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March 5th, 2018:

Early voting in the “next” 15 counties

As you know, there’s been a lot written about primary turnout in the top 15 counties by voter registration in Texas. Much has been said about the large increase in Democratic turnout, accompanied by the much milder increase – and in some counties, decrease – in Republican turnout when compared to 2014 and 2010. This is great, but Texas has 254 counties, and there are a lot of decent-sized metro areas that are not represented in the coverage we’ve seen, Moreover, while the top 15 counties include many blue and purplish counties, the next 15 are much more tilted to the red side. Here, by my reckoning, are those counties:

Bell (Killeen/Temple/Belton)
Jefferson (Beaumont)
McLennan (Waco)
Smith (Tyler)
Webb (Laredo)
Hays (San Marcos)
Brazos (Bryan/College Station)
Ellis (Waxahachie)
Guadalupe (Seguin)
Comal (New Braunfels)
Johnson (Cleburne)
Parker (Weatherford)
Randall (Amarillo)

Webb is strong Democratic; Hays and Jefferson are quasi-Democratic; the rest are varying shades of red. I wanted to know how voting was going in these counties, so off to Google I went. The best story I found in my searches came from Smith County:

Early voting ticked up among Smith County voters for the March primary, and about half of the increase came from people casting ballots for Democrats.

A total of 12,926 early ballots were cast in Smith County, according to the county’s elections division. By party, there were 10,994 ballots cast for Republicans and 1,932 cast for Democrats.

Overall, the numbers represent a 9.5 percent increase in early voting overall as compared with 2014, the last time there was a primary election for local and statewide offices but no candidate for president.

By party, the 2018 early voting numbers represent a 5.6 percent increase for Republicans, who cast 10,409 early ballots in 2014, and a 38.5 percent increase for Democrats, who cast 1,395 early ballots in 2014.

Early voting lasted approximately two weeks, from Feb. 20 through Friday. Polling places were open in five locations in Tyler, Lindale, Whitehouse and Noonday. The primary election is Tuesday.

Mark Owens, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, said much of the increase in early voters in 2018 could be attributed to an increasing population in Smith County.

The number of registered voters in Smith County is 131,007 in the 2018 primary, a 5.8 percent increase over the 123,867 registered voters at the time of the 2014 primary, according to Owens.

Owens called the early voting turnout “just on par for a growing area.” However, he credited Democrats for having an impact on the increase in early voters in conservative Smith County.

In raw numbers, 1,122 more Smith County residents voted in 2018 over 2014. Republicans accounted for 585 of those ballots, and Democrats accounted for 537 of them.

“To the Democrats’ credit, the voter mobilization efforts are stronger in the fact that this isn’t a primary with as many leading elections at the top of the ticket, so they would see it, from their perspective, of people wanting to vote for (their candidates),” Owens said.

“A really big part of it is candidates coming out to East Texas to listen and encouraging people to go vote,” Owens said. “I think if you look at the numbers, that means something to people.”

I’d call that encouraging. Dems are still vastly outnumbered, but they showed up and increased their totals over 2014. Indeed, the total number of votes cast in the Democratic primary in 2014 was 2,328, so early voting turnout there came close to matching that by itself.

That’s about as good as it gets in terms of being specific. This Lubbock story is pretty representative:

Heading into the last day of early voting for the 2018 primaries, the Associated Press reported that Texas had already set a non-presidential cycle record for the number of people turning out. Before Friday, more than 583,000 Texans in the 15 largest counties had cast early ballots in person, which was already more than the then-record of nearly 510,000 who did so during early voting for 2014′s midterm election.

In Lubbock County there were 15,430 total ballots cast during the 11 days of early voting. That means about 9 percent of registered voters took advantage of the early voting period.

About 400 more votes in Lubbock county were actually cast this year than during early voting in 2014, the last midterm election. This year’s total is about 8,700 votes less than in 2010. During the last primary in 2016, more than 25,000 votes were cast in early voting.


The Lubbock County Elections Office hasn’t yet released the separate vote totals for the Republican and Democratic primaries.

