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.