Elections

Texas Republicans believe they squashed the blue wave. Democrats say 2018 isn't over yet

A federal judge has ruled that Texas violated the federal National Voter Registration Act. The fix he orders could introduce the state's first online voter registration system.
A federal judge has ruled that Texas violated the federal National Voter Registration Act. The fix he orders could introduce the state's first online voter registration system. Star-Telegram archives

Maybe it was a ripple.

The blue wave many thought could hit Texas this primary election clearly didn't materialize, but Democrats did turn out to vote, drawing their largest turnout in a non-presidential primary — more than 1 million voters — in decades.

As Democrats hold out hope that the wave will still sweep some in the majority party out of office come November, Republicans say it's not going to happen, at least not here.

"There is no wave, not in the state of Texas," said Tim O'Hare, who heads the Tarrant County Republican Party. "It's wishful thinking or reading something into something that isn't there.

"It's really simple. Texas is a pro-life state, it's a pro-God state, it's a pro-jobs state and a pro-gun state," he said. "Democrats are the antithesis of all those things and people in Texas know that. That's why they are going to continue to vote Republican."

Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah People disagrees.

Yes, fewer Democrats than Republicans voted in the primary this year, despite growing activism and continued frustration with Republican President Donald Trump.

But the Democratic turnout this year was double what it was in the last midterm election in Texas and in Tarrant County, one of the reddest areas in the country.

And even larger crowds should turn out in November.

"I absolutely think a blue wave is coming," Peoples said. "I think the first step is making Democrats believe. We had such a long time where we didn't get folks out to vote.

"The bump we had this year is the first part about getting ready for November," she said. "I think we are going to see some nice things in November."

Texans in both parties have a chance to head to the polls May 22 for runoff elections.

Election Day impact

Many across the country watched Texas this year to see what happened in the first primary in the country.

Democrats gained an edge in early voting, as more turned out to vote than did Republicans, giving many the idea that a blue wave could be on the way.

“There is no doubt right now the extreme left is energized," Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said. "They are angry. They hate the president."

Many Republicans posted on social media that they were busy working during early voting, but would show up at the polls on Election Day.

And they did — in mass.

By the time the polls closed, Republicans had cast a total of 1.5 million votes, nearly 700,000 of those on election day alone, to the 1 million cast by Democrats.

That included nearly 110,000 Republicans and more than 75,000 Democrats in Tarrant County, election records show.

"Democratic enthusiasm was higher than it has been for almost two decades but the number of Republicans is still higher," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. "For Democrats, they are still building their base and encouraging non-voting Democrats to vote in the primary.

"The Republicans have hit a ceiling on the number of registered Republicans meaning their growth is modest but their ceiling is higher."

Political observers caution that turnout in March, which may have been impacted by some voters crossing over to vote in the opposite primary, does not determine what happens in November.

"More participation in the primary doesn't mean those candidates will win in the fall," Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU, has said. "(March) is the time to nominate candidates. They will be elected in November.

"Will the enthusiasm carry over to the fall? Or will it change?"

Moving ahead

The 2018 turnout for both parties was greater than it was in the most recent midterm primary four years ago, when 1.3 million Republicans and 510,000 Democrats went to the polls.

This year saw the highest Democratic primary turnout in Texas since 1994, when more than 1 million Democrats headed to the polls.

O'Hare said he believes Republicans will again prevail in November.

"You're not going to see low turnout in November from Republicans," he said. "You will see a huge turnout."

Democrats haven't won a statewide office since 1994, the longest losing streak in the country.

But they aren't aren't giving up, particularly on Tarrant County, the largest urban area in Texas that remains reliably Republican.

In fact, the Texas Democratic Party is holding its every-other-year state convention in the heart of Cowtown this year, at the Fort Worth Convention Center June 21-23.

"Coming this November, I believe we are going to see some wins in Tarrant County and it's not the predictable wins," Peoples said. "I believe there will be a blue wave."

Different expectations

In the meantime, voters will head to the polls in May to weigh in on Republican and Democrat primary runoffs.

After that, they'll head to the polls to pick the final winners in these races in the Nov. 6 general election.

"It's clear that Texas Democrats are fired up, exceeding expectations and charging forward to November," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said. "If everyone that showed up to vote during the primary brings one or two friends in November, we win this."

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick doesn't think that's going to happen.

“We have been hearing for weeks in Texas and across the country that a great ‘blue wave’ was coming to Texas,” he said after the primary election. "But the votes have been counted and we know that so-called 'blue wave' never made landfall."

“We have been assaulted with predictions that our great state is trending Democrat," he said. "Texas is a bright red state with an engaged conservative majority who are committed to keeping Texas on a conservative path.”

O'Hare wonders why anyone would consider anything different.

"There is no reason for Texans to make a change," he said. "Texas is thriving."

But Peoples cautions that change is already under way.

The primary, she said, "put a stake in the ground to show" that.

"People are starting to believe it can happen and that's always important in the process," she said.

Coming up

Four years ago, during the most recent midterm general election, more than 4.6 million Texans cast ballots.

No one knows how many Texas voters will head to the polls this year.

But already, the House Majority PAC, which helps U.S. House Democrats in election bids, has reserved $43 million of TV time in nearly three dozen media markets across the country — including Texas — closer to the November election, trying to reach voters.

That includes more than $2 million in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, Roll Call reports.

"November will tell the real story," said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at UT Arlington.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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