Will Texas stay red or turn blue? Tar­rant County looks like bell­wether

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ANNA M. TINS­LEY AND DI­ANE SMITH atins­ley@star-tele­gram.com di­ane­smith@star-tele­gram.com

On Elec­tion Night, keep an eye on Tar­rant County.

That’s one point on which Repub­li­can U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Demo­cratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke are likely to agree.

The can­di­dates for the U.S. Se­nate have long ac­knowl­edged that the votes in Tar­rant County are cru­cial be­cause they serve as a guide to any po­lit­i­cal shift that might hap­pen in Texas. Tar­rant County, with a pop­u­la­tion of 2.05 mil­lion, has re­mained red through the years as nearly ev­ery other ma­jor ur­ban county has gone blue.

“Tar­rant County is in­deed a bell­wether,” said Jim Rid­dles­perger, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at TCU. “It is an ur­ban county that votes sim­i­larly to the state as a whole. The other ur­ban coun­ties lean Demo­cratic while non-ur­ban ar­eas are solidly Repub­li­can. So Fort Worth is some­thing of a mi­cro­cosm of the state as a whole.

“Fort Worth could flip of course, and that re­flects Beto’s strat­egy of get­ting more His­panic and young vot­ers out,” he said. “Cruz counts on con­ti­nu­ity of Tar­rant County pat­terns. Con­ti­nu­ity is al­ways the best bet, but po­lit­i­cal hope by mi­nor­ity par­ties al­ways is that this is

the year of change.”

Cruz and O’Rourke have paid sev­eral vis­its to Tar­rant County re­cently, work­ing to rev up the en­thu­si­asm — and votes — from sup­port­ers.

Polls show Cruz is well po­si­tioned to win his re­elec­tion bid in this re­li­ably red state. But the money pour­ing in to O’Rourke’s cam­paign, as well as the mass of yard signs declar­ing “Beto” planted in yards across the state, give some pause.

“Repub­li­cans want to de­fend (Tar­rant County) as much as Democrats want to flip it,” said Bran­don Rot­ting­haus, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Hous­ton. “The Cruz cam­paign is hun­gry to get the base out in the state’s largest ur­ban Repub­li­can county and the O’Rourke cam­paign is fight­ing for swing vot­ers and to ac­ti­vate Democrats who only vote in midterms.

“Tar­rant County can flip if and only if Repub­li­can turnout is lack­lus­ter and Demo­cratic turnout is block­buster,” he said. “The el­e­ments are in place for this to hap­pen in a sur­pris­ingly com­pet­i­tive midterm elec­tion, but Tar­rant flip­ping blue is more likely in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year. “

Early vot­ing runs through Nov. 2.

BLUE WAVE?

Some lo­cal vot­ers aren’t sure what will hap­pen in Tar­rant County dur­ing this year’s midterm elec- tion.

“I’m just a lit­tle wor­ried,” said Denise Wehrli, a 57-year-old Ar­ling­ton woman who re­cently at­tended her first Cruz rally. “But I think the buildup for the blue wave prob­a­bly is not ac­cu­rate in Tar­rant County (or) across the state.”

Roseann Gi­ambro, who re­cently showed up at an O’Rourke rally in Fort Worth, said she’s not pay­ing at­ten­tion to the polls.

“I don’t let polls in­flu­ence me, whether it’s go­ing to the movies, read­ing a book or vot­ing in elec­tions,” the 70-year-old Fort Worth woman said. “That’s a way to give up, to stay home, say ‘Why bother?’”

Some say they’ve seen Tar­rant County chang­ing, as new peo­ple move into the area and younger Tex­ans be­come el­i­gi­ble to vote.

“I think Fort Worth is a dif­fer­ent place than it was even five years ago,” said Wendy Dyba, a 47-yearold Ben­brook woman who grew up in El Paso. “And the polls showed Trump would lose. I don’t think polls take into ac­count the av­er­age Beto sup­porter.”

Many agree that noth­ing can be taken for granted in this year’s midterm elec­tion.

“I don’t think it’s a shoo-in,” said Em­mett Hickey, a 67-year-old Ar­ling­ton man who coowns the Ar­ling­ton Mu­sic Hall, where a Cruz rally was held Thurs­day. “Beto has done a great job fundrais­ing and ral­ly­ing the troops. But this is still a con­ser­va­tive state and I don’t think Beto rep­re­sents the con­ser­va­tive is­sues.”