Some of these places make you downright wistful for Stan Stanart. Here’s Hays County:

As of Feb. 26, 4,658 early votes have been accounted for at seven different locations spread across the county. This does not account for the nearly 2,000 votes submitted to the county by mail.

In total, around 6,600 have been counted for, shattering the numbers from previous election cycles in 2014 and 2016.

According to Hays County numbers, roughly 4,500 people voted early in the November Presidential 2016 election, while only 1,768 early votes were counted in November 2014 race.

“We’ve had a very high turnout considering the political season we are in,” said Jennifer Anderson, elections administrator for Hays County. “Democratic turnout has been good and that is to be expected considering the national swing we had with the Presidential election.”


So far, roughly 53 percent of the early voting population voted in the Republican Primary, while 46 percent of the early votes took part in the Democratic Primary.

At least that’s something to go on. In 2014, 8,521 votes were cast in the Republican primary for Governor (this isn’t the same as turnout, since people do undervote in individual races, but I can’t get to the Hays County elections page as I write this, so it will have to do), compared to 3,131 votes in the Dem primary for Governor. If the split this year is something like 53-46, then the Dem share is up by a lot. That’s very good to see.

From Comal County:

Registered voters in Comal and Guadalupe counties have their last chance to cast early ballots today for candidates competing in Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primary elections.

Voters in both counties flocked to the polls during the 12-day early voting period, which began Feb. 20. Through last Tuesday, 5,654 Comal County residents — about 6 percent of the county’s 95,353 registered voters — had cast early ballots, running ahead of the number and percentage of registered voters who turned out in the 2014 midterm elections.

The rest is behind a paywall. Comal is deep red – think Montgomery County-deep red – so this will be worth watching. In 2014, there were 14,458 Republican primary gubernatorial votes, and 1,647 Democratic votes, so you can see what I mean. Neighboring Guadalupe County has a bit more detail:

Guadalupe County Elections Administrator Lisa Adam said area residents have slowly begun increasing their presence at the polls.

“Our numbers this week have already been higher than in the 2014 gubernatorial primary,” she said. “The first week’s numbers for this year were a little lower than they were in 2014. This week we are actually ahead than the second week of early voting in 2014; not by leaps and bounds, but we are ahead.”


“In the 2014 primary, we had 81,217 registered voters,” she said. “Right now, as of Feb. 1 we have 95,717. We’ve come a long way. We’re adding 300 to 400 registered voters a month. The growth our county is experiencing is incredible.”

In that election cycle, the county saw 14.2 percent of the voting population turn out for the Republican Primary and 2.1 percent for the Democratic Primary, Adam said.

1,688 Dem gubernatorial primary votes, 11,196 Republican. Again, there’s lots of room to grow here.

Brazos County:

Early voting before the March 6 primaries wrapped up Friday with 5,933 Brazos County voters casting ballots.

Most of those, 4,144, came from Republicans, and 1,789 Democrats voted early. The total for the two-week early voting period was helped by a push of 1,467 voters Friday. There are about 105,000 registered voters in the county.

That’s burying the lede here. In the 2014 gubernatorial primary there were 1,927 total Dem votes, and 10,665 total Rep votes. In other words, Dems are way up. Republicans, not so much.

For McLennan County, I turn to my friend Carmen Saenz:

Final numbers for 2018 early voting in McLennan County primary:
Dems: 3054 – 28% of total
GOP: 7778 – 72% of total

Relative to 2014 early voting in the McLennan County primary:
Dems 1085 – 18% of total
GOP 4940 – 82% of total

Although there is a 181.5% increase in the number of Dems voting and only a 57.5% increase in GOP, with an overall increase of 80% these numbers say a lot about the McLennan County Democratic Party.

In a lot of the counties, we’ve seen Dem numbers up a lot with Republican numbers not up much if at all. Both are up here, which makes McLennan a bit of an outlier.

The city of Amarillo is in both Randall and Potter counties. I didn’t find a good story for Randall County, but I did find this for Potter:

In Potter County, there have been 4,940 votes in-person and mail-in since Feb 27. That number is expected to increase by seven tonight, at the end of early voting.

