The Republican Party developed dramatically in Texas during Reconstruction after constitutional amendments freeing the slaves and giving suffrage to black males, as blacks joined the party that had ensured the end of slavery. African-American leaders, frequently men of mixed race who had been free and educated before the war, provided leadership in extending education and work opportunities to blacks after the war. They supported establishment of a public school system for the first time. Men such as William Madison McDonald in Fort Worth, Norris Wright Cuney in Galveston, and
Henry Clay Ferguson worked for the black community and the state.
In 1870, Edmund Davis was elected Governor, but was soundly defeated in 1874. In the year 1876, Republicans had made gradual gains in Texas, earning nearly one-third of the statewide vote and electing a small number of candidates to the State Legislature (including several African Americans).
After the Reconstruction era, the Republican Party of Texas gradually lost power, and after the turn of the century, the "Lily Whites" pushed blacks out of power. The Democrats passed disfranchising laws near the turn of the century requiring poll taxes be paid prior to voter registration; together with the party establishing white primaries, black voting dropped dramatically, from more than 100,000 statewide in the 1890s, to 5,000 in 1906. Mexican Americans and poor whites were also adversely affected by such measures. For more than 100 years, the Republicans were a minority party in the state.
Between the departing of Robert B. Hawley from his second U.S. House term in 1901 and the seating of Bruce Alger in 1954, the sole Republican to represent Texas in Congress was Harry M. Wurzbach, who served in the U.S. House for most of the 1920s and left office in 1931. The first Republican statewide primary was held in 1926, but drew only 15,239 voters. By contrast, the Democratic primary in the same year drew 821,234 voters, as disfranchisement was well established, and Texas was essentially a one-party, white-only voting state. Only two more Republican primaries were run in the next thirty-four years.
In 1961, James A. Leonard became the first executive director of the organization. He is credited as the "architect" of John Tower's successful campaign to fill Lyndon Johnson's vacant U.S. Senate seat, a victory that was a breakthrough in the party's attempts to gain a foothold in Texas politics.
In 1966, two Republicans were elected to the U.S/ House of Representatives, including future President George H.W. Bush, for the first time since Reconstruction. That same year, three Republicans were elected to the Texas House of Representatives, and the first Republican was elected to the Texas Senate in 39 years. By 1972, Texas Republicans had increased their gains to 17 members of the Texas House and 3 members of the Texas Senate.
The true turning point for Texas Republicans occurred in the May 1976 primary, when Ronald Reagan defeated Gerald Ford by a two-to-one margin in the state's presidential primary. According to former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, due to Reagan's victory in the Texas primary, "the whole shape and nature of the state changed."
104 years after the most recent previous Republican governor, Bill Clements eked out a narrow victory in November 1978. In 1984, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Phil Gramm led a GOP ticket that relied upon the RPT to provide a centralized network of communications. Throughout the rest of the decade, the total Republican vote continued to increase, and the party made large gains in both the state legislature and in local races.
Since 1994, every statewide elected office has been held by a Republican. Both houses of the Texas Legislature feature Republican majorities. After the 2010 elections, Republicans held a super-majority of 101 Republican representatives in the 150-member body. The number has dwindled only slightly to 99 out of 150 seats. In the Texas Senate, after the after the 2014 elections, Republicans hold 20 of 31 seats. Both houses are officially organized on a bi-partisan basis, with both Republicans and Democrats holding committee chairs. At the federal level, the Texas Congressional delegation is composed of 24 Republicans and 12 Democrats; both of its US Senators are Republican. The last time Texas was carried by a Democratic presidential candidate was in 1976, when the state voted for Jimmy Carter.