The first primaries in the nation kick off today in Texas with early voting numbers encouraging Democrats in the highly-competitive 7th Congressional District race in Houston, a top target for the Democratic Party in the 2018 midterm elections.
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A state typically dominated by Republicans is experiencing a surge in enthusiasm from the left with Democrats casting more ballots during Texas' early voting period in the 15 largest counties, according to state election figures for cumulative in-person and mail-in ballots.
Throughout the 11 days of early voting, Democrats cast at least 44,000 more ballots than Republicans in those largest counties. While Texas has gained a little more than a million new registered voters since 2014, Democrats have doubled their turnout in the 2014 midterm election. In those counties, Democrats made up less than 40 percent of the early vote in 2014 but comprised about 52 percent of the early vote in 2018.
The midterm races in Texas will undoubtedly set the tone for the rest of the nation’s primaries, especially for the Democrats who have targeted red districts that voted for Clinton in the 2016 election in hopes of flipping them blue during the midterm elections. Among the group is the 7th Congressional District, or TX-07, where Democrats are hoping to flip a House seat the GOP House has held for 50 years in a district that is at the center of immigration, changing demographics and hurricane reconstruction. Several Democratic candidates and one Republican candidate are hoping to unseat Rep. John Culberson, who is running for re-election.
In Houston’s Harris County, which comprises a large part of TX-07, Democratic turnout jumped from 30,108 in 2014 to 87,916. In Harris County, more Democrats cast ballots during early voting in this year’s midterm elections than in the 2016 presidential election. “These are [voters] who did not vote in ’16 or ’14 but were registered at the time and now voted in 2018,” Stein said. First-time midterm voters like Lauren Lande who were encouraged to turn out this year because of the current political climate. “I feel like it’s good that more Democrats are moving to Texas. I want to push forward in a positive forward… Texas is super Republican so I feel it’s so important to vote as a Democrat early.”
That spike can be credited to the increase in registered Democratic voters in the past four years and enthusiasm among the party’s voters and candidates. “I think a lot of it is a response to the 2016 election. I think for many of us it was not the outcome we expected or wanted and we know that the only way that we can change it is for us to get out there and do something about it,” TX-07 congressional candidate Lizzie Pannill Fletcher said. Rival TX-07 candidate Laura Moser says the election was a wake-up call for many Democrats. “I never went to sleep on November 8th but I sure woke up on November 9th.”
While Democrats are hopeful about voter turnout, the numbers released by the Texas secretary of state only show votes for the state’s largest fifteen counties – there are 254 counties total. Still, Rice University Professor Robert Stein believes the early voter turnout could be more than the state sees on election day. “I think we are going to see more votes cast in-person early, and by mail absentee than we will on election day,” Stein said.
In addition to the increase in votes, Texans are also seeing more Democrats on the ballot. The number of candidates running this year could be a big reason why early voter turnout has been so high. “My answer for why there’s a higher turnout is really straightforward, there are more candidates,” Stein said. The candidates are also reflecting the shift in demographics in Texas.
In TX-07, Latinos comprise more than 30 percent and blacks make up about 13 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among the several Democrats running in the district are Colombian immigrant Ivan Sanchez and Alex Triantaphyllis, who is fluent in three languages. “Our campaign has really from the start tried to represent this community and that means having the diversity across our team and having more than 10 languages represented across our staff and volunteers,” Triantaphyllis said.
Some voters have been inspired to vote by seeing fresh faces on the ballot. “I’m excited by Texas this year, I think we are moving more and more towards blue …I think we have better people [running for office], regular folks saying I got to get in the movement,” voter Rachel Consorte said.
While the early voting numbers are revealing, Stein cautions that there are still many other counties whose votes have not been counted. Still, there is no doubt these numbers are likely concerning to Republicans hoping to keep the state red. “There is no question the Democrats are turning out in higher rates whether it’s early or on election day… Republicans are concerned in midterm elections, as a majority party that they are going to lose something.”