Blue wave may be building in Texas

More Democratic voters than Republicans have cast ballots ahead of next month’s primary elections in Texas, in what some party officials interpret as a new sign that a blue wave is building ahead of the midterm elections.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office said 168,000 voters had cast ballots in the Democratic primary in person or by mail in the state’s ten largest counties through the end of Sunday. By contrast, 138,000 voters had cast ballots in the Republican primary.


It is the first time in a decade that Texas Democrats have turned in more ballots than Republicans at this point in the early voting window. And it’s the first time in 12 years that Democrats outpaced Republicans in a midterm election year.

This year’s data show a marked increase in the number of Democratic voters who have cast early ballots than in previous midterm years. Four years ago, just 90,000 Democratic voters showed up during the first six days of early voting. In 2010, only 71,000 Democrats had voted early.

“If you want to compare Democratic turnout to Democratic turnout, it is climbing exponentially this year,” said Ed Espinoza, the executive director of the Democratic-leaning Progress Texas. “You can’t underestimate the surge that we’re seeing out there with the blue wave coming.

The last time Democrats outpaced Republicans came in 2008, when Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublicans invest nearly 0,000 in red Arizona district Al Franken: Sessions firing McCabe ‘is hypocrisy at its worst’ Papadopoulos encouraged by Trump campaign staffer to make contact with Russians: report MORE and former President Obama were locked in a pitched battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. At the same time, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain asks Trump's CIA pick to explain ties to torture Petraeus: Haspel will explain actions in nomination hearing Afghanistan is our longest war ever and Congress has abandoned all responsibility MORE (R-Ariz.) had effectively locked up the Republican presidential nomination, giving GOP voters less impetus to go to the polls.

This year, Republicans are sounding the alarm over higher Democratic turnout. In a fundraising email, Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) campaign warned supporters about vote totals coming in below expectations.

“Numbers for the first week of Early Voting should shock every conservative to their core,” Abbott’s campaign wrote. “If these trends continue, we could be in real trouble come Election Day.”

Scary emails meant to drive fundraising notwithstanding, some Republican observers say several factors are amping up Democratic numbers: The party has competitive primaries in several top-tier congressional races, and Democrats are choosing between several gubernatorial candidates. On the GOP side, most primaries are barely contested; Abbott faces no serious intraparty challenge, and neither does Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzLesson from special election: Run on Social Security, Medicare and lower drug prices Conservatives balk over funding bill ahead of shutdown  Confirmation fight over Trump pick exposes blurred lines in GOP-LGBT activism MORE (R).

It is difficult to read too much into the results of six days of early voting eight months before a midterm election. But the tally is a sign of an intensity gap that favors Democrats — and the last midterm year in which Democratic early voting beat Republican early voting, 2006, Democrats won back two U.S. House seats in Texas.

“I don’t believe that there are conclusions that can be drawn at this point. While I don’t want to downplay Democratic enthusiasm, there is enthusiasm on the GOP side too,” said Chris Wilson, Abbott’s pollster. “This is a story whose final chapter will not be written until March 7,” the day after the primary election. 

The Democratic path back to a majority in Congress almost certainly runs deep through the heart of Texas. Democrats are mounting credible challenges to Reps. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonO'Rourke faces uphill battle against Cruz after lackluster primary win Sanders: DCCC primary attacks on other Dems ‘not acceptable’ Budowsky: GOP panic is intense and growing MORE (R), Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsDCCC adds first black candidates to list of top candidates Spending deal talks down to toughest issues, lawmakers say Rep. Louise Slaughter dies at 88 MORE (R) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdDCCC adds first black candidates to list of top candidates Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica attracts scrutiny | House passes cyber response team bill | What to know about Russian cyberattacks on energy grid Republicans on defensive over Russia report finding MORE (R), all of whom hold suburban districts that Clinton won in 2016. The party also has its eyes on a district held by Rep. Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithDoug Collins to run for House Judiciary chair Overnight Regulation: FTC to probe Facebook over user data | FDA takes step to regulating flavors in tobacco products | Congress may include background check measure in funding bill Overnight Energy: EPA plans to restrict use of science data for regs | Pruitt's Italy trip cost more than K | Perry insists he's staying at Energy MORE (R), and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) is pulling in big bucks in his underdog challenge to Cruz.

Democrats need to reclaim 24 seats to win back control of the House, and two seats to reclaim the Senate. At the state level, Democrats need to win 20 seats to move into a tie in the 150-seat Texas House of Representatives, and six seats to win control of the 31-member state Senate.

The early voting numbers are another indicator that Democratic voters are enthusiastic about turning out to cast ballots, at least this early. So far in 2018, Democrats have won a handful of state legislative special elections in Republican-leaning districts in Kentucky, Florida, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Several recent surveys also suggest Democrats lead the generic congressional ballot. A CNN survey conducted last week shows Democrats leading by a 54 percent to 38 percent margin — a margin wider even than in 2008, when Democrats picked up almost two dozen seats in Congress. 

A Marist poll conducted over the same period found Democrats leading 46 percent to 39 percent.

While Republicans have controlled Texas politics for a quarter-century, there are signs that Democrats are growing their vote share at a disproportional rate. In 2004, former President George W. Bush took 4.5 million votes, compared with just 2.8 million for Democratic nominee John KerryJohn Forbes KerryFormer Georgia senator and governor Zell Miller dies 2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives Kentucky candidate takes heat for tweeting he'd like to use congressman for target practice MORE. Twelve years later, President TrumpDonald John TrumpScarborough mocks 'Deflection Don' over transgender troop ban Pelosi condemns Trump's 'cowardly, disgusting' ban on transgender troops Trump moves to ban most transgender people from serving in military MORE beat Clinton by a margin of just 9 percentage points, 4.7 million to 3.9 million.

Espinoza, the Democratic strategist, said his party has had more trouble generating turnout in nonpresidential years.

“The hurdle for Democrats has always been, what is our midterm turnout like?” Espinoza said. “That’s been the most erratic thing for us.”