Election Notes

(Caucus count still in progress)

Presidential Primary District by District

The Texas Democratic Party's system of dividing up the 126 presidential delegates up for grabs at the polls is a bit complicated. Each of Texas' 31 senatorial districts was preassigned a number of delegates, based on Democratic turnout in the past two general elections – ranging from the eight given to Kirk Watson's District 14 down to the two assigned to Republican Kel Selinger's District 31.

The delegates are then divided up according to the vote within each district, meaning Tuesday's primary was actually 31 separate contests. Clinton won the districts shown in gray; Obama won the red.

In 13 of the 31 districts, the delegates just split (reflected here by the zeroes). But the other numbers reflect the delegate edge that candidate got – i.e., District 14 provided five delegates for Obama and three for Clinton, giving Obama a +2 edge. It's pretty clear that demographic predictions for each candidate come true: Latinos and rural voters went for Clinton, while urban areas supported Obama. Dallas, Houston, and Austin gave Obama a pickup of nine delegates, but Clinton was able to respond with an eight-delegate pickup along the border, plus four more on the plains and Hill Country and two in East Texas.

Senate DistrictVOTE % H.C.-B.O.Delegates H.C.-B.O.
Total Delegates Won65-61

Michelle Obama fired up voters with her appearance in Austin.
Michelle Obama fired up voters with her appearance in Austin. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Presidential Race: Austin Loves Obama

For Austin Democrats, the national presidential contest became excitingly local on election day. Neighbors and friends turned out in record numbers to vote, then to caucus, then together to watch the primary results emerge on TV. Austin fell hard for Obama: In the total counts early Wednesday morning, Travis County had voted nearly 63% for Barack Obama vs. 37% for Hillary Clinton (although, as elsewhere in Texas, Clinton made up ground over early voting on election day). Behind the broad statistics were ordinary Austinites, each casting an individual vote for reasons as personal as political.

The Caucuses: 'Beyond Belief!'

"This is just so exciting!" exclaimed Stuart Hersh of the caucus turnout for Precinct 462. "It's just beyond belief!"

Like other precincts around town, Precinct 126 saw hundreds of voters turn up at David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in East Austin to caucus after the polls closed Tuesday.
Like other precincts around town, Precinct 126 saw hundreds of voters turn up at David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in East Austin to caucus after the polls closed Tuesday. (Photo by Roxanne Jo Mitchell)

At 7pm on election night, the primary voting had ended at the South Lamar polling place, and the Dem caucus line soon grew to curve around the parking lot, where the mood of the 78704 Dems gathered in the cool evening air was patient, even celebratory. Said Hersh, "It's nice to be out with your neighbors, and people are all so friendly and enthusiastic." By contrast, senior Frances Horton was not at all happy about having to vote twice. "Why make our first vote only count two-thirds or less? What's it for? I think it's terrible."

Gloria Archuleta chatted with neighbors about her decision to support Clinton after John Edwards dropped out. A lawyer voting in her first Texas election, Archuleta said she'd spent hours researching the candidates – she'd decided Hillary has more substance: "It's not about making history; it should be about who's the best person for the job." What had finally swayed her for Hillary, she half-joked, was that she'd been so much warmer and nicer in person at last week's Texas Democratic Party debate-watching party at the Hyatt. And Chelsea had been so pretty!

In the end, the Precinct 462 caucus went 75.5% for Obama, 24.5% for Hillary – yielding a neat split for its 24 delegates. Rich Herzog, a precinct chair, noted that in the 2004 primary, the same caucus had attracted only three other voters. The final precinct caucus tally tonight: a record-breaking 200 participants.

Danny Bennett said he was motivated to show up and caucus by memories of Al Gore's dishearteningly close loss to George Bush in the 2000 presidential campaign. "I feel like I have an unusual amount of influence in this one, based on how close the voting is. I feel more empowered, like it matters more. It could be a real squeaker!" – Katherine Gregor

Early VotingElection DayTotal
Hillary Clinton612,726 (47.7%)840,413 (53.4%)1,453,139 (50.8%)
Barack Obama648,630 (50.5%)706,042 (44.8%)1,354,672 (47.4%)

Garten Party: Texans for Obama

Council Members Mike Martinez (l) and Lee Leffingwell took in the Obama
party at Scholz
Council Members Mike Martinez (l) and Lee Leffingwell took in the Obama party at Scholz (Photo by Katherine Gregor)

By 9pm at Scholz Garten, Austin political and sports fans had merged into one high-energy party. The Texans for Obama watched election returns alongside a celebratory contingent of burnt-orange-clad basketball fans, fresh from attending the Texas Longhorns' 70-66 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers two blocks away. Sport as politics, politics as sport; after a few beers, it appeared all the same to many revelers.

