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Enough with analyzing Democratic primary turnout already

Seriously, enough of this.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republicans saw a turnout of 11.4 percent of registered voters, or 1.5 million people, in 2010 when their primary featured the long-awaited clash between Gov. Rick Perry and then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The GOP primary for governor this year saw 9.8 percent turnout, or more than 1.3 million voters.

Democratic turnout was 5.2 percent, or 680,548 voters in 2010 when White, the former Houston mayor, faced a primary field of little-known opponents marked chiefly by hair-care magnate Farouk Shami’s willingness to shell out money to challenge him. This year, with Davis on the ballot after getting national attention last year for her filibuster against tighter abortion restrictions, it was 3.7 percent, under 550,000 voters, in the governor’s race.

“It definitely looks bad” for Democrats, said Mark P. Jones, Rice University political scientist. “There also wasn’t very much going on in 2010, yet more people voted in 2010 than voted in 2014. … Instead of moving towards turning Texas blue, they are moving back towards Texas as an even redder state.”


Jeff Rotkoff, adviser to Democratic megadonors Steve and Amber Mostyn of Houston, said Battleground Texas was never intended to turn out Democrats in a largely uncompetitive primary election. It’s designed to expand the electorate, he said.

“It’s like saying, ‘I bought this Ferrari, and I tried to take it off-road and I got stuck. It’s a terrible car,’ ” he said. “We’ll know on Nov. 5 whether it’s been successful or not.”

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said it would have been wise for Democrats to take the car for a primary spin.

“That’s just incompetence, if you’re not trying. Even broader than that, we know they were trying,” he said, citing Davis’ visits to South Texas. “They missed a huge opportunity to turn out a lot of old and new Democratic voters and get them enthused about their candidate and launch into the general election for governor effectively. … If they think they can skip the primary and have a stunning victory, that’s extremely naive.”

I’ve said what I’ve got to say about turnout and Davis’ performance, so let me say something about the naysayers that are quoted in this story. First, there’s Mark Jones, who you may recall was telling everyone to vote in the Republican primary since the Democratic primary didn’t matter anyway. And then there’s Matt Mackowiak, who as noted is a Republican consultant. That means – and try to stay with me here, because this is complicated – he wants Republican candidates to win. That means he’s probably not the most objective source of information for what Democratic candidates ought to be doing to win. Hard to believe, I know, but that’s my job, to tell you those hard truths. Maybe Davis should have spent a million or two to turn people out in the primary. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that would have been a good strategy. It’s also perfectly reasonable to think that she’d get more bang for her buck saving her money for later and to let local races drive turnout. There will be plenty of time to second guess that decision later. Can we move on now?

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One Comment

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    I’ll grant the two talking heads one point: one BGTX launched, they stated very clearly that they would be looking for some test cases for their approach long before they were thinking about being truly competitive. They didn’t have a problem touting their involvement on behalf of Celia Israel in HD50. I wouldn’t expect them to have put in as much effort for the Dem Primary, but where were the field tests?

    That said, it seems lost on either of the two folks advocating for more participation in the GOP primary is the fact that Shami spent several million dollars worth of his hair care fortune to drive up turnout in the primary. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe White spent a smaller amount on TV and radio to help build name ID and/or limit any chance of Shami catching “fire.”

    There just wasn’t any similar need for Wendy to spend anything more than airfare travelling the state during the same period for her primary campaign. Turnout follows activity and dollars typically equate with activity. I think the true tale of the tape would be to see how the expenditures compared for White & Davis in 2010 and 2014.