Demos vote in record numbers
Texas Democrats were still pinching themselves several days after the March 4 primary. The face-off between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Texas' hybrid primary/caucus system had generated a staggering turnout not just at the polls, but at the precinct caucuses afterward.
One former precinct chairman in Austin said the highest turnout ever when he was chairman in his precinct a couples miles north of the Capitol was 15. This year, it was 408 (106 for Clinton, 302 for Obama).
That happened all over the state. The turnout of 2,868,454 was not just the highest since Texas' one-party Democratic days (2,192,903 in 1972), it was the largest in history. On the Democratic side, Democrats turned out more than the general election vote for John Kerry in 2004 (2,832,704).
The jammed polling places, and particularly the precinct caucuses, produced some chaos and some long waits. "We're estimating that close to a million people participated in the caucuses," said Texas Democratic Party spokesman Hector Nieto.
But as Travis County elections administrator Dana DeBeauvoir observed, having far more voters show up than anticipated is a good thing.
The reason for the huge turnout was that for the first time in decades, the Texas Democratic presidential contest actually mattered. While Clinton narrowly won the popular vote, and a slight majority of the delegates allocated according to that process, Obama's turnout was much bigger at the precinct caucuses. Estimates are that by the time the dust clears after county and senatorial district conventions on March 29, Obama will have netted more delegates out of Texas than Clinton.
In most years, the caucuses only serve the purpose of choosing the delegates who will eventually go to the state convention and run the party's business, draft a party platform and some resolutions - much of which is routinely ignored by actual candidates - and go to lots of meetings.
But this year, the delegates and so-called SuperDelegates - ones who hold their position because of party or elective office, and can vote how they please - will be very important in deciding between Obama and Clinton.
Even Republicans had quite a large primary turnout, of 1,384,662 votes. That was just 48.3 percent of the number who voted in the Democratic primary, but quite respectable nonetheless, since John McCain already had the nomination all but sewn up and was expected to carry Texas anyway. That vote almost certainly would have been higher had the GOP contest been closer.
Still, the Democratic total alone was well over a million more votes than Republican Gov. Rick Perry's total re-election vote of 1,716,792 in 2006.
Perry, who faced Independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman as well as Democrat Chris Bell, a Libertarian, and a write-in, got just 39 percent of the vote. The biggest vote-getter in 2006 for the Republicans, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, had 2,661,789 votes - still 206,665 fewer more than the Democratic primary vote this year.
Democrats are hoping that the turnout, the publicity and excitement, and the infrastructure they developed gives them a running start on the general election - something which they haven't had for years. They have targeted voters in areas that normally vote Republican, and hope to use and add to that micro-targeting this fall.
Plus, the Democratic presidential nominee may actually come to Texas for something other than to raise money (but not spend it here), and the ritual stop along the Mexican border just before the election.
Some Republicans crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary, either because they felt that Obama was a change agent, or perhaps they had decided that maybe they weren't such stalwart Republicans any more, after seven years of George W. Bush as president. And at least some crossed over to cast a cynical vote for Hillary Clinton, figuring she'd be easier for McCain to beat in November, and would have shorter or negative coattails for other Democrats on the Texas ballot.
Whatever the case, the total primary vote for both parties came to 4,253,116- more than 57 percent percent of the 2004 total general election vote.
Something is going on.