The minority population in both counties did influence the recent election. But there were other, more important, factors. Dallas County Democrats capitalized on the national furor over Republican ethics violations, the war in Iraq, and two independent Texas governor candidates. But the key move was putting candidates on the ballot.
Look at judicial races. Democratic judges in Dallas County won all 42 of the contested races; Tarrant had only one contested judicial race of 32, and Republicans won them all. The Dallas judicial candidates pooled their resources and ran almost as a slate. This increased voter turnout, increased straight-ticket Democratic voting to 53 percent, and gave the party all the countywide races.
Why is it important to run judges on the party ticket? After all, party affiliation often has little to do with performance on the bench. But judges are a party’s bench strength, so to speak. No top-ticket superstars, they provide the bottom-level support that builds the party. They can bring out Democrat supporters who feel they actually have a choice and help in fund-raising through sheer numbers.
Tarrant County Democratic Party chair Art Brender has long thought that stacking the ballot with Democratic candidates is a waste of limited resources. So this time the Tarrant Democrats campaigned hard in only two races. In the district attorney race, they backed Terri Moore against Republican incumbent Tim Curry. In House District 93, they backed challenger Paula Hightower Pierson against incumbent Toby Goodman. One win, one loss.
I can testify personally to the utter lack of Democratic candidates on the ballot. I was shocked at the number of Republicans running unopposed in Tarrant County. Regardless, McGraw says there are signs for hope:
Are the prevailing winds changing here? There are several little trends that might move the needles a bit. Almost 60 percent of Tarrant voters went against Republican incumbent Rick Perry, meaning there is a majority of people who will go against a Republican at the top of the ticket. There is also the increase in Hispanic voters, along with the increase in newcomers who are not wedded to local traditions.
But the major change that will come into play in 2008 and 2010 is the reputation of the Republican Party nationwide. The change in Congress indicates that Democrats are more likely to come out and vote now, and the best way to take advantage of that is to fill up the ballot , as Dallas County Democrats did. It is not a stretch to think that more Democrats will be voting in Tarrant County in a presidential race without an incumbent in 2008. Party straight-ticket voting is now 51-42 percent in favor of the Tarrant Republicans, but those numbers could rise five percentage points in 2008, another five by 2010.
Tarrant may not become blue country anytime soon, but like much of urban Texas (that isn't already blue) it is gradually shifting to the left, giving Democrats hope not only in local urban races, but in state-wide Texas races and in national Congressional races. I'll go out on a limb a little bit and say Tom DeLay's fall, President Bush's troubles, the elevation of a Democrat to a prominent House committee chair, and this gradual shift, spells the beginning of the end of the dominance of Texas-style Republican politics.
UPDATE: In comments, Texa links to this story in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram also on the subject of a blue shift in Tarrant Country. I'll try to hit the highlights when I have a moment, but I recommend reading it in full.