In red-state Texas, new signs of rising Democratic tide
The drawn-out fight for a Democratic presidential nominee is driving left-leaning Texans into the open, infusing them with a sense of relevance for the first time in a generation.
(Page 2 of 2)
The fortunes of Texas Democrats dimmed with Mr. Bush's 1994 victory over incumbent Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, then crashed after Bush won the White House. Republicans soon swept every statewide office, won majorities in the legislature, and redrew political districts to lock in their gains.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
With Bush in the Oval Office, "there was a feeling that Texas politics had been ratified and writ large at the national level," says Prof. Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the author of "Texas Politics: Governing the Lone Star State." "Institutionally, the Democratic Party in Texas at the state and county level and below was moribund. Democrats were beaten down."
Reports began circulating that the party was struggling to pay the light bills at its Austin headquarters.
Kathleen Troiano, a yoga teacher in Sugar Land, recalls that her John Kerry signs were stolen almost as soon as she posted them on her lawn in 2004. "I found them in our sewer drain," Ms. Troiano, who moved here from Vermont in 1993 when her husband got a job transfer, said after casting an early ballot here Tuesday.
She says she still knows better than to discuss politics with neighbors – "one even thinks yoga is bad" – but is heartened by the Democratic turnout in her city. "It feels good that maybe people are seeing it's time for a change."
Some Texas Republicans scoff at the idea that the March 4 contest is pumping life into the Democratic Party, noting that high turnout in past primaries rarely translated into victories in general elections. "Texas is a blazingly red state," says Hans Klingler, the communications and political director for the state GOP. "The Democrats are hanging a lot on anecdotes and shadows right now."
But other GOP activists see cause for concern. Rick Miller, chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County, says he's heard from more than two dozen Republicans planning to vote in the Democratic primary because there is no suspense left on the Republican side and they harbor strong feelings – pro or con – for Senators Obama and Clinton. (Texans do not register by party and can vote in either primary.)
Mr. Miller frets that such decisions reflect a worrisome apathy about important local GOP contests. "The key issue for us is to get our base out to vote" Republican, he says. "If we don't, we're going to lose, because we're seeing numbers here on the Democratic side that are just incredible."
GOP still in charge
Republicans still control every statewide office and the legislature. But in the 2006 elections, Democrats picked up six House seats and ended two decades of GOP dominance in Dallas County. An infusion of donations and staff has put the state Democratic Party back on par with its Republican counterpart. And in Republican Harris County, which includes Houston, a growing Hispanic population, displeasure with the Bush White House, and a scandal involving a local district attorney are raising hopes for a Democratic takeover there in November.
Texas is home to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, a George Bush Park, and a soon-to-be-built George W. Bush Presidential Library. Democratic activists expect few major shifts in the balance of power this year but are seeing enough encouraging signs to set 2010 as a target for wresting back the Texas House and at least one statewide office.
"This will be the first time in Texas in 28 years," says Mr. Angle, "that there won't be a Bush either on the ballot or sitting as president, vice president, or governor after an election was over."