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Can Dems make progress in Collin County?

It sure would be nice if they could.

It’s no secret that Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist Church has long wielded tremendous political influence, often quietly blurring the local lines between church and state.

But in the 2016 cycle, with the Republican Party veering further to the right, the 40,000-member evangelical megachurch is taking its electoral involvement more seriously than ever.

After hosting six GOP presidential hopefuls in October, Prestonwood’s newly formed “Culture Impact Team” staged a forum Monday for local and state candidates in Collin and Denton counties.

“We’re told that if you’re a person of faith, that you cannot get involved in politics, and we totally reject that,” Ron Kelley, director of the Prestonwood Foundation, told a crowd of hundreds who skipped watching the Iowa caucus returns in favor of the church event.

Although federal tax regulations bar the church from making endorsements, Kelley added, Prestonwood’s leaders encourage their flock to support candidates who “share our values.”

“We don’t apologize for that one bit,” he said.

As if to eliminate any possible doubt about the nature of “our values,” Monday’s forum was co-sponsored by Texas Values, a statewide group that specializes in opposing LGBT and reproductive rights.

However, the forum also included some unlikely participants — Democrats. For the first time in recent memory, Democrats have filed to run for each of Collin County’s five seats in the Texas House, all of which are currently held by Republicans, including two Prestonwood members.

Rick Joosten, a precinct chair who led the Collin County party’s candidate recruitment team in 2015, said he’s seen “an unprecedented emergence of Democratic energy in this exciting presidential year.”

Indeed, recent corporate relocations from places like California and an influx of new residents from Dallas have loosened, ever so slightly, the GOP’s hold on Collin County — as evidenced in Plano’s passage of an LGBT-inclusive Equal Rights Ordinance in December 2014, despite vocal opposition from Prestonwood leaders.

Still, given that Wendy Davis captured less than 33 percent of the vote in Collin County, Democratic candidates face a steep climb. But that didn’t stop them from braving a tough audience at the Prestonwood forum. The crowd erupted when local Republican candidates were introduced, but Democrats garnered only a smattering of applause from family and friends.

Let’s acknowledge that recruiting candidates is challenging under any circumstance. Recruiting candidates in races where they will be seriously out-financed and their odds of winning can be most generously described as “remote” is nigh impossible. As such, whatever happens this November, we should salute Rick Joosten and his team for a stellar job. The rapid growth in Collin County (2004 registered voters = 369,412; 2012 registered voters = 458,872) is an opportunity to reach out to voters who maybe aren’t cut from the same old cloth as well as a challenge to make sure they know they do have a choice and it does matter that they show up. Having a full slate of local candidates goes a long way towards that.

And Lord knows, the Collin County delegation has some varmints and miscreants in it. Barring something earth-shaking, this isn’t the cycle where any of them might get bounced, but we can put down some markers for what progress looks like. Here are the results for the last three Presidential elections in each of those five State Rep districts:


Dist   Kerry  Obama08  Obama12
==============================
33     22.9%    30.4%    26.4%
66     31.8%    40.2%    37.4%
67     31.0%    39.6%    37.2%
70     24.0%    32.6%    29.2%
89     26.4%    34.7%    31.7%

The same pattern holds countywide, where the Presidential number was 28.12% in 2004, 36.77% in 2008, and 33.49% in 2012. The two best-performing State Rep districts are about eight points out from their 2012 figures from being competitive, so the target needs to be at least 40% in the county for anyone to start paying attention. Candidate quality and specific issues come into play at some point, and additional ground can be made up with the right combination of the two or lost with the wrong combo. HDs 66 and 67 are unsurprisingly the most diverse of the five, but what’s interesting is that it’s the high percentage of “other” voters, which I read as being Asian, that is driving those numbers. That number is higher than the combined black plus Hispanic total in HD66, and it’s higher than each individually in HD67. Democrats have placed a lot of hope on the increasing number of Hispanic voters for its fortunes around the state, but the rapidly increasing Asian population can make a difference as well. I hope someone in Collin County is thinking about how that may apply to them. I’ll be sure to check back in November and see how it turned out.

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