Tuesday, December 30, 2008
West and Clear’s 2008 in review #1: Fort Worth stays red
In spite of a few Democratic wins, Gov. Rick Perry still has a lot to smile about when he thinks of Fort Worth.
Since the impressive gains that Democrats made in Dallas County in 2006, many have wondered how long it would take before Tarrant County followed. Some even thought that 2008 would be the year for Tarrant County Democrats.
In spite of Wendy Davis’ upset of Kim Brimer in the State Senate District 10 race and Chris Turner’s victory over Bill Zedler in the State House District 96 race, Gov. Rick Perry still has a lot to smile about when he thinks of Fort Worth.
Sure, Democrats Lon Burnam, Paula Hightower Pierson and Marc Veasey won their state house races, but Tarrant County generally and Fort Worth specifically remained, just like most of Texas, reliably red. Not even purple. Not leaning blue. Firmly red.
Consider on the evidence:
* John McCain and Sarah Palin easily won Tarrant County.
* Republicans carried the Tarrant County vote in statewide races
* Republicans carried all of the contested local races.
As SMU political science professor Cal Jillson told the Star-Telegram back in November, “Tarrant County is going to continue Republican for some years before it becomes closely contested.”
I agree with Jillson. Once a Yella Dawg Democrat state, Texas has been consistently Republican for almost a generation if you date in back to Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980. Many Texans have grown up voting instinctively Republican since then in the same way they voted consistently Democratic before. This will be difficult to change.
So what will it take for Fort Worth and Tarrant County to go blue?
* Redistricting help: Until a new electoral map is drawn, it is extremely doubtful that things will change much in Fort Worth. With a new census coming up in 2010 and House Republicans clinging to the narrowest of margins, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that Democrats could capture the House and significantly change the redistricting dynamic.
* The Inevitability of Demographics: Much is made of the emerging Hispanic majority in Texas because many expect Republican immigration policies to drive Latino voters into the Democratic ranks. This seemed to play out in the November election when 63 percent of Texas Hispanics voted for Obama. If this majority consistently votes Democratic, it go a long way toward tilting Texas blue.
* Republican Civil War: The emergence of Texas Republicans has been forged in large part by a successful alliance between traditional business conservatives and the social/religious conservatives. This alliance was best personified by our former governor George W. Bush, the perfect mix of the two schools of thought in one highly electable package. That alliance appears to be fraying now with social conservatives appearing to line up behind Rick Perry and business conservatives appearing to line up behind Kay Bailey Hutchison for what could be an electoral Goetterdaemerung for Republicans.
* Playing the field: In this case, I mean that Democrats need to get out there and knock on doors and do the grunt work of campaigning. Paul Burka at Texas Monthly had an excellent blog post about this recently. In short, doing the field work to get out the base and motivate marginal voters is effective, but consultants don’t like to do it. At least in the case of the District 10 State Senate race it made a bit of a difference.
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