Watching as the Texas election score became a 49% to 49% nail-biter at 9:30pm was the inevitable duo of Council Members Mike Martinez and Lee Leffingwell. Each had voted at his neighborhood caucus prior to heading over to the politically storied beer garden. Joining them was Mayor Will Wynn, escorted by a lovely blonde from Dallas. Leffingwell and former Wynn aide Matt Curtis reminisced about first meeting Obama during his Senate race, in Garry Mauro's back yard on a scorching hot summer afternoon. "I thought he was one of the best speakers I'd ever heard," said Leffingwell. "For the first time in my life – and I was raised in politics – listening to a candidate speak made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck," Curtis recalled.

Inside Scholz's, Blanton Museum of Art curator Annette Carlozzi shared her decision-making process. "For a while, I thought I had to vote for Hillary," she said. But then she'd focused on the respective cabinets that Clinton and Obama might assemble: "I thought an Obama cabinet would be a new group, one that might offer some new solutions." Her other main concern: "How the world looks at the U.S. right now. Without question, other countries will be excited and embracing of the U.S. for having chosen him. He represents a willingness to reconsider past diplomatic decisions." – K.G.

Hillary Clinton, at a rally Monday at the Burger Center, was joined onstage by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, actor Ted Danson, and daughter Chelsea.
Hillary Clinton, at a rally Monday at the Burger Center, was joined onstage by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, actor Ted Danson, and daughter Chelsea. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Clinton's Clan: Hill's Goes Hillary

The die-hard enthusiasm of Clinton supporters hadn't waned even slightly at 11pm. They chanted and cheered her narrow Texas lead from the roadhouse-style patio at Hill's Cafe on far South Congress. A "Hillary for President" sign was juxtaposed with another: "Hippies – Use Side Door." This crowd was sharp and sophisticated, as belied by the knowing responses to each reference in the New York senator's live televised speech celebrating her Ohio victory.

In fact, many of the jubilant weren't Austin­ites – they'd flown in from California, Massa­chu­setts, New York, and other states to get out the Texas vote for Hillary. Nancy Fields had just arrived from L.A.; she'd spent the day working at nearby Odom Elementary School, delighted by the campaign-financed mariachi band and the free tacos. (The Obama campaign had complained, until admitting they'd given away free cookies earlier.) Fields glowed with the thrill of seeing Clinton take Texas. She regards her candidate as immensely more qualified: "She's got the diplomatic skills. She's represented us in 80 countries abroad. As president, she's going to be able to get her initiatives through Con­gress, because she's already built the relationships on both sides of the aisle."

Voter Gonzalo Barrientos signs in for Clinton
Voter Gonzalo Barrientos signs in for Clinton (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Nearby, a group of stylish young men sported "Out for Hillary" buttons. M.G. Gallegos was part of a contingent of flight attendants who use their days off (and standby privileges) to fly around the country working for the Clinton campaign. Gallegos said Clinton had won their loyalty by authoring Senate Bill 2059, to provide Family and Medical Leave Act benefits to flight attendants. The son of immigrants, Gallegos argued, "President Clinton did an amazing job of supporting the Latino community. Hillary has, too. Obama has done nothing."

Among familiar Austin faces were former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and Council Member Jennifer Kim. Another pro-Hillary local was Avery Upton; as an African-American man, he'd crossed racial lines to vote for Clinton over Obama because he trusts "production over potential." But mostly, he was passionate about exercising his right to vote, especially after living overseas. "Texas is having such a major influence on national politics," Upton enthused. "It may never happen quite like this again." – K.G.

*Oops! The following correction ran in the March 14, 2008 issue: In last week's election coverage, a photo caption accompanying the story "Clinton's Clan: Hill's Goes Hillary," misidentified the venue of Clinton's appearance. She was at a rally at the Toney Burger Center. The Chronicle regrets the error.

Council Member Jennifer Kim and Gilbert Davila headed for the Hill’s Cafe to celebrate Clinton's Texas victory
Council Member Jennifer Kim and Gilbert Davila headed for the Hill’s Cafe to celebrate Clinton's Texas victory (Photo by Katherine Gregor)

An overflow crowd lines up to caucus at one of the city's largest precincts (Pcts. 266 & 277 combined), west of the UT campus off of 29th Street.
An overflow crowd lines up to caucus at one of the city's largest precincts (Pcts. 266 & 277 combined), west of the UT campus off of 29th Street. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

A Split Decision

So who won Austin? Barack Obama.

