November 10, 2006
Harris and Dallas

Via PDiddie, who feels a little more cheerful after reading it, comes this story of how 2008 may finally be the breakthrough comeback year for Harris County Democrats.

Harris County Democratic and Republican officials have looked at Tuesday's local election results and they agree: The GOP-dominated county government could be recaptured by Democrats as soon as 2008.

"Believe me, it's being discussed," said Republican Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, a conservative leader.

"It's an amazing wake-up call," said Republican County Commissioner Steve Radack.

In an election when many ethnic minority voters didn't vote, Republican judicial candidates on the bottom half of the Harris County ballot won by an average of fewer than four percentage points - 52 percent to 48 percent.

The average margin four years ago was more than nine points.

If minority voters had been energized, as they might be in the 2008 presidential year, it could have been a Democratic sweep, some analysts said.

They point to Dallas County, long a GOP stronghold, where Democrats claimed every countywide seat elected Tuesday.

That's not quite true about Dallas County. I'll get to that in a second, so bear with me.

Countywide judicial races are considered a good indicator of party feelings. There are so many of them that voters tend to choose based on party affiliation rather than knowledge of individual candidates or issues.

The Houston Chronicle calculated the combined GOP margin of victory for all contested races for state district courts, which are elected countywide.

It was 3.9 percentage points, the smallest since at least 1998.

Some Republicans evaluating Tuesday's results said conservatives didn't get out to vote. Others said the problem might be that fewer Republicans voted straight-party tickets because the governor's race included two independent candidates.

Those lost straight-ticket votes might have benefited down-ballot judicial races that voters otherwise didn't bother with, Radack theorized.

Democrats noted that the margin in the judicial races was close even though ethnic minorities who generally vote Democratic skipped the election, which featured few Hispanic or non-Hispanic black candidates in showcase races.

In the 11 state House districts within Harris County that have Anglo majorities, voter turnout Tuesday was 36 percent. In the 12 with non-Hispanic black and Hispanic majorities, the turnout was 26 percent.

Straight ticket voting and relative turnout levels are both checkable facts. They're on my to-do list. On a side note, either we have two Lege districts that are 50-50 Anglo/not Anglo, or someone at the Chron can't count to 25. Just FYI.

Also on my to-do list: Compare the baseline Democratic performance in HDs127 and 129, where Diane Trautman and Sherrie Matula overperformed relative to 2004 by 10 and 8 points, respectively. One of the tenets of the Run Everywhere philosophy is that putting strong candidates in less friendly districts like these is that they can help boost the overall performance of those districts, which in turn can create a nice little rising tide when applied to every GOP-held area. I need to see how well that holds up in those districts. It's certainly possible that there were just a bunch of R-plus-Trautman or R-plus-Matula voters out there. It's also possible that the presence of actual competition might have goosed GOP turnout as well. I don't think that's the case here, given that neither Joe Crabb nor John Davis did much in the way of campaigning. But it needs to be verified one way or the other.

My nominee for Understatement of the Century:

Former Harris County Democratic Chairwoman Sue Schechter said she regrets the party didn't put more money into the judicial races this time. It might have made a difference, she said.

With all due respect to Sue Schechter, let me just say "NO $#|+, SHERLOCK!" Believe me when I say there is no small amount of bitterness about this among the faithful. There'd damn well better be a real, concerted, funded effort in 2008. Won't do much for folks like Mary Kay Green, Richard Garcia, Chuck Silverman, and all the others who gave it their best effort this year and deserved a better fate, but if the lesson is learned then at least there'll be something to show for the lost opportunity.

Now then, regarding Dallas:

A national wave of Democratic voting and changing demographics swept Republicans out of power in the county as the GOP surrendered 42 judgeships, the district's attorney office and the county judge's seat.

Twenty-six years after a Ronald Reagan landslide put Republicans in control, Democrats retook the courthouse in a similar, surprising sweep.

"We didn't expect it, but it's fun," Democratic Party Chair Darlene Ewing said Wednesday. As late as 10 p.m. Election Night, she had been predicting Democrats would win, at best, 10 or 15 judicial contests.

"This is what happened in 1980, except this time they did it to us," said Michael Walz, executive director of the Dallas County Republican Party.

The Dems won every contested countywide race, but there were a number of uncontested Republicans on the ballot. If there was some kind of unofficial consensus to challenge the lesser judges but leave the better ones alone, that'd be fine by me. A good judge is a good judge, and while I've no real objection to partisan elections of judges, what colors they wear shouldn't be the be-all and end-all. Besides, a little diversity is good, as some of our judicials argued (sadly unsuccessfully) here. I daresay this was more likely to have been the result of not enough people being willing to run, but I wanted to say this anyway.

Like many of the judicial contests, the race to head the commissioners court was close, with only about 5,500 votes separating [Democrat Jim] Foster and [Republican Margaret] Keliher out of 378,000 votes cast.

And only about 6,500 votes out of over 500,000 cast separated Mary Kay Green and Annette Galik. For want of a nail...

"The Democrats came out in mass, and we were not out as strong," said Walz, the GOP executive director.

Walz said some Republicans took Perry's and Hutchison's elections for granted and stayed home not knowing a local landslide was in the making. Four U.S. House incumbents with safely drawn districts that include all or part of Dallas County won re-election.

"This election is a wake-up call to conservatives," Kenn George, the Dallas County Repubican chairman, said in a statement. "Republican candidates cannot continue to win if Republican voters do not show up to vote."

That logic is the flipside of what you hear from the losing team in similar situations: "We expected our guy to lose, so our voters stayed home." I find it a bit self-serving regardless of the perspective, but as with all things relating to numbers, it can be checked. Put it on my ever-lengthening to-do list. I hope to finish some of these items before the 2008 elections gear up.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 10, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

I recall seeing demographic information during the redistricting fight that said that Dallas would turn Dem in 2006 (due to projected growth) and Harris in 2008. It was called something like "The Coming Democratic Majority". This seems to be in line with that. I'll look and see if I can find that info.

Posted by: Michael on November 10, 2006 10:44 AM

One of the tenets of the Run Everywhere philosophy is that putting strong candidates in less friendly districts like these is that they can help boost the overall performance of those districts.

I haven't read the tenets of the Run Everywhere philosophy. It must be under that wad sticking to the wall. Or maybe it's in that book Schechter quoted from.

Strong candidates in unfriendly territories don't exist. It reminds me of the used car buyer who wants a cheap but reliable car. If the Party could put strong candidates in unfriendly territories, the Party would soon find that it has no candidates.

My opinion of questionable value is that Charles Kuffner should throw his hat in the ring and mount a political campaign for the office of his choice. Win or lose, the experience would be a tremendous benefit to his pretty good blog.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on November 10, 2006 11:55 AM

Strong candidates in unfriendly territories don't exist.

Um, BS. Did you even pay attention to the elections Tuesday? I'm not sure what you would call Juan Garcia or Patrick Rose or Valinda Bolton or ....

And that's not even including the strong candidates that did lose this election cycle but cut margins.

What BS. It's not like you can take a candidate and just move them all over the map. Geographical and political boundaries do lock them in you know.

Posted by: Karl-T on November 10, 2006 10:18 PM