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Q&A: Are Democrat winds blowing in Tarrant County?

Tarrant County, a Republican stronghold for years, saw a state senate seat flip to Democrats after a win by Wendy Davis over Kim Brimer in last night's election.

Davis, a former Fort Worth city councilwoman, won by almost 7,000 votes, or 2.6 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

Chris Turner was the only Tarrant County Democrat to win a House seat formerly held by a Republican -- with a 51 percent to 47 percent victory over incumbent Bill Zedler in the District 96 race, with 100 percent of the district's 53 precincts reporting. Libertarian Todd Litteken garnered 2 percent of the vote.

But in a battle for the District 97 seat, Republican challenger Mark Shelton beat out incumbent Democrat Dan Barrett, with 55 percent of the vote to 43 percent, with all 66 precincts reporting. Libertarian Rodney Wingo received 2 percent of the vote.

So are Democratic Party winds, or even a breeze, blowing in the county? The Star-Telegram asked Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University, for his red-eye observations this morning.

Did the election mean big changes for Tarrant County's political makeup?

I think that it was mostly static last night. There were some interesting elections, obviously. Most interesting in terms of change was the Wendy Davis defeat of Kim Brimer. And Mark Shelton taking back the seat Dan Barrett had won in a special election.

... In the three close elections, Democrats won two of the three. They lost one they already held. Maybe there's slight movement toward the Democrats. But the larger point is really the politics of the Metroplex really remained very stable last night.

Did the national scene and specifically the Barack Obama presidential win impact the county?

That may explain some of it, of course, if you have an energized electorate. But the simple reality is that (Sen. John) McCain won handily both in Tarrant County and statewide. So it's hard to think that the Obama campaign had much impact, certainly in North Central Texas.

So is there a revival for Texas Democrats?

No, I think that last night's election certainly is not (a revival). The demographic changes that are coming to Texas right now are going to inevitably change the political map. In what way it is going to change the political map remains to be seen. But last night's election was one where the Republicans firmly held the state. They still have every statewide office.

In terms of the senate, it looked to me the only flip in the entire state was the Wendy Davis win over Brimer.

Why did Davis win?

For one thing, both candidates ran very solid campaigns. ... I think there were two things. One, I think the district is different now than it was four years ago. Two is, she was a much stronger opponent for Brimer than he had four years ago. Then three, some of the characteristics of the two campaigns had something to do with it. Brimer's (legal) attempt to get her off ballot was something that some voters saw as not wanting to have a political opponent and that might have worked against him a little bit.

Again in a close election, any number of those kinds of things could make a difference in the outcome.

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