Democratic Voter Turnout In Texas Is Way Up, But Will That Matter In November?

Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, so those hoping to flip seats aren’t likely to get overly hasty.

By Jill AmentFebruary 27, 2018 11:43 am|

Early voting ends Friday in the Texas primaries and so far it looks like it’s the Democrats who’ve really shown up to the polls.

The Houston Chronicle reports that through the first six days of early voting about 10,000 more people voted in the Democratic primary elections than in the Republican primaries in the state’s 15 largest counties.

You might think that’s just a matter of large counties leaning blue but the Chronicle says four years ago – the most recent year with a gubernatorial election – Republicans were 54,000 voters ahead of Democrats.

This has at least one top Republican worried – or at least using the data as a push for campaign funds. Gov. Greg Abbott sent out an email to supporters on Monday saying, “If these trends continue, we could be in real trouble.”

In one of the state’s biggest races, El Paso Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke is hoping to cause some trouble for incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz. O’Rourke is challenging the senator and drawing in serious financial support as well as crowds, even at campaign events in traditionally very conservative parts of Texas.

But Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, so those hoping to flip seats aren’t likely to get overly hasty.

Abby Livingston, the Washington bureau chief for the Texas Tribune, has been traveling with the O’Rourke campaign.

“My perception from afar of the O’Rourke campaign was it was still sort of mom-and-pop, Internet-based,” she says. “They meet at restaurants and there might be 50 or 100 people there.”

But then Livingston attended the campaign’s events in Tarrant County over the weekend.

“I couldn’t even get in. People were spilled out onto the patio, so I basically missed that event but I did see quite a show of people trying to avoid the rain,” she says. “They would rather be standing in the rain than miss Mr. O’Rourke.”

The second event, held at a middle school cafeteria, had another big turnout.

“Fort Worth is just not typically somewhere candidates flock to,” she says. But she says O’Rourke sees Tarrant County as the state’s bellwether – he says the area is a priority because the voters of Tarrant County tend to match the state as a whole.

Tarrant County is also important because it’s the epicenter of the Tea Party in Texas, Livingston says.

“This is exactly where O’Rourke was campaigning. And so that is the significance, that he went straight into the lion’s den,” she says. “There’s definitely a group of Democrats in this area who did not know there were other Democrats nearby, and they’re starting to find each other. It was a fascinating thing to watch.”

She says the president of the Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party isn’t concerned, though.

“But she said we’ve got to watch this and she said we’ve got to stop this momentum before it starts,” Livingston says.

Everyone in the country is keeping an eye on Texas polling data, she says, even though a Democratic wave is unlikely.

“Things feel different. But what I will say is, I don’t see a wave where Democrats sweep into statewide offices and suddenly take over both chambers. I think that is a very unrealistic outlook,” she says. “Now I could be eating these words in November and everyone can make fun of me.”

One Democrat offered Livingston a Star Wars analogy to explain where the party is headed.

“What they did early last year was they’re all firing up their planes,” she says. “And they’re all headed to the Death Star and they know most of them are going to get killed, but they just need a few to break through.”

Written by Jen Rice.