February 28, 2008
Turnout watch: The SOS speaks

We start today's look at turnout with a Republican talking point, which I'm sure we'll hear again in the future.

The excitement of their contest has driven up Democratic primary early voting to dramatic levels. But GOP spokesman Hans Klingler said he expects things to be Republican as usual in the November election.

"In the end, the important vote is obviously going to be cast in November. It is there that, empirically and historically, Democrats in Texas have a tough time turning their people back out to the polls and sustaining that level of excitement post-primary," Klingler said.

Oh, Hans. What tune is it that you're blowing as you whistle past the graveyard? It's a bit of a cliche, but I recommend It's The End Of The World As We Know It anyway.

Having had my fun with Hans, I will readily admit that all this excitement is going to come to an end, and the candidates (whether both are still actively campaigning or not) will head off elsewhere to the next battles. It's very much an open question how much infrastructure they will leave, how much resources they will invest here later on, and what if any data they will share with the state and local party organizations (most likely, not much). The record turnout will help a lot with future voter identification, but what that means is a lot of raw data for each individual campaign to sort through. Trying to figure out how many of these new voters will come back in the fall (my guess is most of them) and how many of them will be receptive to voting Democratic downballot will keep many a consultant and campaign manager awake nights.

There's plenty of good that has come out of this primary experience. People are excited about the Democratic candidates. Democrats have gotten a ton of positive attention in the media. Some number of these new voters will come back no matter what we do, others will come back with fairly minimal levels of persuasion. More people will be involved in organizing and campaigning. And on and on. There is a risk that some people will feel a letdown, or will not come back because their candidate lost, or will focus on the Presidential race to the exclusion of downballot races, but let's be clear that Democrats are in a far better position now than they've been in a long time. I'll take my chances on the downside.

Whatever else the Presidential candidates plan to do or maybe do here or not later on, here's one thing they can and should do: Spend some money on TV ads.

Obama and Clinton have spent more money on Texas television advertising in the past three weeks than all the past four Democratic presidential nominees spent on their entire Texas campaigns combined.

It would be nice to see some general election polling now, to see how strong a case one can make for Texas being in play for November, but this strikes me as a no-brainer for them regardless for two reasons. One, as part of an effort to maximize the popular vote, in particular to become the first Democrat to win a clear majority of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter. Claiming a mandate is much easier under those circumstances. And two, in hopes of broadening Democratic majorities in Congress and the Senate, which will go a long way towards getting their agendas enacted.

One positive thing I've heard about that has already resulted from the early voting madness is a shift in perceptions among donors towards the statewide campaigns. The belief that we really can win is trickling down. If the primary turnout for Obama and Clinton makes it a little bit easier for Rick Noriega, Dale Henry/Art Hall, and the judicial candidates to raise money, that will go a long way.

On to the numbers:

More than half a million people cast Democratic primary ballots in the first eight days of early voting this year -- setting a pace for the party to have more than a million presidential primary votes in the state for the first time since Bill Clinton tangled with Paul Tsongas in the 1992 elections.

Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson on Wednesday predicted 3.3 million people will vote, breaking the 1988 record of 2.7 million who turned out when both parties had presidential nomination battles in Texas.

As noted by Karen Brooks, more people have already voted in Texas than there are in the entire state of Vermont, which is also having a primary on Tuesday. That's pretty cool. Note that the SOS' projection works out to about 2.4 million Democrats, which is a shade less than the almost-2.7 million estimate by Dr. Murray. Nick Beaudrot, who had made a similar guess previously, is now backing down somewhat as well, to about 2.1 million. It's a testament to how insane this has been that I think of that as a bit of a bummer. On a side note, BOR runs some numbers for Travis County based on past early voting performances.

In Harris County, yesterday was the busiest day yet, with another 18,000 Democratic votes cast, for a total of over 114,000 so far. I think we'll easily surpass 150,000 by close of business Friday, and won't be surprised if we get as many as 25,000 votes cast on Friday itself. Oh, and it pleases me to note that two more Republicans have voted at the Julia C. Hester House in HD142, thus bringing that total up to three. Woo hoo!

Finally, on the subject of Republicans voting in the Democratic primary:

And the people Obama and Clinton are drawing to the polls are new or only occasional voters, according to a preliminary survey of early vote results from Harris and Dallas counties being done by the Texas Democratic Party.

Through last Saturday, half of those casting ballots had not voted in any of the past three party primaries; 20 percent are not regular general election voters; and about 2 percent are Republican crossover voters, said party consultant Ed Martin.

Once again, the voting history of everyone who participates can be and is being checked. There is no wave of hardcore Rs showing up to mess with the Democrats' game. Obviously, we don't know how the general-but-not-primary voters have gone in past Novembers; certainly some of them intend to vote for the Republican this fall. But the voters who are speaking the loudest in this election are Democrats and those who want to me. That's what you need to know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 28, 2008 to Election 2008

But today was a big turnout day, so we're back on track! 2.4 million now looks like the right answer to me. But it could go higher or lower ... we'll need those last two days' worth of data.

I should stop making these projections until early voting is done. Do they announce the turnout results from Friday on Saturday, or do we have to wait until Monday?

SurveyUSA had Clinton down 6 and Obama down 8, which is what I'd expect (Obama polls worse than Clinton across the South, though both of them lose). Still, if Obama can hold the margin to around 7, I think Rick Noriega can squeak out the Senate seat.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot on February 28, 2008 8:45 PM

Oh one more thing: as a percentage of the electorate, turnout has risen the most in Fort Bend, Williamson, Colin, Denton, and Travis counties, all of which have favorable demographics (or "psychographics", in the case of Travis) for Obama.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot on February 28, 2008 8:47 PM

** It would be nice to see some general election polling now, to see how strong a case one can make for Texas being in play for November, but this strikes me as a no-brainer for them regardless for two reasons. **

A no brainer? Really?

Have you seen recent Florida matchup polling? Or Ed Rendell's concerns about Pennsylvania?

It's too early to know if either of those will be valid in the fall, but if they are, Texas probably won't be in play for the Dems, and the only no-brainer will be not to waste resources here. But at this point, there really aren't any no-brainers, truth be told. If there were, McCain would have dropped out after losing all those summer primaries (oh wait, there weren't any summer primaries-- whoops!) and the only Dem speculation would be over Hillary's running mate.

As many a post here concludes, stay tuned!

Posted by: Kevin Whited on February 28, 2008 9:06 PM

And your explanation for the unprecedented spike in Democratic voting is what, exactly, Kevin? You gonna take it on faith that everything is as it always was, or you interested in objective evidence?

And I'll make you a deal: I'll start worrying about what Ed Rendell thinks when you start worrying about John McCain's Catholic problems.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 29, 2008 8:19 PM
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