In the 2016 Presidential Primaries, there were 5,284 early votes cast in Potter County.
Breaking down the numbers even further, 4,128 Republicans cast their vote in Potter County, during early voting.

That has surpassed the numbers from the 2016 election, which topped out at 4,031 votes. The Democrats have cast 821 votes, slightly less than 2016 early voting at 988.

That’s 2016. If you look at 2014, there were 810 total votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. So yeah, it’s up.

Last but not least, Midland County:

The elections offices in Midland and Ector County has seen a dip in voter turnout this early voting season.

As of Friday afternoon in Ector County, election officials counted 5,300 voters.

There are over 74,000 registered voters in Ector County.


As of Friday morning in Midland County, the total number ballots counted was a little over 6,200.

There are over 81,000 registered voters in Midland County.

2014 gubernatorial primaries:

Ector County – 1,320 Dems, 7,778 Republicans
Midland County – 960 Dems, 12,640 Republicans

If there’s a downward trend in these places, it’s probably not because of the Dems.

I’ll return to this later in the week. For now, this is where we stand.

On CD02 and CD29

The Trib asks whether there’s a race worth watching in CD29 or not.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Months ago, [Sen. Sylvia] Garcia appeared poised to easily win this race, but something happened along the way to the nomination: Out of nowhere, health care executive Tahir Javed, declared his candidacy for the seat and has, so far, raised $1.2 million, most of that his own money.

Garcia is widely expected to take first place here on Tuesday, but the operative question is will she win by enough to avoid a runoff?

“We’re still confident we can get out of this without a runoff,” she said. “It’s a crowded field but we’ve worked it really hard.”


Beyond Javed and Garcia, several other candidates are running: businesswoman Dominique Garcia, attorney Roel Garcia, educator Hector Adrian Morales, veteran Augustine Reyes and small business owner Pedro Valencia. All have raised under $60,000, but they could collectively keep the majority of the vote out of Sylvia Garcia’s grasp.


The race, oddly, has drawn the attention of two well-known New Yorkers.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York endorsed Javed just as early voting began. It was widely perceived as a nod to the extensive fundraising Javed has done over the years for the party – but it nonetheless enraged many Texas Democrats, including Green.

Green used to serve with Schumer when the New Yorker was in the U.S. House.

“Chuck ought to stay out of our business,” Green said. “I cannot imagine Chuck Schumer influencing one vote in our district.”

But Schumer’s fellow Democratic New York senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, also got in the game and donated to Garcia’s campaign.

“I’ve made my choice,” said Gillibrand when recently asked by the Texas Tribune about the split with her senior senator.

The other reason this race matters beyond the district is that Garcia could become the first first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. She could also be, this year, among a class of the first Texas females elected to a full term in Congress since 1996.

I’ve dealt with that last point so many times I feel like the writers of these stories are just trolling me now. Sylvia Garcia could be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. So could Veronica Escobar in CD16. I suppose if one wins in March and the other in May, we can declare that one the official “first Latina”. If not, if they both win in March or they both win in May, they get to share that designation. Why it’s so hard to acknowledge that there’s more than one contender with a legitimate shot at this is utterly baffling to me.

As far as this race goes, let me say this. I have lunch once a month or so with a group of political types. We got together this past Friday, and the CD29 race was one of the things we discussed. We were split on whether Garcia would win in March or not, but the person most of us thought might push her into a runoff was not Tahir Javed but Augustine Reyes, son of former City Council member Ben Reyes. That’s a name a lot of people recognize, with ties at least as deep to the district. I’ll confess that I hadn’t thought much about Reyes before then, but it makes sense to me. We’ll know soon enough.

Meanwhile, in CD02:

There’s an etiquette to campaigning against a primary opponent in the same polling station parking lot.

On this windy Tuesday afternoon in a conservative stronghold in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, State Rep. Kevin Roberts and environmental consultant Rick Walker each worked the Kingwood Community Center parking lot hard while still allowing his rival to also speak to voters uninterrupted.

“At the end of the day, we want to elect the most qualified person that’s going to represent us, because whoever wins is going to represent us,” said Roberts, a Houston Republican.

