February 29, 2019

Blue Wave Warning

Texas Democrats Drub GOP in Early Primary Vote in Major Counties
Where Fight to Take State House Back Will Be Waged in November

MIKE HAILEY

The Republicans could be on the brink of kissing their Texas House majority goodbye based on the Democrats' dominance in the early primary vote in the major population centers where the battle for control of the Capitol's west wing will be won and lost this fall.

A Democratic statewide turnout surge on the final day of the early voting period that ended on Friday has to have the GOP more concerned than ever about President Donald Trump's prospects for losing the Lone Star State in November.

The most glaring cause for alarm for the Republicans who've ruled the state for the past two decades can be found in the once-solid red bastion of Tarrant County where more Democrats voted early in the run up to the Super Tuesday primary election three days from now. The GOP had the lead in Tarrant County in the early vote before 500 more Democratic ballots were fielded there on Friday.

The GOP led the Democrats with 52 percent of the overall early vote around the state. Almost 1.1 million Texans cast ballots in the Republican primary in the first 11 days of the first-round election compared to slightly more than 1 million early votes for the Democrats.

But Democrats accounted for 60 percent of the early primary vote in the nine Texas counties where the state House majority will be decided with three dozen races that the major parties are targeting to various degrees on the general election ballot in 2020. Democrats who picked up a dozen House seats in the last election cycle could seize the wheel in the Legislature's lower chamber for the first since 2003 with a net gain of nine seats in November.

A Capitol Inside analysis of the early ballot count that Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs' office compiled shows that the early Democratic vote was up 77 percent in the nine counties in question while dropping 22 percent for the GOP in those areas.

Nearly 551,000 Texans voted early in the Democratic primary election in the nine counties at the heart of the Texas House battlefield this year. Fewer than 429,000 ballots were submitted early in the mail or in person in the same locations during the past two weeks.

That represents a dramatic partisan shift from the last presidential election in 2016 when the GOP accounted for 66 percent of the early ballot count in the nine House battleground counties that are based in the Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin areas.

The Democratic early vote was 62 percent higher this month than it had been in 2016 in Harris County where eight House seats will be on the line this fall in swing districts including four that are among the most vulnerable to partisan takeovers. Early Republican voting fell 20 percent in the Texas county with the largest population.

Seven districts that are pivotal in the House majority battle are located in Dallas County where the early Democratic primary vote jumped 64 percent compared to 2016 while plunging 36 percent across the aisle.

The early ballot tally soared 78 percent for the Democrats in Travis County where the GOP will be attempting to take House seats back in a pair of districts that flipped from red to blue in 2018. The early GOP vote in Travis County tumbled 29 percent.

The early vote was up 128 percent for the Democrats and down 26 percent for the Republicans in Williamson County where the GOP will be fighting this fall to reclaim two House seats that turned blue in 2018. Democrats accounted for almost 61 percent of the early vote in Williamson County this month after 2.5 times more Republicans voted there before the 2016 primary election.

But the most troubling gains for the Democrats in the early vote competition in 2020 arguably came in Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties that had been Republican strongholds before Trump's emergence as the GOP's leader four years ago.

Republicans had accounted for more than three-fourths of the early primary vote in Denton and Collin counties in 2016. While 55 percent of the early votes in Denton County this time around were cast in the GOP primary, the Democrats almost pulled even with the Republicans in Collin County on Friday.

Republicans cast 50.4 percent of the early vote in Collin County this month. But Democrats more than offset that when they accounted for 50.4 percent of the early Tarrant County vote for the upcoming primary election.

Democrats think they have a shot at four House seats that the GOP will attempt to defend in Tarrant County this fall. The major parties will be doing battle for five House seats in Collin and Denton counties in districts that have the potential to change colors this fall.

Mike Hailey's column appears on a regular basis in Capitol Inside

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

Mike Hailey presents state politics with a personal touch. He's the only Texas Capitol journalist who's been to the dark side and back - having worked for two major newspaper bureaus before signing on as press secretary for Bob Bullock - the most powerful and legendary political leader of his time in the state. Hailey's Comment, which is published in Capitol Inside on a regular basis, is a direct reflection of that experience.

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