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Texas Republicans sound post-2020 alarm bells

BULVERDE, Texas — Texas Republicans remain bullish that President TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE will repeat his 2016 win here next week. But they warn the party nonetheless has a lot of work to do in the coming years as Democrats continue to make inroads across the state, especially in suburban areas.

For two cycles now, Texas Republicans have watched as Democrats picked off long-held GOP House seats in the Dallas and Houston suburbs, with the minority party continuing to go on offense in a number of seats few saw as possible pick-up opportunities years ago. This has set off alarm bells for party leaders, who warn that they have to right the ship before it is too late.

"The party's got some work to do, and the reason they've got work to do is when you win the national championship every year — year after year after year — you get complacent," former Texas Gov. Rick PerryRick PerryFormer Texas Supreme Court justice jumps into state's AG Republican primary race Texas governor signs 'fetal heartbeat' abortion bill Tomorrow's special election in Texas is the Democrats' best House hope in 2021 MORE (R) told The Hill in an interview.

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"I think the Republican Party in Texas over the last 10 years ... got complacent," Perry continued, taking some responsibility for the situation, as he was governor from 2000 to 2014. "You didn't build the structure that you need. You didn't go recruit the bench that you need to continue to be a strong team."

In 2018, Democrats were buoyed by former Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeO'Rourke considering Texas governor bid: report O'Rourke clarifies remarks, leaves door open to gubernatorial bid O'Rourke says he's not planning on run for Texas governor MORE's (D-Texas) bid to unseat Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense: Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military | Military guns go missing | New White House strategy to battle domestic extremism Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military: 'We are not weak' Biden tries to erase Trump's 'America First' on world stage MORE (R-Texas), which ultimately fell 2.5 percentage points short. And they scored victories by unseating influential Reps. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-Texas) and John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonNASA's Europa Clipper has been liberated from the Space Launch System Texas Republicans sound post-2020 alarm bells 2020 Democratic Party platform endorses Trump's NASA moon program MORE (R-Texas), who had served for 40 years combined, in their suburban Dallas and Houston seats, respectively.

This time around, Democrats have made the state ground zero in their bid to expand their majority. According to the Cook Political Report, four seats are rated as either "lean Democratic" or "toss-up" — including three open seats — with two additional rated "lean Republican" that the party has its eyes on. On Wednesday, Cook also shifted Texas from “lean Republican” to “toss-up” in the presidential race.

Further down the ballot, Democrats are also looking to win the requisite nine seats to flip the Texas state House, which has been in GOP control since 2002. According to multiple GOP sources in the state, Republicans are hoping to minimize their losses to four seats. Democrats are more bullish though. Ed Espinoza, the executive director of Progress Texas, believes they will win control, noting that the two sides are fighting over 22 seats.

Republicans believe the situation requires GOP leaders across the state to message directly to voters rather than rely on the old tropes lawmakers occupying safe seats have in the past.

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"There's no such thing as a safe seat,” said Dave Carney, a top strategist for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R). “There are safer seats, but there are no longer safe seats. ... Anybody should be prepared to have a fight.”

“You have to have candidates concerned about winning not just a primary, but a general,” Carney said, pointing to previously ruby-red seats in the western and eastern parts of the state. “They have to fight the fights on what's best in their congressional district.”

Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene Roy21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol on Jan. 6 The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week Roy introduces bill blocking Chinese Communist Party members from buying US land MORE (R-Texas), a top Democratic target who represents a toss-up, suburban Austin district, believes that Republicans can still run on conservative values but need to keep their guard up in the years to come, pointing to how other states have changed politically in previous years.

“You win minds and hearts, and you win minds and hearts by leading, and nothing is static. Nothing is permanent. California was a solid Republican state. ... The country ebbs and flows,” said Roy, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, in an interview with The Hill. “My general belief is Texans are strong, freedom-loving people. ... The values that conservatives espouse are American, Texas values. Espouse them, lead on them, don’t hedge on them. People will follow.”

“You can’t become tantric. You can’t become complacent. I’m not worried about [keeping your] head on a swivel,” Roy said. “I want a head that’s looking forward, but don’t be complacent. ... We’ve got an energized group of GOP people out working this hard. No one’s taking this for granted.”

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Perry, who recruited many of the companies that brought their business to the Lone Star State before leaving the governor’s mansion in 2014, maintains that the population growth the state has experienced has been worthwhile politically, despite the continued leftward march of some districts and progress Democrats are experiencing statewide.

"Yes. ... I've heard this from the first business that came out of California to Texas. They were kind of like, ‘Perry, we want them to bring their money and business, but we don't want them to bring their politics,’” he said. “Here was my response: The vast majority of people that came out of California were givers. The takers stayed in California.”

The former governor also maintains Trump will emerge victorious next week. However, one thing Perry doesn’t regret is leaving the administration, having left his post atop the Department of Energy in December, only months before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

“How’s my timing, huh?” Perry quipped about his departure. “Is that like — perfection?”