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As goes Harris, so goes CC2

Just as HD133 was a microcosm of Harris County in 2008, Sylvia Garcia’s County Commissioner precinct was a miniature version of the county as a whole in 2010. Take a look at how Democratic candidates did in County Commissioner Precinct 2 (CC2) versus how they did countywide and see for yourself:

Candidate CC2 Harris ========================= STV Dem 45.01 45.30 White 50.34 51.06 C-Thompson 43.14 43.26 Radnofsky 40.68 41.67 Uribe 43.38 43.25 Gilbert 43.79 43.85 Weems 44.38 44.96 Sharp 44.61 44.50 Moody 44.48 44.95 Bailey 42.01 42.73 Hampton 43.74 43.83 Jackson 45.45 46.15 Bennett 45.44 45.63 Trautman 44.88 45.27 Briscoe 42.36 43.01

All percentages are for the straight up R/D comparison. “STV Dem” is the Democratic share of straight ticket votes. Spooky, isn’t it? It’s also not unexpected. Take a look at the same calculations for 2006:

Candidate CC2 Harris ========================= STV Dem 56.88 51.45 Radnofsky 42.22 42.22 Alvarado 44.98 43.46 Van Os 43.10 41.90 Head 44.86 43.23 Hathcox 46.91 45.69 Gilbert 48.36 46.49 Henry 48.55 46.50 Moody 51.68 49.56 Molina 49.57 47.02 Sharp 52.03 50.12 Kahn 49.80 48.01 Shike 48.26 46.09 Pierre 46.60 44.69 Garcia 49.58 48.34 Burks 50.50 48.63

Obviously, the county as a whole was more Democratic in 2006, and CC2 in particular was slightly more Democratic than the county that year. Garcia, who has no opposition in 2006 and was named on over 62% of all ballots cast to easily lead the pack in vote total, would likely have cruised to re-election with more than 55% of the vote had she been challenged that year. Had Harris County been as little as one point less red, or if CC2 had been slightly more Democratic than the county as was the case in 2006, she would likely have managed to win. That’s how high the tide was this year.

Another shorthand way of looking at this is to compare Garcia to HCDE Trustee candidate Mike Rose, who was running in Precinct 2 as well in a race that was almost certainly decided by partisan affiliation and little else. Here’s how that looks:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 63,766 49.11 Rose 56,283 44.43 Morman 66,070 50.89 Morris 70,387 55.57

“Morris” is Republican HCDE candidate Marvin Morris, who will succeed incumbent Carl Schwartz. Garcia got nearly 7500 more votes than Rose did, which includes about 4300 votes that went to Morris, and 3200 that didn’t vote at all in that race. That’s a big difference, just not quite big enough for her.

I unfortunately don’t have precinct data for 2002, so I can’t tell you how much better than the average Democrat Garcia must have done to win the open seat in another year that was unfriendly to Democrats, nor can I tell you if this same pattern persisted. I suspect that Garcia and other Democrats in this area were helped by the Tony Sanchez campaign, which as we know was generally a boon for Latino turnout, but I can’t put a number on it. Sorry about that.

All this suggests three points to consider for Democrats who would like to win this post back in 2014:

1. A rising tide lifts all boats, some more than others. If you assume that 2010 was a unique confluence of events, then 2014 will almost certainly be a more promising year, both countywide and in CC2. A good overall turnout effort, combined with a real effort to reach Latino voters, will go a long way.

2. Of course, CC2 won’t be the same in 2014 as it is today, since like everything else it will be redistricted in 2011. Guess who gets to draw the lines for County Commissioner precincts? That’s right, Commissioners Court. One presumes that the Republican majority on the Court will do what it can to protect their newbie. There may be only so much they can (or will be willing) to do given that Steve Radack’s precinct needs shoring up as well. They may decide that Radack needs more help for his Presidential year elections than Jack Morman will for his off year elections. And of course, the cardinal rule of redistricting is “Every man and woman for himself and herself”, so if someone is gonna get screwed, it’s gonna be Morman, the low man on the totem pole. This will bear watching.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of incumbency. Commissioner Garcia was able to run as far ahead of the pack as she did because people in that precinct knew her and knew her work. If Jack Morman isn’t a complete idiot, he will do everything he can to put himself in that same position in four years’ time. Morman won’t be running against Barack Obama in 2014, he’ll be running on his own record, and if for whatever the reason he doesn’t, then that’s what his opponent should focus on. Incumbents get their advantage from doing stuff voters like. Given that this will likely work against the Democratic candidate, he or she needs to be prepared to point out all of the things Morman will have done that they don’t like.

Now of course, Democrats don’t have to wait till 2014 to even things back up on the Court. I’m just saying that it’s not too early to be thinking about it, and that things we do in the next two years to pull ourselves out of the hole we’re in now can and will pay dividends further down the line.

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