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Tarrant County May Point to Texas' Political Future

Just like in 2008, Tarrant County voters favored Mitt Romney and President Obama in the same proportion as Texas voters did overall.

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For the second presidential election in a row, Tarrant County can stake a claim as a microcosm of the state of Texas.

Last month, the percentage of Tarrant voters who backed Mitt Romney over President Obama (57.1 percent to 41.4 percent) mirrored the results in that race statewide (57.2 percent to 41.4 percent). Tarrant did the same trick in 2008, when it went 55.4 percent for John McCain to 43.7 percent for Obama. Overall in Texas, 55.5 percent voted for McCain and 43.7 percent for Obama.

The results add credence to the notion of Tarrant County as a bellwether of the state’s political shift, an assessment long made by Texas political observers and recently promoted by The New York Times’ much-read FiveThirtyEight blog.

“I think frankly it’s why there’s going to be so much attention focused on Tarrant County in the next two years, because if Tarrant County can turn Democratic, then the whole state can,” said Tarrant County Democratic Chairman Steve Maxwell.

Tarrant County’s election results are also notable for its apparent contrast with a political shift long under way in the state’s other major urban centers. Despite losing Texas, Obama won a majority of the votes in five of the six largest counties in the state. Only in Tarrant, smaller than Harris and Dallas counties but larger than Bexar, Travis and El Paso counties, did Romney win out.

“I think it’s still solidly Republican,” said Tarrant County Republican Chairwoman Jennifer Hall. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do, but I think it’s still a solid Republican county.”

Geography has always played a role in distinguishing Tarrant County from the state’s other large urban counties. Republicans have long described Tarrant's fast-growing northeast region as a sort of firewall for Republicans as Democrats have recently won some high-profile races centered in the county’s biggest cities, Fort Worth and Arlington.

Whereas thousands of conservative voters in Dallas and Harris counties have moved from major cities to suburbs in neighboring counties, voters who have left Fort Worth or Arlington often stayed within Tarrant County by moving to suburban communities in the northeast like Southlake, Colleyville and Grapevine.

Yet even Fort Worth bucked the national trend of large cities favoring Obama. Romney won Fort Worth by a few thousand voters, according to a preliminary analysis by the Tarrant County Elections Department. The Texas city was one of only four "major cities" in the country to back Romney last month, along with Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City, according to The Atlantic.

A bright spot for Democrats in Tarrant County this year was the hotly contested race for Senate District 10. State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, won re-election against a well-funded challenger, state Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, even though the Senate district traditionally leaned Republican.

“I know we have a Democrat there, but really that district is Republican in constituents,” Hall said. “I think that Wendy Davis did a good job with her campaign and Mark Shelton just fell a little bit short.”

Maxwell said that Davis’ win is more than just proof of a well-run campaign. Just like Tarrant County as a whole, Davis’ diverse, politically divided Senate district is also a microcosm for the state, he said.

“It kind of shows you with the right candidate and the right election and being properly funded, a Democrats can win statewide in Texas,” Maxwell said.

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2012 elections