Democrats have made huge strides in Texas’ large urban counties in recent years. The main holdout has been Tarrant County, which has remained solidly blue. Is 2010 the year things change? Maybe not, but it ought to be an interesting electoral season anyway.
The death of longtime Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry and the retirement of County Clerk Suzanne Henderson are expected to create plenty of down-ballot interest in countywide political races next year, already drawing several potential candidates.
And a Republican challenger to first-term Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley may add to a competitive primary season that kicks off in the coming weeks when filing for office begins.
Political experts speculate that some countywide races could draw a large field of candidates, including some on the Democratic side. Republicans have held a majority in countywide votes since the mid-1980s.
“There is a pent-up demand from people who’ve had the ambition to move into those positions for a long time,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University.
“But as long as someone like a Tim Curry was there, no one was going to run against him on the Republican side because it was just suicidal.”
He said open seats held by Republicans for so many years may also embolden Democratic candidates to run.
“Democrats might see Tarrant County as more competitive this year than in previous years,” Riddlesperger said.
But he said it will be difficult for Democrats in Tarrant County to fill the ballot with challengers because “they’ve been out of power for some time.”
Well, there’s also the fact that Tarrant has been pretty hostile towards Democratic candidates, which tends to discourage stronger potential challengers from taking the plunge. Here’s how statewide Democrats have fared on average in Tarrant County over the past six elections, compared to the state as a whole.
Year Tarrant State Ratio ============================= 1998 61.15% 56.94% 1.07 2000 62.60% 60.26% 1.04 2002 61.08% 57.94% 1.05 2004 61.75% 59.08% 1.05 2006 59.45% 58.51% 1.02 2008 55.49% 54.46% 1.02
To put that into some perspective, the statewide GOP average in Harris County in 2004 was 54.34%. Tarrant has been two to seven percent more Republican than the state as a whole, and that’s a tough hill to climb. Having said that, countywide candidates can and often do do better than statewides, at least in recent years, and that’s been true in Tarrant as well – Terry Moore got 46.84% against DA Curry in 2006, for the best showing by a Democrat in a long time. And open seats are always more competitive. If the Dems there can get a good slate and raise some money, anything is possible.