberal side of the spectrum. This brought them much closer to the orientation of the national Democratic Party, with which Texas Democrats had often been at odds in earlier periods. Meanwhile the Republican Party more or less kept to the same strongly conservative path it had followed for decades, a path that would lead to continued electoral gains from the 1970s on. This chapter's feature on Comparing Ideology in Texas Politics - which presents the ideological orientation of U.S. congressional representatives from Texas, the South, and the country as a whole - illustrates this polarization.
On the national level the Republican presence in the Texas delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives grew from two in 1974 to twenty-four in 2013. In 2003, the Republican-controlled state legislature launched a bid to exercise control of the redistricting process through which the boundaries of congressional districts are drawn. Republicans argued that while their candidates were sweeping statewide races, typically with substantially more than fifty percent of the vote, Republicans still held less than half of the state's thirty-two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Governor Rick Perry called a special session of the legislature in the summer of 2003 to address the issue after Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives employed the unusual tactic of leaving the state in order to deny the quorum needed to conduct business on the chamber floor. This effectively killed the redistricting legislation during the regular session. Democratic Senators tried the same ploy, also leaving the state in protest during a subsequent special session called that year. Ultimately, Democratic unity broke, and a new map was passed which appeared to give Republican candidates a chance to gain as many as seven more seats. The redistricting battles of 2003 were thus the final step in the Republican rise in Texas. The redistricting process after the 2010 U.S. Census also resulted in litigation that continued into 2013, though no result was likely to seriously erode Republican legislative majorities.