December 04, 2007
Tarrant's progress

The Democrats up in Tarrant County are feeling pretty good about their chances to make electoral gains next year.

Local Democrats are feeling a new sense of urgency to put up a fight in every race, even the long shots. The main motivator: last year's surprise Democratic sweep in Dallas County.

"Right now, we're all thinking, 'Look what happened over there,'" said Stephen Maxwell, a Fort Worth lawyer who is running to lead the Tarrant County Democratic Party after the current chairman, Art Brender, steps down in May.

"The time has come to show that we have a Democrat on every race on the ballot. It's a different world."


"I've had friends who say, 'I'll start running when Democrats start winning.' Well, they're not going to start winning until we start running," said Randy Turner, a Fort Worth lawyer making his first run for judge of the 17th District Court. "It's a catch-22."

It's fair to say that Tarrant County was less red in 2006 than it was in 2002, at least compared to the state as a whole. Here's a spreadsheet that compares the GOP vote percentage in Tarrant to that of the state for each of the nine non-judicial statewide races in 2002 and 2006. In 2002, the GOP vote share in Tarrant County for the Senate race was 3.96% higher than it was overall; in 2006, the share was only 2.17% higher. Every race saw similar drops; in the case of the Governor's race, Tarrant was slightly less Republican than the state was. Overall, Tarrant was 5.02% more Republican than the state was in 2002, but only 1.13% more Republican in 2006. That's not exactly a juggernaut, but it is progress.

Keith Annis, treasurer of the Tarrant County Young Democrats and a veteran campaign worker, said it's not always smart to run a candidate for the sake of having a Democrat on the ballot.

"If you put a good candidate in a race they're not likely to win, you run the risk of having that candidate burned out for future races," Annis said.


[M]any local Democrats believe their party could gain ground in 2008.

Activists point to recent Democratic victories in Dallas County as a symbol of hope and a blueprint for success. In 2006, Democratic candidates were all over the ballot in Dallas. Using a campaign strategy focused more on party affiliation than experience or positions on the issues, the Democrats swept 47 races, completely overturning Dallas County's political leadership.

Many Republicans say it's unrealistic to think that what happened in Dallas County could happen in Tarrant County anytime soon.

"I'd hate to have [the Dallas model] as my political strategy. That's wishful thinking," said Paul Benson, a Fort Worth-based Republican consultant and an assistant professor of government at Tarrant County College.

Benson said Dallas' demographics trended Democratic for years before the entire county made the switch in 2006. Tarrant isn't at that point, and putting effort into unwinnable races is a waste of the local party's resources, he said.

"Tarrant County is not Dallas County. It's that simple," Benson said. "The demographics aren't the same."

John Todd, associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas in Denton, said Tarrant County probably has more Democratic voters than it did a few years ago, but the GOP base vote in the county still appears to be larger.

"I think it's likely that Republicans still have an edge, but I think it may be getting more competitive for the Democrats," Todd said.

Couple things here. First, as a supporter of Run.Everywhere, I'd rather encourage than discourage people from getting into a race. That said, the concept obviously works better if those who do get in do so with the mindset that it's going to take a lot of work, much of which is fundraising, to make a difference as a candidate. I'm not so worried about burning candidates out. Gaining campaign experience, proving yourself as someone who can raise funds and attract followers, generating name ID, learning from mistakes - these are all good things that can result from a losing campaign. Sometimes a closer-than-expected loss acts as a proof of concept that a previously ignored office is in fact winnable. As long as everyone understands what's realistic for now, for the short term, and for the longer term, I say have at it.

Regarding strategy for Tarrant, I have to agree here with Benson and Todd. The demographics aren't there yet for Tarrant County. Winning is going to require persuasion more than turnout. That's harder to do, but in the end I think it's healthier. Expanding the base is never a bad idea.

BOR has more on this, from a local perspective. And as long as we're talking about Tarrant County, I'll note that former Fort Worth City Council member (and former Republican) Wendy Davis has officially filed for SD10. That along with SD11 here (go Joe!) and maybe SD04 in Dallas represents a great chane for the Democrats to gain ground in the upper chamber. Davis may yet have a primary opponent, possibly Brender, so keep an eye on that.

UPDATE: The Mid Cities Democrats have sent out the following press release this morning:

The Mid-Cities Democrats, the largest Democratic grassroots organization in Tarrant County, is proud to announce the filing of Watauga resident, and computer technician for the Keller Independent School District, Christopher Utchell for the Democratic nomination for State Representative in House District 91. Mr. Utchell filed the necessary paperwork for the 2008 Democratic ballot on Monday, December 3, 2007.

The Chris Utchell for Texas House Campaign will focus on improving Texas public education, reining in out of control utility rates, and restoring S-CHIP access to Texas children. Chris is opposed to assessing tolls on existing freeways and government seizure of property to benefit the well connected. Chris believes that the power in Austin needs to be taken away from the high-dollar special interests and returned to the people of Texas.

"Our grassroots campaign will take our message to the people of House District 91 so we can change the way business is conducted down in Austin. We must restore people oriented politics and remove special interest politics from the state house," said Mr. Utchell.

Chris is an active member of the Mid-Cities Democrats, and group leader of the North Central Democrats. He has been involved in Democratic politics since high school, when he worked on his first gubernatorial campaign. Most recently, Chris was the campaign manager for former North Richland Hills city councilman, Byron Sibbet, in his grassroots campaign to represent District 91 in 2006.

Mr. Utchell, 43, has spent the past 10 years as a resident of Watauga. Chris has been a computer technician in Keller since 2000. Before that, he spent 10+ years in retail management. He and his wife Sherry, an elementary school secretary, have four children, three of whom are current high school students. Chris is a member of the Richland Hills Church of Christ, in North Richland Hills.

HD91 is pretty red, but definitely the kind of district you want to be active in as you work to change people's minds.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 04, 2007 to Election 2008