Elections

Is record Republican turnout a sign of things to come?

Republicans are turning out in far greater numbers than Democrats in states — including Texas — that have already held their presidential primaries. There are a few exceptions, including Nevada, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Republicans are turning out in far greater numbers than Democrats in states — including Texas — that have already held their presidential primaries. There are a few exceptions, including Nevada, Massachusetts and Vermont. AP

There’s been one constant so far in this year’s highly unusual presidential election: more Republicans are voting. A lot more.

In direct contrast to the 2008 presidential contest, which swept Democrat Barack Obama into the White House, Republicans are turning out in larger numbers — sometimes by a two-to-one margin, such as in Texas — during this year’s primary election season.

Republican candidates and officials tout the surge as evidence of the party’s prospects in November. “The Republicans have tremendous energy. The Democrats don’t,” Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday night as he celebrated another seven victories in Super Tuesday primaries.

But does that mean that the GOP presidential nominee will find the path to the presidency a cake walk?

No, political observers say.

Texas primary election results

“I don’t think the higher Republican turnout can be seen by the GOP as any type of silver lining foreshadowing more robust Republican turnout in the fall,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “In fact, if Trump is the nominee, he may cause as many voters to stay home than to turn out.”

Super Tuesday did move Trump, the former reality TV star and New York businessman that is propelling voters to the polls, closer to the number of delegates needed to claim the GOP presidential nomination, even though Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won Texas and Oklahoma.

Even with a smaller Democratic turnout, Hillary Clinton on Tuesday also claimed a number of primary victories, including Texas, moving her closer to claiming the Democratic presidential nomination.

If those who had backed the eventual losers get too mad it could mean that once again, ‘the Republicans will pull defeat from the jaws of victory.’

Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington

“The big challenge for the Republicans is to keep up the momentum seen in primaries,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “But if those who had backed the eventual losers get too mad it could mean that once again, ‘the Republicans will pull defeat from the jaws of victory.’ 

Some experts contend that record GOP turnouts are a clear sign of momentum going into the general election.

“I think it’s a harbinger of things to come,” David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, recently told The Washington Times. “All those people who line up for Donald Trump rallies and also lining up at the ballot box and the caucus site. Trump’s winning and nothing succeeds like success.”

Red Texas

Texas was expected to go red, just as it has for years.

So it was no surprise when more than 2.8 million voters here cast ballots in the Republican primary, compared with the 1.4 million voters weighing in on the Democratic primary.

Observers say the Democratic turnout wasn’t shabby, it was just eclipsed by the GOP response.

“Republicans have a major headwind of voter turnout nationwide that is breaking records by turning out traditional Republican voters as well as new voters,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate political science professor at the University of Houston. “The competitive race and the Trump factor have Republicans excited about voting.”

However, “given the fracturing of the Republican Party, there is a worry that those not on the winning team may not turn out in November and this hurts the party nominee,” he said. “High turnout now is not a guarantee of high turnout in Republican areas in the fall.”

Texans have supported Republican presidential candidates in the general election for more than 35 years.

A majority of Texans voting in the general election chose Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008, George W. Bush in 2004 and 2000, Bob Dole in 1996, George H.W. Bush in 1992 and 1988 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 and 1980.

The last Democratic presidential candidate to claim Texans’ vote was Jimmy Carter in 1976, state election records show.

Other states

A pattern was established when this year’s presidential primary season kicked off — more Republicans than Democrats were casting ballots.

It happened in Iowa and New Hampshire, then in South Carolina.

Nevada went counter to the trend, as did Massachusetts and Vermont on Tuesday.

But at least eight states on Super Tuesday saw more Republican voters heading to the polls — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia among them.

In Alabama, Republicans turned out in a more than two-to-one margin for their presidential candidates even as Minnesota saw Republicans barely edge out Democrats, 111,253 to 108,658, their state election records show.

Observers note that Republicans, like Democrats in 2008, are being drawn to the polls by a competitive and contentious race for the presidential nomination.

“The Republicans are really energized,” Saxe said. “The face [is] that there were 17 Republican candidates [who] energized the Republicans from the start.

“I have rarely seen Republicans so energized in the primary and the big question is: will it hold for a while or wither away?”

In November, when everything is on the line for both parties in the effort to claim the White House, that’s when turnout is most important.

There’s no doubt Republicans have the wind at their back right now.

Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate political science professor at the University of Houston

“If the dynamics of the race come down to Trump versus Clinton, and the race is as ugly as expected, voter turnout will be high to participate in the fight,” Rottinghaus said. “A higher turnout benefits the Democrats, especially in swing states.

“There’s no doubt Republicans have the wind at their back right now, but the general election is still nine months away. And it’s hard to sustain enthusiasm for that length of time.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Heading to a runoff

Here’s a look at races that will be heading to a May 24 primary runoff because no candidate earned a majority of the votes in Tuesday’s primary election. Early voting in that election will run May 16-20.

Tarrant County Sheriff — Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson and former Dalworthington Gardens Police Chief Bill Waybourn are headed to a runoff in the GOP primary. On Tuesday, Anderson claimed 48.59 percent of the vote to Waybourn’s 40.67 percent. A third candidate, John Garris, a Tarrant County sheriff’s confinement officer who had dropped out of the race to support Waybourn, drew 10.74 percent of the vote. “The game has gone to overtime and it’s no time to give up,” Anderson posted on Facebook. Waybourn was equally as confident. “We have a lot of work left ahead of us as we are on the path to victory.”

Texas Railroad Commission — Gary Gates, who claimed 28.35 percent of the vote, and Wayne Christian, who drew 19.76 percent, will be in the Republican runoff for this state commission. Meanwhile, Grady Yarbrough, who earned 39.95 percent, and Cody Garrett, who picked up 35.15 percent of the vote, will head to the Democratic party’s runoff for this post.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2 — Mary Lou Keel, who garnered 39.42 percent of the vote, and Ray Wheless, who accrued 25.42 percent of the vote, will head to a GOP runoff.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 5 — Republicans Scott Walker, who picked up 41.48 percent of the vote, and Brent Webster, who earned 20.44 percent, will square off in a runoff.

Second Court of Appeals, Place 3 — Elizabeth Kerr, who drew 33.15 percent of the vote, and Dabney Bassel, who garnered 18.81 percent of the vote, appear headed to the Republican runoff election.

348 District Judge — Mike Wallach, who picked up 45.77 percent of the vote, and Brooke Allen, who earned 29.1 percent, will head to the Republican runoff.

Star-Telegram reporters Bill Hanna and Anna M. Tinsley contributed to this report.

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