A Dark Day for Dems
Call it the Bush Bounce, the Boom Dividend, the Spring-Break Syndrome, or the Blustery Election Day, but one thing is certain: If the March 14 primary is any indication, Greater Austin has become a bona fide two-party town. Since there wasn't much to look at in the returns within individual primary contests -- for example, neither House District 48 challenger Mandy Dealey nor District 50 aspirant Stella Roland won a single box -- the real news was to be found in the strong, across-the-board Republican turnout (see chart).
It's always hard to talk about party strength in Texas, since voters register without identifying their party affiliation. All you have to go on is how many people vote in each major party's primary every two years, a statistic that isn't always very reliable. For example, you could have really crappy weather on Election Day, which will typically depress Democratic turnout. (Republicans are more likely to vote early.) Or the election could fall during spring break, which has the same effect. Or you could have a homeboy (hey, if Papa Doc can be a Texan, then Baby Doc can be an Austinite) running for president and leading his flock like sheep to the polls, even after their votes were no longer necessary.
All of those were true this year, which is part of the reason that 12,265 more people found their way to the Republican side of the polling locations. That's only 2.3% of the registered voters in Travis County, but it represented a nearly 15% margin among the votes cast on March 14 -- enough to swing any competitive contest, if there are indeed such things on the general election ballot in November.
Now, there's also this boom factor at work -- Travis County is becoming larger, and the non-Austin fringes are giving the prog-leftoids in the urban core a run for their political money. But note, if you will, that the Dems outpolled the GOP in the 41 traditionally progressive central city boxes by a not-very-robust margin. This is likely because turnout in the central city was actually lower than the countywide average, which typically does not happen. (Spring break again, though UT students are notoriously bad about voting in any circumstances.)
The real Democratic stronghold is, unsurprisingly, the predominantly African-American boxes in East Travis County, which turned out in unusual strength on March 14. The predominantly Mexican-American South/Southeast, however, split only narrowly for the Democrats, which may suggest that this Bush-habla-Español thing is working. (Especially considering there wasn't any Republican ballot action in the races local to the Southeast, for the Pct. 4 constable or for District 51 in the House.)
All this business gets scary for Ann Kitchen, the only non-incumbent Dem on the November House ballot, who's running in a district where Republicans outvoted Democrats by almost 10 percentage points. (Elliott Naishtat's veteran status is probably enough to overcome the slight R advantage in his district.) It must also give pause to Karen Sonleitner, should she run again for county commissioner in 2002, since her precinct went Republican by a huge margin. (Despite the hype about Southwest Travis County being the GOP's beachhead, the Northwest is even better pasture for Pachyderms.)
But even well-favored Dems like the well-marketed Gisela Triana (the incumbent judge over at Travis County Court-at-Law No. 5) will be crying in their margaritas come November if the Democratic Party does not learn how to spell t-u-r-n-o-u-t. Note the three lines at the bottom of the chart: In the high-turnout boxes -- those where turnout was higher than the 15.7% countywide average -- the Republicans held a substantial advantage. They held an even better edge, naturally, in those boxes where GOP turnout was higher than the Travis County average. But the Democrats cannot say the same; even in the boxes with higher-than-average Dem turnout, the Republicans were not very far behind. Maybe Becky Motal wasn't such an inept GOP leader after all.
Now, we're far from the state of affairs in Williamson County, where there were 12 Republicans for every Democrat on March 14. And it's guaranteed that some of those R's will cross over to vote for people like Triana or Kitchen in November. But it's not a guarantee on which you should build a budding political career. Democratic consultants! Do the initials "GOTV" mean anything to you?