So the 2012 contest has come and gone. On this blog I predicted that Texas is a state that is in the midst of rapid changes, many of which were to be revealed in the 2012 elections. I, like many others, expected the state of Texas to become "more blue" in 2012.
So today, it's time to admit that I was wrong. Texas did not become more blue in 2012... it became more red. Even as states across the country saw noticeable gains for Democrats, the Lone Star State lived up to its name and swung further to the Right. As an admittedly Left-leaning blog, it's important to present facts as they bear out, and those are the facts of 2012. On the surface, it appears that Texas' likelihood of becoming a Swing State, well, became less likely.
Texas Tribune columnist Ryan Murphy put together this interesting compilation map comparing the 2008 and 2012 elections. The map doesn't show which side ultimately won a particular county, but only compares if the county voted more Democratic or more Republican than it did in 2008. If you'll recall from my earlier post on the subject, the counties to watch are just a small group within the greater state area. So how did they fair?
Tier 1- the "reliably Democratic" counties: Three of them went more red in 2012- Dallas, Travis and El Paso. Three of them (all in the Rio Grande Valley) went more Blue in 2012- Webb, Hidalgo and Cameron. An important reminder here... Obama still won all of these counties, but Mitt Romney gained on John McCain's 2008 vote total. The county where Republicans got the greatest gains? Travis county, which garnered 24,999 more GOP votes than in 2008.
Tier 2- the "Swing" counties: Six out of seven counties went more red in 2012- Harris, Bexar, Jefferson, Hays, Williamson and Fort Bend. The lone, and surprising standout was Nueces County (Corpus Christi) which, though still won by Mitt Romney, went more Democratic by 1,366 votes.
So these are our cold, hard facts. According to the voters that made their voices heard, the Texas of 2012 is more red than the Texas of 2008.
Now here's the silver lining for Democrats and Liberals... the missing ingredient that Mr. Murphy fails to address? VOTER TURNOUT. 82,511 fewer Texans voted in 2012 than did in 2008. Now for a state the size of Texas, that's not a huge number. But when you consider how rapidly the state is growing, it suggests that a whole lot of people sat out during the 2012 election.
Take the Liberal island of Travis county for example. The GOP got 24,999 votes in 2012 over 2008, but that was a larger share of a smaller pie (forgive me... tomorrow is Thanksgiving after all) as there were 11,124 fewer votes cast in Travis County. Yet there were 26,070 more registered voters than over 2008. Now is it fair to assume that all of those voters that sat out would have went for Obama? Of course not, but it would bear realism on the theory of an enthusiasm gap among Democrats, while many in the GOP were very anxious to vote.
Now in Harris county, we know this to be the case. Republicans were clearly more enthusisastic to vote than Democrats. Here's how you can tell...
2008 was the first time Harris County has voted majority Democratic since 1964. Though it was by a slim margin of just 19,099 votes, the move was still a seismic shift for the county, whose population is almost equally split between the city of Houston and it's close-in suburbs. Democrats made this happen through a huge two-fold push of registration and early voting. That's what allowed them (well us) to best the well-funded Harris County GOP.
Unlike the immense bumbling we saw from Reince Priebus and the national GOP, Harris County Republicans watched and learned from the Democrats. In 2012, they vowed not to make the same mistake twice. Seeing great confusion from a state attempt at voter suppression, and already waning Democratic enthusiasm, the local GOP ceased the moment in 2012. They drove out their base to the polls, and made sure that they voted early. Early voting records set in 2008 were shattered in 2012, mostly thanks to a huge effort by Republicans, who cleared almost 100,000 more early votes on November 6th, and overtook the Democrat early voting machine by 11,651 votes.
So they spent huge sums of money, and organized more than ever before. And it STILL wasn't enough to catch the Democrats in Harris County. Official totals show that President Obama bested Mitt Romney by 971 votes. Democrats may have slumped in early voting, but they turned out on Election Day.
The final kicker... overall turnout for Harris County was down from 2008... just under 1 percentage point, and 3,938 fewer Democrats voted. Meanwhile the gap between registered voters and those who showed up to the polls also increased by 34,474 which means in 2012, there were still 738,399 registered voters that didn't vote. Some people forget that at 4.2 million people, Harris is actually larger than 3 battleground states! But the battle is definitely happening here.
To sum up... Texas Democrats may look at these numbers, see how "red" they've become, and get discouraged. But the battle is FAR from over in the Lone Star State. The key to swing state status is now as it has always been. Texas Democrats will win if overall voter participation increases. What we just saw in Harris County will be the new rules for the nation in 2014 and 2016. The GOP will re-group (as they should), and they will start appealing to a broader base. So for the Left, the key is to make every vote count. Keep up registration drives and continue to stress early voting. The very second we sit back and let the machine go idle, that's when the GOP will make their move. Congrats on all the hard work Texas Democrats. Now let's saddle up, and keep riding toward that blue sunset.