Well, whatever happened in Travis Co. last Tuesday, you can't exactly call it "change." Yes, Austin and environs came to the polls in record numbers, but once there they behaved rather consistently; there are few great surprises, though more than a few interesting details, in the postmortem analysis. (Note: These numbers are based on the preliminary results; the unofficial final results, including provisional ballots, were released Monday.) Some highlights:
Normally, early voting produces between 30% and 40% of the total election turnout, and when the spectacular early-vote totals began to roll in, it was easy to contemplate total Travis Co. turnout of 85%. That, of course, did not happen; early and absentee voting ended up accounting for 62% of the total turnout. This ratio held more or less true across the county; early voting's share of total turnout ranged from 57% in the southeast (District 51) to 66% in the northwest (District 48). The variations in overall turnout were, unfortunately, what we've come to expect lowest in the east (districts 46 and 51), highest in the west (districts 47 and 48), and mixed in the central city and north (districts 49 and 50). The highest-turnout box in town, pleasantly enough, was one of the UT-campus precincts, but as a whole the boxes with supersized (over 75%) turnout were overwhelmingly in the west. Turnout in the three Texas House districts carried by John Kerry was substantially lower than in the three districts carried by President Bush.
How did Kerry carry Travis Co. by 14 points? Again, as per usual, the Democratic districts voted for their donkeys by huge, huge margins, while the GOP districts gave their elephants much more modest wins. (Even more modest than normal, in fact.) Voters in the most Dem districts were also the most likely to cast straight-party ballots. (And this big Hispanics-for-Bush surge is happening where, exactly? Not in districts 46 and 51.) Despite being from Austin and all, Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik did not exactly start a fire anywhere; in only seven boxes did he earn more votes than the margin separating the two big guys. Then again, Austin isn't exactly rich in swing voters of any kind; as the map shows, in more than half the boxes in Travis Co., the winner prevailed by more than 25%. Perhaps most surprising is how the genuine swing precincts cluster in a narrow corridor from north to south (basically between MoPac and Loop 360).
Not much to see here, but a few quirks: Rhett Smith actually did better in all-GOP District 47 than he did in the other two Republican districts, and for a congressional district that doesn't include any of East Austin, 46% is a more-than-acceptable showing for a Democrat. By contrast, in CD 10 Lorenzo Sadun suffered less from the inconvenience of casting a write-in vote than from not being on the straight-party Dem ticket, which would have earned him at least 30,000 more votes. (Kerry actually won the Travis Co. portion of CD 10.) As for CD 25, well, what to say about poor Rebecca "Armendariz!" Klein? She only topped 40% in one box. Even her neighbors voted against her she got less than 13% in her home precinct. The two big countywide races for sheriff and for 345th district judge basically tracked the presidential race, except for the presence of a Lib in the sheriff's contest, which held GOP contender Duane McNeill to even lower totals than other Republicans. (Along with Strama, Greg Hamilton peeled away ticket-splitters in District 50.) As for the judgeship, Patrick Keel's name ID and incumbency and bar support seem to have meant exactly squat; he ended up with fewer votes than Bush, despite there being no third-partiers in his race.
In District 48, Kelly White won more of those swing boxes than either Todd Baxter or John Kerry, and she handily won the boxes on the more urban eastern edge of the district. Unfortunately, White's best boxes tended to be lower in turnout than the all-Baxter western hills, and more than 1,500 people who voted for president did not cast a vote in the House race. So even though Baxter lost more than 2,300 Bush votes, White only picked up about 1,800 more votes than did Kerry, and the rest as we write this is history. A different story prevailed in District 50, where even though Mark Strama got fewer votes than Kerry, he profited from the presence of Libertarian Greg Knowles to nose past Jack Stick. District 50 is, of course, more swinging than District 48, with more parity in general and less extensive stretches of one-party territory. But compared to District 48, slightly higher turnout in Strama's good boxes, and slightly lower turnout in Stick's best precincts, also helped make the difference.
Again, the surprise here is the pattern that's not there: The rail referendum won in every House district, even District 47, despite a cluster of opposition in and around Circle C. (Admittedly, much of the transit-phobic southwest lies outside the Cap Metro service area; had the entire district been able to vote, the measure would probably have lost there.) Only in districts 47 and 51 did rail lose in more than one precinct; in District 49, it prevailed in all precincts. Most of the boxes that actually adjoin the rail line, as well as others in the urban core (for example, all of inner South Austin) voted for rail by sizable margins. It's notable, though, that the El Concilio boxes on the Eastside, and the boxes around Crestview/Wooten both fertile ground over the years for anti-rail sentiment were slightly less willing to support rail than were their neighbors.
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