Who Are All These Voters?

Turnout surge shifts ground (a wee bit) under congressional races

Conventional wisdom is never an easy hurdle to clear, but one has to wonder: What does the explosive voter turnout in Texas thus far during early voting mean for the Central Texas congressional races? We're still putting our money on the CW – that is, districts gerrymandered by Tom DeLay to elect Republicans will do just that. Still, another bit of CW is that increased turnout favors Democrats, so there could be at least faint – and not entirely unreasonable – glimmers of hope for the donkeys.

Voter turnout in Travis Co. has been downright nuts – as of Monday night, almost 22% of registered voters had cast ballots, a number that already exceeds total turnout for a typical Austin City Council election. Continuing at that pace, 75% turnout is not unthinkable. That likely means that Lloyd Doggett is an even a bigger shoo-in in the CD 25 race against Rebecca "Armendariz!" Klein, thoroughly foiling one major DeLay goal.

In CD 21 and CD 10, both Dems are banking heavily on high turnout from Austinites. In order to kill off Doggett, DeLay redrew Lamar Smith's CD 21 – which already included western Travis Co. – to pull in central Austin boxes all the way to the UT campus. That's a lot of liberals, who likely will go for Dem challenger Rhett Smith, but probably not enough to offset the solid Republican boxes that stretch from far west Austin all the way down to San Antonio.

The new CD 10 (like CD 25) is weighted like a barbell, with heavy populations in northeast Travis and northwest Harris counties holding most of the votes. High Austin turnout could help Democrat Lorenzo Sadun, but his biggest obstacle is that many voters won't know he exists – he is a write-in candidate, so his name doesn't appear on the ballot. The names of Republican Michael McCaul and Libertarian Robert Fritsche do, giving them an obvious leg up (see sidebar for write-in voting instructions).

Increased turnout could be either good or bad for Cedar Park Democrat Jon Porter, who is challenging Republican John Carter for CD 31. Many of the counties in 31 formerly belonged to Chet Edwards' district, showing that rural and Fort Hood families are perfectly willing to support a Democrat – in fact, Milam Co., with a strong union presence due to the Alcoa aluminum facility, has long supported conservative Dems. But the population anchor of the district is Williamson Co., fiercely Republican for some time now – and if Williamson voters flood the polls, Porter may be doomed.

Porter and Sadun have vociferously complained that Carter and McCaul have refused to debate them, and to our knowledge, the two Smiths have never faced off. However, voters in the CD 31 race should have seen that situation remedied by the time this article is published – at press time, Porter and Carter were scheduled for short debates in Temple and Round Rock (see austinchronicle.com for coverage of the Round Rock debate, which was held Wednesday night). Carter spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said the rep has been in D.C. working on the appropriations bill and has not had time to meet Porter. Phone calls to McCaul and Lamar Smith were not returned by deadline.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Redistricting, Jon Porter, Lorenzo Sadun, Rhett Smith, Lloyd Doggett, Rebecca Armendariz Klein, John Carter, Lamar Smith, Michael McCaul, Robert Fritsche, Gretchen Hamel, Chet Edwards

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