GRIEDER

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - HEALTH | SCIENCE - erica.grieder@chron.com

ceil­ing.

In deep-red Collin County, for ex­am­ple, nearly as many early vot­ers have cast bal­lots as those who voted early in 2016. That bodes well for Re­pub­li­cans like state. Sen. Van Tay­lor, who is run­ning to re­place long­time U.S. Rep. Sam John­son, also a Repub­li­can, in the state’s 3rd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict. And a surge in turnout from Tay­lor’s sup­port­ers would pre­sum­ably have spillover ef­fects for down­bal­lot Repub­li­can can­di­dates like An­gela Pax­ton, who is seek­ing to suc­ceed him in the Texas Sen­ate.

With that said, all of Texas’s ma­jor coun­ties have seen a sim­i­lar surge in turnout— and in most cases, such a surge would fa­vor Democrats. In Fort Bend County, turnout has more than dou­bled since 2014. That au­gurs well for Demo­cratic can­di­dates like Brian Mid­dle­ton, who is run­ning for dis­trict at­tor­ney, and Sri Kulka­rni, who hopes to un­seat Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. Pete Ol­son in the 22nd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

We’ll find out soon enough what these early num­bers mean.

But what we know al­ready is that the turnout re­flects well for Texas vot­ers and bodes well for Texas’s fu­ture, be­cause it’s been fu­eled by new vot­ers and those who usu­ally sit out midterms.

Roughly 40 per­cent of vot­ers who have al­ready cast bal­lots have never voted in a midterm elec­tion in Texas, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis from Derek Ryan, an Austin-based Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant. And more than 10 per­cent didn’t vote in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 2012 or 2016.

Such a change is un­prece­dented in Texas his­tory, but it makes sense.

Re­pub­li­cans have held power in Texas since the mid-1990s. In 2014, they swept the statewide elec­tions by 20-point mar­gins. In hind­sight, though, the Texas Demo­cratic Party prob­a­bly reached its nadir that year. By 2016, things had changed.

Shortly af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, in fact, I met with Manny Garcia, the Demo­cratic Party’s deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. At the time, most of Amer­ica’s Demo­cratic vot­ers were be­wil­dered, if not in mourn­ing. Garcia was a no­table ex­cep­tion. He was ex­cited about the gains Texas Democrats had made — in down­bal­lot races in Har­ris County, for ex­am­ple — and fired up about the forth­com­ing midterms, even though the party’s can­di­date re­cruit­ment ef­forts had barely be­gun.

And we’ll prob­a­bly come to look at 2016 as a turn­ing point for the Repub­li­can Party of Texas, too. The Repub­li­can lead­ers who sup­ported Trump’s bid for the pres­i­dency were prob­a­bly hop­ing that his hy­per­bolic cam­paign rhetoric was just that — or, at least, that he would be sombered by the grav­ity of the of­fice.

That was overly op­ti­mistic. Trump hasn’t risen to the oc­ca­sion that the Amer­i­can peo­ple en­trusted him with two years ago. Even worse, he has vi­o­lated the pub­lic’s trust. Trump has spent the run-up to the midterm elec­tion pan­der­ing to the dark­est im­pulses of the most cor­rupt­ible peo­ple among us. It’s no won­der that many Amer­i­cans are feel­ing hope­less, afraid or an­gry, watch­ing our na­tion’s lead­ers wring their hands as the pres­i­dent fo­ments big­otry and divi­sion.

But Tex­ans, it would seem, have been too busy to fall into de­spair. We’ve al­ways been a boot­strap­ping state, and this year we’ve re­ally stepped up on be­half of our state and na­tion. Some Tex­ans are vot­ing Repub­li­can, some Demo­cratic; some of us are split­ting the ticket. But the point is that lots of us are vot­ing, even though we’re not nec­es­sar­ily in the habit.

The can­di­dates who pre­vail on Elec­tion Day will be the ones who in­spired us to ac­tion. The turnout surge in Texas isn’t a so­lu­tion to our na­tion’s prob­lems, but it is a mea­sure of our com­mit­ment to this civic project — and that should give all Amer­i­cans some con­fi­dence.

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