Republican Ted Delisi is singing an old, outdated song in an effort to reestablish “conventional wisdom” that dismisses the possibility of a Democratic statewide victory in 2010. Like a lot of Austin-based “conventional wisdom,” his contention is not supported by the numbers.
The only actual election vote total Delisi cherry-picked for his recent Tribune column indicated the Republican presidential vote margin increased in Montgomery County between 2004 and 2008. However, Montgomery County was the single exception to the rule. In every other major urban and suburban Texas county, where the vast majority of Texans cast their ballots, the Democratic vote share increased during that time frame.
In Denton, Collin, Fort Bend, and Williamson Counties — four of the five most populous traditionally Republican suburban counties — the Democratic vote share increased between 2004 and 2008. In Fort Bend County — the former home of Tom DeLay — Democratic Texas Supreme Court nominee Sam Houston came within 1,800 votes and Obama within 4,800 votes of carrying the county. With Democratic straight ticket voting rising in Fort Bend, the state’s ninth most populous county may be better positioned to become Democratic than Dallas County was after 2004.
While Republican margins are shrinking in suburban counties, Democratic margins in urban counties have increased dramatically. In Dallas County, a 10,000-vote Republican win in 2004 became a 123,000-vote Democratic win in 2008, a swing of 133,000 votes. During that same period, countywide vote totals swung toward Democrats by 128,000 votes in Harris County, 81,000 votes in Bexar County and 67,000 votes in Travis County. Although Republicans carried Tarrant County, their vote margin shrunk by 68,000 votes.
Statewide, Democrats cut the Republican margin by roughly 750,000 votes between 2004 and 2008, even without candidates who could spend significant resources statewide. Democrats picked up eleven Texas House seats, a Texas Senate seat and a congressional seat — all in districts drawn to elect Republicans. Most of those candidates won in places Republicans had considered “safe,” including Sen. Wendy Davis and Reps. Paula Pierson and Chris Turner in suburban Tarrant County, Diana Maldonado in Williamson County, and winners from west Houston and the Dallas suburbs.
In race after race, voters chose qualified, mainstream Democrats who had sufficient resources to contrast a common sense bipartisan approach with an extreme partisan Republican agenda that has failed to address Texans’ everyday concerns. To support these campaigns, Democrats invested strategically to provide a modern campaign infrastructure that allowed both campaigns and Democratic turnout efforts to get the maximum bang for the buck.
Now, in Bill White, Democrats have a mainstream candidate for governor who will have the resources to give Texas voters that same kind of choice — a choice between a proven, centrist problem solver or a Republican governor who cynically fans the flames lit by extreme elements of his party to try to get votes he needs to serve his special interest cronies for four more years. Next November, Texans will have an opportunity to hold Perry accountable for the problems and scandals that have festered on his watch.
Texans are a great people who have the skill and character to meet any challenge. The better people got to know Bill White in a Houston media market that includes a quarter of Texas voters, the more they saw a can-do Texan who won’t back down from a challenge. Houstonians gave him 91% and 86% of their votes in his last two campaigns.
In addition to the Democratic trend in fast growth, populous counties, Democrats will have a statewide candidate who knows both the Spanish language and the Hispanic culture, an understanding that stands in sharp contrast to the inflammatory rhetoric of many high profile Republicans. Democrats, including Bill White, understand the need to implement successful Democratic base turnout efforts at the statewide level.
The progress Texas Democrats have made should not be dismissed as a mere “regional effort.” Democratic gains in vote rich counties and districts, coupled with an effort to realize Democratic turnout potential, are stepping stones that can lead to statewide success.
Texans are fed up with business-as-usual politics in Austin, as evidenced by a recent UT/Tribune poll that found Perry in a dead heat (34-33) with an “unnamed Democrat.” In that environment, Democrats realize incumbent Republicans will spend everything and stop at nothing to preserve power. Far from being “irrationally exuberant,” Democrats are working hard and smart to succeed, and if we seem cautiously optimistic that 2010 could be different, there really is a reason for it.
Ed Martin is a longtime Democratic strategist and former executive director of the Texas Democratic Party who works as a consultant for the Texas Democratic Trust.