The presidential primary race boils down to who wins the most preassigned delegates in each of Texas' 31 senatorial districts. Kirk Watson's District 14 comprises most of Travis County and was the biggest prize of the night, with eight delegates – the most of any state district. (Delegate allotments per district were predetermined, based on Democratic turnout in the past two general elections.) Obama took 63% of the vote in this district, good for five of those eight delegates. A small sliver of southern Travis Co. is included in Jeff Went­worth's District 25, which extends down to northern San Antonio. Obama also won that district, with 54% of the vote, which resulted in a three-three delegate split with Hillary Clinton. Clinton won Texas overall, at least in the day's voting. Clinton's majority was a bare 50.9%, but because of minimal voting for long-withdrawn candidates Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson, Obama's percentage was only 47.4%. As of Wednesday morning, that translated into a 65-61 delegate win for Clinton.

Also intriguing, Obama won the early voting by 3%, while Clinton won day of election voting by 8.5% – a late swing that may portend the battles to come.

With the precinct convention totals still being calculated (and the process incomplete until county and state conventions), it would appear that the final, overall Texas delegate race remains too close to call. – Lee Nichols

*Oops! The following correction ran in the March 14, 2008 issue: In last week's coverage of the presidential primary election, a cutline for an accompanying photo of a crowd of convention participants misidentified the precinct. The photo was of voters in the West Austin precincts of 266 and 277. The Chronicle regrets the error.

The Gang's All Here

Forget, for the moment, who wins or loses – the real story of this election thus far is the incredible participation. It was absolutely insane. If nobody knew what a precinct caucus was before this election, they damn sure do now. I'd estimate about 500 people showed up at my Precinct 242 (the Crestview neighborhood and half of Brentwood), and it was nuts. We had to wait until about 8pm for the last voter to finish and didn't start the sign-up sheets until 8:15 or so. Similar numbers were reported around town. I just signed the sheet and left as early as I could – more races to cover – but I'd guess they didn't get everyone signed in until 9:30pm, after which they had to start the process of selecting my neighborhood's 91 delegates and 91 alternates to the county convention. I participated in the same caucus four years ago (after Kerry had already clinched the nomination), and there were about 30 of us there. – L.N.

Quack for Barack

Obama may have lost the Texas primary, but he won a sweeter victory: the Quack's on 43rd presidential cookie sale. The final tally, as posted at 7:30am on March 5: 646 Obama "O"s sold, to 370 Clinton "H"s. That's 63.6%, eerily close to his countywide margin in that other election. – Richard Whittaker

U.S. Senate: Ship of Fools

Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie crowed that Tuesday was "a great night for Texas Democrats," but you could argue that it was also a pathetic one. Why? Once again, perennial faux candidate Gene Kelly put his famous name on the Democratic ballot, and once again, hundreds of thousands voted for him – apparently because they can't tell the difference between him and the dead dancer. Kelly's voters nearly put the real Democratic U.S. Senate candidate into a run-off. He probably won't relax until the very last precincts come in, but with 99.83% counted, it appears that Houston state Rep. Rick Noriega has avoided a run-off in his Democratic primary bid for U.S. Senate, with a slim 50.97% majority.

Noriega needs to save precious campaign funds in order to tackle incumbent Republican John Cornyn in the fall. Predictably, Noriega's run to the nomination was almost tripped up not by Corpus Christi schoolteacher Ray McMurrey, a good debater who billed himself as the "progressive alternative," but rather by perennial candidate Kelly, who won 27% of the vote. Another perennial candidate, San Antonio's Rhett Smith, got 10%. Noriega avoided a fate similar to Barbara Ann Radnofsky, whose 2006 challenge to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was slowed when Kelly forced her into a run-off. – L.N.

Commissioners Court: It's Karen Huber

Karen Huber pulled out a win (62% to 38%) in the Precinct 3 Democratic primary and will face incumbent Commissioner Gerald Daugherty in the general election this fall. "I'm hearing things from the voters that are in sync with the reasons why we're running," Huber said. "People want a new direction in Travis County."

Huber's opponent was Albert Gonzales, who is now accusing Democratic Party officials of recruiting Huber, a former Republican, because "they didn't think a Hispanic could win in southwest Travis County." "That's news to me," said Huber. "I've never heard any of that spoken before."

