GOP gets the primary numbers, Democrats find hope

HOUSTON -- So, in this important and potentially pivotal election year, we now know as of March 6 how many Texas voters call themselves Republicans and how many call themselves Democrats.

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Ken Herman
, Cox Newspapers

HOUSTON -- So, in this important and potentially pivotal election year, we now know as of March 6 how many Texas voters call themselves Republicans and how many call themselves Democrats.

Looks like we're still red. Yes, Dems can find cause for enthusiasm and excitement. But looks like, for now, we still seem pretty red.

Little known to many voters -- including those who for strategic or meddling-like-Russians reasons -- who cross party lines to vote in Texas' open primaries, you declare an allegiance when you pick your primary.

Right there atop the ballot, before you start making candidate decisions, there's what's listed on both ballots as the "Primary Ballot Pledge."

"I am a Republican and understand that I am ineligible to vote or participate in another political party's primary election or convention during this voting year," it says atop the GOP ballot. Same language is on the Dem ballot, save for subbing Democrat for Republican.

Yes and no is the answer to whether that pledge really means anything. No, it's not like party registration and doesn't really officially make you anything. But yes, it means you can only vote in the runoff elections of the party in whose primary you voted. If you didn't vote, you're a free agent and can vote in either party's May runoffs.

And we know that some voters are OK with a political white lie when they vote red or blue. I know of an Austin liberal who voted this year in the GOP primary because said voter lives in GOP U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith's district and -- acknowledging there's no chance of electing a Dem to replace the retiring Smith -- voted in the Repub primary to back the most moderate candidate in that 18-candidate field.

And I spoke with another local voter who on Tuesday expressed giddiness at having voted for the first time in the GOP primary. Said voter was delighted about voting on the nonbinding propositions on that ballot.

Early voting this year in the 15 most populous counties attracted 885,574 voters. Dems were buoyed by the fact that there were 465,245 early votes in their primary in those counties, outpacing the 420,329 early votes in the GOP primary. When you're a long-suffering Texas Democrat it doesn't take much to buoy you.

In 2014, the last time we picked a governor, there were 1,358,074 votes in the GOP primary and 560,033 in the Dem primary. So this year's early voting numbers were encouraging for the Dems. But it looks like the heavy early vote in the Democratic primary might have cannibalized the primary day vote.

With just about all the ballots counted from Tuesday's primaries, GOP turnout was up to 1.54 million, an increase from the party-in-power's 2014 primary turnout. In Tuesday's Democratic primary, there were 1.04 million votes cast, an increase impressive enough from 2014 to justify jubilant quotes from Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who noted it was the first time since 2002 that his party's primary turnout topped one million in a non-presidential year.

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

Hinojosa also was proud of the "diverse leaders" who won nomination Tuesday for statewide races. However, depending on the outcome of the Lupe Valdez-Andrew White gubernatorial runoff, the Dems might have only one Hispanic-surnamed candidate (land commissioner nominee Miguel Suazo) on their statewide ticket. That would mean an equal number of Hispanic-surnamed and French-surnamed Dem candidates. Joi Chevalier of Austin is the party's nominee for comptroller.

In a possible measure of the power of a Hispanic name on the ballot, little-to-unknown U.S. Senate candidate Sema Hernandez, a self-labeled "Democratic Socialist and Berniecrat," got 24 percent of the primary vote in running second in a three-candidate field to highly touted, high-energy El Paso U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who got only 62 percent of the vote to win the nod to run against GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November.

More not-so-good news for the Dems: They get to spend some more of their relatively scarce money on intramurals, with former Dallas County Sheriff Valdez and Houston businessman White headed to a May 22 gubernatorial runoff that's sure to grow more contentious.

While some Texans saw red on Tuesday, White saw blue.

"Today's Democratic vote count proves that things are changing in Texas," White told supporters in Houston. "There's a blue wave building here people."

Perhaps. As a fan of two-party government, I'm hoping so.

The Repub at the top of the November ticket made it clear Tuesday night that the Texas GOP is going to depend this year on its same old tune and some new Trump tactics. Wasting no time in trying to brand and nickname his opponent, GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz released a radio ad featuring a catchy song lambasting O'Rourke, as "Liberal Robert," "who wants those open borders and wants to take our guns."

"Liberal Robert wanted to fit in. So he changed his name to Beto. And he did it with a grin."

For the record and FWIW, Cruz's given first name is Rafael.

Let the name calling begin. And buckle up as Robert and Rafael go at it atop their respective tickets. This could be fun.

Ken Herman is a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman. Email: kherman(at)statesman.com.

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