Davis and South Texas

I have three things to say about this.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democrats are banking on the Hispanic vote as a key part of their strategy for finding a way back into state office, but Sen. Wendy Davis lost several heavily Latino South Texas counties to a little-known rival on her way to securing the Democratic nod for governor.

Republicans fighting for the Hispanic vote were quick to crow over Davis’ second-place showing to Ray Madrigal of Corpus Christi in select counties in and near the Rio Grande Valley.

Democrats, meanwhile, stressed that Davis got more than four times as many total votes in those counties as Attorney General Greg Abbott, the GOP nominee, even though he did better than his primary rivals. She also bested Madrigal in one of the larger Valley counties, Cameron.

Davis and other Democrats said voters will see a sharp distinction that will work to their favor in the November general election.


Experts differed on how much the primary election results should worry Democrats.

In five South Texas counties taken together, Davis did worse overall than Democrat Bill White, the former Houston mayor, did in a larger primary field in 2010, Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones said.

White, whose opponents included foes with Hispanic surnames, received 58 percent of the vote in the five border counties – Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb and Zapata – in the 2010 Democratic primary. Davis got 47 percent in those five counties Tuesday, coming in ahead of Madrigal in Cameron and behind him in the rest.

“Davis was facing a candidate who did nothing more than pay his filing fee, for all intents and purposes,” Jones said. White’s foes included two with Hispanic surnames and big-spending hair-care magnate Farouk Shami.

Still, Davis got nearly 38,000 total votes in those five counties, while lower GOP turnout meant Abbott got less than 8,900 altogether – with zero votes recorded in Starr and Zapata counties on the secretary of state’s website.

“I don’t think Abbott can claim he did especially well in South Texas,” Jones said. “It’s more that for Wendy Davis to mount anything approaching a competitive campaign in November, she needs voters in the Valley to turn out in higher-than-normal numbers and to vote for her. What these results show is she has quite a bit of work to still do in South Texas.”

University of Texas-Pan American political scientist Jerry Polinard did not see a big problem in the results for Davis, suggesting Madrigal’s surname was part of it: “He certainly didn’t spend money to get the vote out.”

Polinard suggested the results probably would move Davis and her surrogates “to spend a lot of time in South Texas try to generate that vote.”

1. When I saw the headline I got all prepared to do a bunch of number crunching, but the story hits the high points of what I was going to say. I’ll add that while Bill White did better overall in these counties, he didn’t do all that well, generally getting in the 50-60% range, and in a couple of counties like Maverick he did worse than Davis (31% for White, 55% for Davis). As for Abbott, in many South Texas and Rio Grande Valley counties overall turnout in the GOP primary declined from 2010; Hidalgo was the main exception. So it’s not like he has anything to brag about.

2. It should also be noted that White, who unlike Davis was in a competitive primary against an opponent that was spending millions of dollars, spent a lot of money campaigning for the primary. His eight day report from 2010 shows he spent $2.7 million. Davis, who has been focused on Greg Abbott and November pretty much since Day One, wasn’t spending money on GOTV activities. Add up her Senate account, her Governor account, and her Victory Committee account, and it’s less than $1 million. Throw in Battleground Texas, and it’s a bit more than $1.2 million, still less than half of what White spent. He needed to focus on the March race and she didn’t. It’s not that complicated.

3. As Campos notes, Latino voters do exist elsewhere in Texas. We don’t have precinct or State Rep district data yet, so I can’t do that level of analysis, but I will note that in the big urban counties where a lot of Latinos live – Harris (Davis got 92%), Dallas (92%), Bexar (85%), and Tarrant (94%) – she did pretty well. El Paso (69%) was on the lower end, but still a solid majority. Obviously, no vote or voter should be taken for granted, and I’m sure she and her team will do a ton of work in South Texas and the Valley, but that work is for November. I don’t think March has any lessons for us that we haven’t already learned. See also this Trib story and Texpatriate.

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2 Responses to Davis and South Texas

  1. Jed says:

    1) she is a woman.
    2) she doesn’t look like them.
    3) abortion.

  2. I always appreciate your calm, well-reasoned approach to things Charles, and in one aspect I agree… No one should be worried about Davis winning South Texas. They are Democratic counties and will (barring something extreme) vote for the Democratic nominee.

    What I do have to wonder about though… Is this any indication of an enthusiasm gap for Davis, and if so, how does she reverse the trend? Enthusiasm will be key for Davis to run up enough surplus voters in Blue counties to be able to counteract Abbott’s domination in red counties. It’s critical that Davis supporters not only show up, but get excited about Davis and spread that feeling on to their peers. Sadly, this isn’t something Abbott has to do as much… Most GOP voters are “in the routine” and don’t need inspiration to get to the polls.

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