Huber says her priorities will include some of the items that came out of the southwest dialogue but remain unaddressed, such as a countywide transportation plan that would manage west-side growth. "I think we have to be more responsible when it comes to growth. We've got water-quality and water-availability issues, as well as infrastructure issues out here," Huber said. "That's a symptom of what needs to be addressed by [the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization]. We're looking at symptoms and not the causes of that growth, and we need to have a plan to deal with growth and the costs it will pass along to taxpayers into the future." – Kimberly Reeves

Railroad Commission: Dark Horse Run-off

Here's something you rarely see in a statewide race: A so-called "also-ran" candidate (so designated by us geniuses in the media) took the most votes in a three-way race for the Texas Railroad Commission. Mark Thompson, whose candidacy garnered few words in Texas newspapers (including this one), came close to winning the race outright, with more than 48% of the vote. Thompson will face second-place Dale Henry in a run-off, with the latter entering the showdown with 28%. The presumptive front-runner, former San Antonio City Council Member Art Hall (who won most of the big daily endorsements) is left empty-handed, in third place. Thompson, a disability-rights advocate, is probably as surprised as anyone by his performance. Campaign filings with the Texas Ethics Commission show Thompson raised no money and spent $150 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 24. Should Thompson go on to win the Democratic nomination, he'll face the GOP Railroad Commission Chair Michael Williams, who's never met an oil and gas PAC he doesn't like. – Amy Smith

GOP Tussles: A Travis County handful

Along with all the Democrat-on-Democrat races, there was a smattering of contested Republican primaries in Travis County. While Sen. John McCain has now secured enough delegates to take the Republican presidential nomination, he was one of 10 names in that race and scarcely managed a 52% majority. Notably, Mike Huckabee took just 27% of the local vote, compared to his 38% statewide, and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul got 17%, more than triple his statewide total. Downballot, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn dispatched biblical literalist and onetime Gov. Rick Perry opponent Larry Kilgore. Leander Independent School District trustee Pamela Waggoner beat out emergency physician Joseph Donnelly to face Democratic Rep. Donna Howard in House District 48 in November.

But just to confirm the image of Austin as a Democratic stronghold, 41,067 voters turned out for the GOP primary, compared to 186,426 Democrats. – R.W.

Tom Craddick
Tom Craddick (Photo by John Anderson)

The Craddick Wars: Mixed Results

If the primaries were in part a referendum on House Speaker Tom Craddick (and those Democratic reps seen as too close to him), the results were mixed. While Dawnna Dukes pummeled challenger Brian Thompson (who ran much of his campaign on claims of links between the two) in East Austin, there were closer races in Hidalgo County for accused Craddick cohorts. Incumbent Aaron Peña defeated Eddie Saenz in House District 40 by six percentage points, while Kino Flores edged challenger Sandra Rodriguez in HD 36 by only four. The big prize of the night for opponents of the speaker was the defeat in HD 140 of Kevin Bailey, by former congressional staffer Armando Lucio Walle. Early voting looked to have sealed the deal for the incumbent with 54% to the challenger's 46%; on election day, Walle reversed the count, scooping the nomination with 57% of the vote and no Republican opposition in November.

The orthodoxy test of loyalty to Craddick was not restricted to Democrats: Among the major Craddick-backing Republicans facing challenges, Charles "Doc" Anderson (HD 56) and Charlie Howard (HD 26) comfortably dispatched their opponents, but freshman rep Nathan Macias in Bulverde was dragged down to the wire by Doug Miller, the former mayor of New Braunfels, and wound up losing by 0.13%.

Several Republicans who had taken a public stand against Craddick faced challenges themselves. Corsicana's Byron Cook, along with Jim Keffer, had requested an attorney general's opinion on the limits of Craddick's powers: Tuesday he defeated Bobby Vickery by a better than 2-to-1 majority. Similarly, Craddick critics Delwin Jones (HD 83) and Charlie Geren (HD 99) defeated opponents by double digits. But El Paso's Pat Haggerty, who lead the quorum-busting walkout against Craddick last session, has lost his place to Dee Margo, a Rick Perry-endorsed businessman who lost to Democratic state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh in 2006. And 13-term legislator Al Edwards, who lost his District 146 job to Borris Miles in 2006 in part due to his closeness to Craddick, got it back Tuesday night, with 61% of the vote.

The balance of House power may in the end come down to Odessa, where retired state District Judge Tryon Lewis leads incumbent Buddy West 44%-38% in a four-way race, forcing a run-off on April 8. – R.W.

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