A Place for Democrats

In the new spirit of bipartisanship, perhaps we should let the GOP establish colonies in Central, East, and Southeast Austin. Only this may give the R's a fighting chance of taking Travis County away from the Democrats. Travis now has six state House seats, and three belong to each party. House districts are all about the same size, and the GOP districts have higher turnout. So a countywide race should be a lot closer than the margins seen Nov. 5, when many Dems won with margins of 10 to 20 points. No wonder Travis Co. GOP leaders were unsure whether to celebrate on Election Night.

What we have is not a centrist consensus, but a county polarized into starkly different halves, one firmly but not obsessively Republican, the other rabidly and irrevocably Democrat. As we've seen in Austin city races, it doesn't matter how many boxes of suburban right-leaners see high turnout when their central and Eastside counterparts vote for the leftie by 6-to-1 margins. Witness the Travis results in the U.S. Senate race. Ron Kirk lost the three GOP House districts by 4 points, 8 points, and 7 points. He won the three Dem districts by 42 points, 48.5 points, and 51 points. How one governs a place like this is anyone's guess, which may be why new and elevated local GOPers -- Gerald Daugherty, Todd Baxter, Jack Stick -- are striking men-of-reason poses. Some other points worth pondering in the Nov. 5 numbers:

Turnout: Wherever the new Hispanic voters for Tony Sanchez were, they weren't here, although the 29% turnout in majority-Latino Dist. 51 (compared to 40% countywide) is not bad -- in past elections, we've seen turnout in the southeast of less than half the countywide average. But relative turnout was the same as it ever was, increasing as you move from east to west and south to north across the county.

Early Voting: If anyone got "new voters," it may have been the Greens and Libertarians -- both commanded relatively higher shares of the Election Day vote. Were it not for them, the early-vote and E-Day numbers would be almost exactly the same, both in quantity and party split. Typically, the early vote is less than 40% of the total and skews to the right -- because the Dems get out their troops on Election Day. No such thing happened this time.

Mayor Wonderful vs. Tony the Terrible: Gosh, could it be that people simply don't like Tony Sanchez? In the top-ballot races, the only Dems to do worse than the $60 Million Man were Marty Akins and Tom Ramsay -- one a fool, the other quite decent, but both running against GOP (female) incumbents who happen to be from Austin. Not only did Sanchez suffer 20-point blowouts in the three GOP districts, he lost votes in the three Dem districts -- even in Dist. 51 -- to the third parties, which in this case was mostly Green candidate Rahul Mahajan (also of Austin). And don't think the local-hero angle doesn't matter in our politically sophisticated environs: The only Democrat (other than John Sharp) to win in each of the six House districts was Kirk Watson.

Purely Party: Countywide, in the five contests we've averaged into "other statewide races," Sharp and Carole Keeton Rylander (one D, one R) scored big wins, David Bernsen and Susan Combs (again one D, one R) scored smaller but still significant wins, and Sherry Boyles (D) eked out an under-50% victory over Michael Williams (R). So the five average out into a useful generic-party benchmark, and look how closely these Dem results track Tony Sanchez and his magic bank account. In other words, the famed yellow dog could have done about the same, at a much lower price. In each district more than a third, and in Dist. 46 a full half, of the voters went straight-party, and those results likewise track the trend -- although Dems are more likely to do the one-stop.

Greens and Libertarians: In the State Board of Education Dist. 10 race, which lacked a Democrat, Lesley Ramsey pulled more actual votes (in a district that covers only about 60% of the county) than any of the winning state reps. (Ramsey could have won in Dist. 46 but for the straight-party Dems; more than a third of the voters cast no vote in the race.) Local Green Brad Rockwell -- the current counsel for the Save Our Springs Alliance -- pulled the highest numbers of a Green or Lib in a three-party countywide race. The Greens' support is geographically linked to the Dems, whereas the Libs are about the same countywide. (The Libs did well in Dist. 51 in the five "other statewide races," perhaps because their candidates in three of the five races were Hispanic, compared to one for the Greens and none for the major parties.) Which makes one wonder why the Greens didn't run more candidates in the local races.

To see a breakdown of Travis County voting click here.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Travis County, election, vote analysis, Ron Kirk, Tony Sanchez, Green Party, Libertarian Party, Rahul Mahajan, Kirk Watson, Lesley Ramsey, Brad Rockwell

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