But also, the two men had a common feeling about their race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ted Poe of Humble, whether it was overt or implied: intense frustration at another of their competitors, Republican donor and technology consultant Kathaleen Wall, who has dominated the field by spending nearly $6 million of her own money.

Walker went so far to suggest that if Wall was unable to draw the majority of the vote needed to avoid a runoff, the rest of the field would coalesce behind whomever is the opposing Republican candidate.

“We all want to win, but we understand we’ve got to live with each other in the long run,” said Walker. “And with a nine-person race, there’s going to be a runoff, and so the runoff is probably going to be against the one person trying to buy the race.”

“And so we’ve got to keep the personalities out of it,” he added. “So we may take digs on each other once in awhile, but in the long run we know we’re going to have to be working together.”


There are, to be sure, a host of other candidates running for this seat beyond those three. Health care executive David Balat, retired Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw and veteran Jonny Havens make up the second tier of candidates when it comes to fundraising, pulling somewhere in the ballpark of $150,000 in each of their campaigns.

Three others – investment banker Justin Lurie, doctor and lawyer Jon Spiers and lawyer Malcolm Edwin Whittaker – are also running for the Republican nomination.

Besides Wall’s self-funding, the top issues in this district are immigration and the post-Hurricane Harvey recovery effort. From that voting station parking lot, Walker pointed to an HEB across the way that flooded in late August amid the hurricane.

All the while, some national Republicans and Democrats have begun cautiously wondering whether this race is one to watch in November.

Poe easily held the seat for years and Republican Donald Trump carried the district by about nine points in 2016. That should be a healthy enough margin to protect it from Democratic control.

Even so, spikes in early voting turnout among Democrats in urban areas like Harris County have spurred questions as to whether this could shape up to be a sleeper race.

Democrats have five candidates running, including one named Todd Litton who has raised over $400,000 and is running a polished campaign. That is not the largest sum in the country, but it is a substantive amount, particularly given the partisan history of the district.

I feel like I have PTSD from constant exposure to Wall’s TV ads, which have been a constant and unwelcome presence through the Olympics and on basketball games, both college and the Rockets. I keep the TiVo remote by my side so I can hit pause as soon as I recognize one of her awful spots, then fast forward past it. I of course don’t live in CD02, so either Comcast needs to tighten up its distribution maps or Wall has been getting fleeced by her ad-buying consultants (if the latter, I can’t say I’m sorry for her). In any event, I’m hoping to be spared for the runoff, but I’m not expecting it.

The same folks I had lunch with on Friday all mentioned Crenshaw as a dark horse candidate in this one. We’re not Republicans – I know, you’re shocked – so take that for what it’s worth. And brace yourself for more Wall ads.

Shared fundraising

I like this.

Seven Democrats facing off in a single Texas congressional primary have an odd way of fighting it out.

On Tuesday, they plan to put aside their differences and fundraise, together. That’s because the money they raise will go to the primary winner – no matter who it is.

This “unity fundraiser” in Dallas is sponsored by a Texas chapter of the group “Swing Left,” an organization that raises money for swing district Democrats and promises to cut a check for the eventual primary winner.

“Everyone has committed to supporting the eventual nominee,” said former Obama administration official Ed Meier, one of seven Democratic primary opponents hoping to challenge Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, in the general election. “It’s in that spirit that the Swing Left fundraiser makes a ton of sense. We want to capitalize on that positive energy and spirit right now.”


The organization hopes to help candidates who emerge cash-poor from primaries with an early infusion to help them hire staff or buy ads. Local groups have raised money with everything from wine and cheese parties to one 10-hour “fund-rager” at a bar.

The “unity fundraiser” at a Dallas banquet room may be a new twist, and more than 80 people have registered to attend. Swing Left and allied groups have raised $135,821 to help the nominee in the general election.

According to the Swing Left TX07 Facebook page, from which I got this link, there has been a similar for-the-winner effort going on in CD07, with some $130K being available at this time. (The recent unpleasantness with the DCCC does not appear to have derailed this, thankfully.) It’s a good idea, not just for the resources but also because it invests voters in the race. The more of this we can do, the better.