RE­LI­ABLE RED SUB­URBS

If Tar­rant County shifts, po­lit­i­cal watch­ers said the for­mula must in­clude North­east Tar­rant County, where the Tea Party has a strong­hold. Two years ago, Trump car­ried precincts in cities such as North Rich­land Hills, Hurst, Col­leyville, South­lake and Grapevine.

Now, two years later — af­ter high-per­form­ing schools and jobs have drawn new fam­i­lies here — some say they’re see­ing such an in­crease in a Demo­cratic pres­ence.

Along Boule­vard 26, a thor­ough­fare that once was mostly ru­ral, “Beto” yard signs are planted next to signs tout­ing Cruz and other GOP can­di­dates.

This week, the scene out­side Keller Town Hall show­cased both sides of grass­roots pol­i­tics in ac­tion.

Signs greeted early vot­ers. Can­di­date volun- teers passed out fliers and stick­ers. Cruz sup­port­ers wore T-shirts, car­ried red, white and blues sign and stood ready to ex­plain why Cruz should be re­elected.

Josie Con­tr­eras, Repub­li­can chair­woman of Keller’s Precinct 3040, said vot­ers are ready to keep the state red.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence has been, this time, that the peo­ple are very anx­ious to get out here and vote,” Con­tr­eras said. “They are all riled up ready to vote for Cruz.”

On the other hand, O’Rourke’s vol­un­teers urged vot­ers to take their pic­tures next to a “Beto” sign and a card­board pic­ture frame that stated: “I voted!”

O’Rourke vol­un­teers said they get thumbs up, thumbs down and even the mid­dle fin­ger. Still, they are en­cour­aged by vot­ers who come up to talk or hug them.

Rachel Mah­mood, a vol­un­teer from Keller sup­port­ing O’Rourke, said the Demo­cratic can­di­date has in­spired so many peo­ple, es­pe­cially mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans and Democrats who haven’t been po­lit­i­cally ac­tive but are hope­ful for a win­ning chance.

“I don’t know what is go­ing to hap­pen, but this has been — this has been amaz­ing for a lot of us here,” she said. “He’s been in­spir­ing and I don’t know if Tar­rant County will ever nec­es­sar­ily turn blue, but maybe pur­ple.”

SHIFT­ING COL­ORS?

A shift in the par­ti­san color of Tar­rant County — be­cause of the U.S. Se­nate race, com­pet­i­tive races in the U.S. House or lo­cal races — could sig­nal big changes for Texas.

“Given the tra­di­tional ad­van­tages that Repub­li­cans have had in Tar­rant County then, yes, a move here to­ward blue could sig­nal some­thing big,” said Matthew Esh­baugh­Soha, who heads the po­lit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment at the Univer­sity of North Texas in Den­ton. “Cruz and O’Rourke are wisely vis­it­ing places like Tar­rant County fre­quently be­cause this is where the vot­ers are.”

The key to a suc­cess­ful race in the days be­fore any elec­tion is this, he said: “You have to max­i­mize your time and en­ergy.”

“You mo­bi­lize Democrats (and maybe some In­de­pen­dents) in Tar­rant County, and you more ef­fi­ciently in­crease the chances that you might be able to win,” Es­baugh­Soha said. “Cruz is vis­it­ing to counter O’Rourke.”

Wehrli, of Ar­ling­ton, dis­misses the num­ber of yard signs posted across the state — and the num­ber of peo­ple at ral­lies — as any sign of how Tex­ans will vote.

“A per­son like me, who can’t make ral­lies be­cause I work, there’s tons of us out there. We vote Repub­li­can,” she said. “We don’t nec­es­sar­ily say a lot, but we vote.”

Cristina Chan­cel­lor of Fort Worth said she be­lieves the U.S. Se­nate race will be close in Tar­rant County and statewide.

“I have hope it will change. I have hope Texas even­tu­ally will go pur­ple, if not blue,” said Chan­cel­lor, 42, who re­cently at­tended a rally for O’Rourke. “I just don’t know if it will be this year.”

BOB BOOTH Spe­cial to the Star-Tele­gram

Early vot­ers lined up at the Charles F. Grif­fin Build­ing early vot­ing site on Fri­day. Turnout has been strong since early vot­ing be­gan Oct. 22.

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