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Precinct analysis: The declining Republican brand

I’m just going to dive into this one, because the numbers pretty much speak for themselves. The following is a comparison between 2004 and 2008 in Harris County in various Republican districts. I’m comparing John Kerry’s performance to Barack Obama’s, Guy Clark’s to Adrian Garcia’s in the Sheriff’s race, and three candidates who were on the ballot each year, for similar but not exactly the same offices – JR Molina, who was the high Democratic scorer statewide in 2004; Kathy Stone, who was the top votegetter and percentage performer for Dems in Harris County in 2004; and Jim Sharp, who broke through to win a First District Court of Appeals race this year. Here are the numbers:

2004 Dist Kerry Clark Molina Stone Sharp ========================================== CD07 35.7 32.6 34.8 37.5 35.7 CD22 35.6 32.3 38.4 36.2 35.7 SD11 32.0 32.5 34.4 35.7 35.2 126 32.0 31.2 32.9 34.0 33.4 127 27.0 26.8 28.3 29.5 29.3 128 31.8 33.5 35.5 36.5 36.7 129 32.2 31.7 33.4 35.1 34.0 130 23.4 23.0 24.2 25.1 25.1 132 28.8 28.9 30.3 31.3 31.2 133 43.9 42.4 44.0 46.1 44.5 134 45.6 40.6 43.3 47.3 44.3 135 33.9 33.3 35.5 36.3 36.3 136 29.8 26.1 28.1 31.5 28.9 137 55.3 54.8 57.1 58.0 56.8 138 39.7 37.4 40.3 42.5 40.8 144 35.5 37.3 39.9 40.4 40.5 145 57.0 59.7 65.1 63.3 62.3 148 58.3 57.4 62.0 62.3 61.1 149 46.6 46.1 47.9 48.8 47.9 150 26.7 26.5 28.1 29.2 29.0 2008 Dist Obama Garcia Molina Stone Sharp ========================================== CD07 41.1 45.6 39.1 40.6 41.1 CD22 36.2 44.0 38.0 39.3 39.6 SD11 35.3 43.1 37.1 38.5 38.8 126 41.9 46.8 41.7 42.7 42.9 127 31.5 38.0 32.0 33.7 33.8 128 33.8 42.4 37.6 39.3 39.9 129 36.3 42.2 36.1 37.6 37.8 130 28.8 34.4 28.2 29.5 29.8 132 40.1 45.6 40.4 41.9 41.9 133 52.2 56.0 51.4 52.4 52.7 134 49.5 52.2 45.5 47.1 48.1 135 41.3 47.6 41.5 42.8 42.8 136 33.9 37.6 30.1 32.7 33.3 137 61.8 66.7 63.1 63.5 63.7 138 44.3 52.8 45.0 46.4 46.7 144 40.6 50.4 45.0 45.8 45.9 145 62.3 75.6 71.4 69.5 69.7 148 60.0 69.6 62.8 62.5 63.2 149 54.7 58.8 55.2 55.9 55.8 150 35.1 41.7 35.5 37.0 37.1

If these numbers don’t make your eyes bug out, I don’t know what would. Here’s what I see when I look at them.

- John Kerry scored 44.55% in 2004, Barack Obama got 50.42%. That’s a six-point increase overall, but as you can see the increase was not uniform. The gains in HDs 126, 132, and 150 particularly stand out to me. This is the flip side of the coin I’ve been talking about: Just as the Dems could not have made this huge stride in Harris County without doing so much better in traditionally red areas, so can the Republicans no longer hope to dominate county politics if they’re not running up the score in places like those. While there may have been a turnout boost for the Dems this year that was aided by the dynamics of a Dem-friendly environment and an inspirational candidate, the trends that led to these numbers aren’t going away.

- Despite winning at least one marginal state house seat every year since the new map was rolled out in 2002, the Democrats do not have any more seats at risk now than they have had in years past. Scott Hochberg, who was supposed to have been drawn out of the Lege in 2002, is safe. Hubert Vo is safe. Ellen Cohen is likely safe, even though her district isn’t blue like those two. Kristi Thibaut will have a tough fight in 2010, but that’s the only pickup opportunity the Rs will have, and they’ll have to defend Ken Legler in HD144 while worrying about someone emerging to knock off Patricia Harless, Gary Elkins, or Bill Callegari. I know which position I’d rather be in.

- Even if the battlefield in 2010 is just 133 and 144, how will the Republicans protect their incumbents in 2011 for the next decade? Take a look at that Stiles map again, and ask yourself how they keep those three safe going forward. I think it’s impossible, and they’d be better off trying to consolidate rather than spread what remains of their base too thin in what will surely be a futile attempt to maximize what they can retain.

- And while you’re at it, ponder how a new Congressional district might fit into the western part of the county. My guess is that CD07 will shift back to the farther reaches of Harris, perhaps even stretch into Fort Bend, and we’ll see a reconstituted version of the old 25th arise to once again represent central Houston with a Democrat.

- Just to keep beating this point into submission, the Democratic gains from the strong-R districts played a huge role in the bluing of Harris County. If you just take HDs 126, 132, 135, and 150, and have them perform at 2004 levels instead of what we saw this year, by my rough estimate the Dems would have lost about 20,000 votes, with the Republicans gaining that much. That not only swings nearly every race back to the GOP – by my reckoning, only Adrian Garcia, Debby Kerner, Jim Henley, and Kathy Stone could withstand a 40,000-vote hit to their totals and still win for sure – it’s more than we could squeeze out of the Democratic districts. If we could have jacked up turnout in the four Hispanic districts – HDs 140, 143, 145, and 148 – to the same 67% level that the strong Rs performed at, we’d have gotten about 45,000 more voters total. But since about a third of those voters would be going Republican, the Dems would net 15,000 votes. Doing that on top of what we did this year would net us three more judges – everyone but Ashish Mahendru – plus Brad Bradford, but David Mincberg and Diane Trautman would still fall short. Again, the point is that Democratic voters are everywhere in the county, and we cannot be narrow in our focus when it comes to turnout strategy.

- For all these reasons, I strongly disagree with Dave Mann and his claim that the election was a failure due to poor Democratic turnout. We did get a boost in Democratic turnout, it was just spread out over the entire county instead of being concentrated in a few familiar places. Which as I’ve just said is a good thing, because we wouldn’t have won squat otherwise. I agree with Greg, and with Ed Martin and Matt Angle: Democratic turnout was fine, we won partly because we found new sources of Democratic performance, including in places we weren’t really looking, and we did about as well as we could reasonably expect under the circumstances. For crying out loud, we gained six points and nearly 90,000 votes in four years. That’s outstanding.

I think I’m about out of steam here. Tell me what you think, and I’ll have more to come soon.

UPDATE: Burt Levine’s comment reminds me that I forgot to explain my inclusion of HDs 145 and 148 in this comparison. Simply put, as you can see by Kerry’s score in those districts, they might not have appeared as solidly Democratic in 2004 as you might have thought they were. Whatever the case then, it’s not the case now, and so I included them to further illustrate how the GOP’s fortunes have receded.

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One Comment

  1. Burt Levine says:

    Kuff,

    Why do you list noriega/alvarado’s district and farrar’s district as GOP districts?

    I thought your composite was GOP districts but you included those two…

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