The Statesman takes a look at the new State Rep. district in Williamson County.
All county and state elected officeholders from Williamson County are Republicans. The party has long dominated the area. But Democrats are eyeing the new district as a potential weak spot in the Republican stronghold, counting it among a handful of districts they hope to take in November.
The race is a high priority, said Bill Brannon, executive director of the state Democratic Party.
“I would say it’s either top tier or very, very close to top tier — it’s a high target,” Brannon said. “It’s a race that presents a lot of opportunities.”
The Democrats hope that [Matt] Stillwell, a father of three who owns an insurance agency and has never held elected office, can beat out Republican candidate Tony Dale and Libertarian Matthew Whittington for control of House District 136. The new district covers portions of Northwest Austin, Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock and the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District.
Democrats say demographics in the newly drawn district provide an opportunity for the party.
According to data from the Williamson County Elections Department, more than a third of registered voters in the district live in Austin and nearly 20 percent of them are 30 or younger — a group that generally leans left.
The party sees the district as a possible repeat of Democratic state Rep. Mark Strama’s 2004 grab of a northern Travis County seat.
Strama, who still holds the seat immediately south of House District 136, said that like the new district, his was drawn for an easy Republican win.
“Frankly it was hard to convince anybody it was a winnable race — which I think is the challenge Matt has now,” Strama said.
Growth in the area — especially in Pflugerville — from Central Austin, as well as California and other states, made his district more Democratic than anyone realized at the time, Strama said.
HD136 is a race that isn’t quite on the radar. It’s a second tier Back To Blue race, outside observers like Robert Miller have not taken it into account. The numbers are daunting but not overwhelming, and there is certainly some hope that the landscape has changed. A comparison of the 2004 and 2008 numbers is instructive:
2004 Bush Kerry Keasler Molina ================================== 63.8% 36.2% 63.2% 36.8% 2008 McCain Obama Wainwright Houston ================================== 51.8% 45.9% 51.2% 42.9%
Data can be found here and here; both links are XLS files. The dropoff from Obama to Sam Houston is mostly accounted by the 5.9% received by the Libertarian candidate in that race. The difference between the two years is striking, and it’s magnified by the raw vote totals. John McCain barely beat George Bush’s number – McCain received 32,977 votes, Bush got 32,413 – but Obama’s total was more than fifty percent greater than John Kerry’s – Obama got 29,227, Kerry just 18,403. I’m sure some of that was “surge”, and maybe that will be hard to repeat, but still. That’s a huge difference. Part of Stillwell’s challenge is identifying and reaching out to the new voters in the district, and part is making sure that those who vote for Obama stick around for him as well – Sam Houston’s vote total, by contrast, was only 25,734, a much bigger decrease from Obama than Dale Wainwright’s 30,696 was from McCain. The comparison to Rep. Mark Strama, who won a rapidly-changing district in 2004 that had been thought to be solidly red in 2002, is instructive, but there is one key difference here: Stillwell has a lot less money than Strama did at the time. Maybe that’s why this race isn’t as high profile. Keep an eye on this one, though, it could easily be a surprise on November 6.