July 22, 2004
The Democrats of Williamson County

It's not easy being a Democrat in Williamson County these days.

With the Democratic National Convention set to unfold next week in Boston, the county's Democratic candidates aren't giving voters much to cheer about. Unlike decades past, when they dominated Williamson County's political stage, only four Democrats who live here appeared on the March primary ballot and will be on the November general ballot.

And in a county with an estimated 300,000 people, the presidential primary in March -- by which time Sen. John Kerry had all but sewn up the party's nomination -- drew a mere 8,152 Democrats to the polls, compared to three times as many Republicans.

Currently, Democrats don't hold a single public office in this staunchly conservative county.

"This year, there are four of us either brave enough or stupid enough to stand up and say, 'Let's take on the monster and see what happens,' " said Jon Porter, a Cedar Park attorney and political newcomer trying to reach Congress.

To get there, he must defeat U.S. Rep. John Carter, a Central Texas Republican heavyweight who holds the District 31 congressional seat.

Porter, who calls the 62-year-old Carter the "grandfather" of the Williamson County Republican Party, said he ran because nobody else would.

"The myth that Williamson County is a Republican county has become a self-fulfilling prophecy because no Democrat candidates have stood up and run," said Porter, 33. "So Williamson County is now a Communist county because we only have one party to choose from." Melissa Irion, a Williamson County delegate to the national convention said she expects the John Kerry-John Edwards presidential ticket to attract Democratic voters at all levels.

"People want to have a say about the war in Iraq and about George Bush's record," she said. "People aren't necessarily going to go to the polls for county commissioners, but once they're there voting for John Kerry they're going to say, 'I want to make a change.' "

Porter has an uphill climb, if the hill in question is K2. Incumbent John Carter, who won 69% of the vote in the 2002 version of this district, has $279K on hand, while Porter reports twenty-two dollars. I certainly wish Jon Porter well, and for sure the Democrats are going to have to develop and nurture people like him in hostile environments like Williamson if they're going to make any headway this decade, but I can't say this is a race I'll be watching.

If you're into trendwatching, the Democrats' high-water mark in 2002 in Williamson was John Sharp's 39.74% of the vote. Kirk Watson was next best with 38.44%. John Carter's opponent, David Bagley, drew 27.34% here, essentially matching his overall percentage. The best statewide performer in 1998 was Paul Hobby with 42.43%, followed by Sharp with 41.31%. In 2000, Bush beat Gore here 67.79% to 27.71%, a much wider spread than 1996 when Dole beat Clinton 55.37% to 36.34% (Perot got 7.41%). I'd put money on Bush matching his result this year, which would make Jon Porter's hill a bit steeper if that were possible. (All data from the Historical Elections Index at the Secretary of State's page.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 22, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack