Democrats saw a massive 87 percent surge in voter turnout compared with 2014 as the 2018 midterm election season kicked off in Texas’s primary Tuesday. The rise was thanks in part to the number of women and non-white voters who turned out, experts said.
Beto O’Rourke secured the Democratic nomination to run against Republican Senator Ted Cruz, and, for the first time since 1992, the party has a candidate in all 36 of the state’s congressional districts running for the House.
“I would absolutely say that Republican elected officials should be concerned about what they’re seeing in Texas,” Tom Bonier, the CEO of data firm TargetSmart, told Newsweek. Bonier’s firm provided data to the Democratic National Committee in the 2016 election.
“Eighty-seven percent increase in turnout is just something that you never would expect to see,” he said, pointing out that while Republican turnout increased 15 percent, “they’re coming out at rates that match what you would expect for off-year elections.”
The Republican advantage in Texas has largely been based on white male votes. Yet Texas has an “increasing Hispanic population as well as an African-American population and traditionally those voters haven’t had turnout at rates anywhere approaching white voters,” Bonier said. If they come out in greater numbers, they will have an impact.
During early voting last weekend Bonier said he saw bumps in the number of women, black and Hispanic voters, and a parallel drop in white voters turning out. He expects that to carry over into the final numbers.
Democrats Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia—two Hispanic women—won Democratic primaries in their districts and one or both of them could well become Texas’s first Latina congresswomen.
“Republican elected officials should be concerned about what they’re seeing in Texas,” Bonier said. “They are seeing a very energized Democratic base and they’re seeing a Republican base that at this point doesn’t appear to be matching Democratic enthusiasm or anywhere close to it last year.”
“We have candidates everywhere, and that means we are reaching voters who haven’t heard from Democrats in a long time,” Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told the Associated Press. “That’s a good thing for November.”
Better educated white voters are flocking to the Democrats, Bonier said, citing various recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Georgia, which each saw wins or vote increases for Democrats with the help of those voters.
This enthusiasm, he said, is being “fueled in reaction to” President Donald Trump, who endorsed Cruz and several other Texas Republicans in a tweet at the end of February. On Wednesday a new Politico/Morning Consult poll showed Trump was eight percentage points behind a generic Democratic candidate.
Trump’s tax bill, budget, and proposed cuts to entitlements are all having an impact, Bonier said. “I think voters are starting to be in on the joke so to speak,” he said, adding voters were taking a “wait-and-see” approach to “what he actually does instead of just reacting to his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks at press conferences.”
Late Tuesday Cruz released a radio ad warning Texans that his Democrat nominee O’Rourke “wants to take our guns” over his call to ban assault weapons like the AR-15 used in last month’s massacre at a high school in Florida.
In Texas Republicans still cast over 500,000 ballots more than their Democratic counterparts in the Senate primary.
As Democrats seek to retake control of the House of Representatives by turning 24 seats blue, Texas is unlikely to turn to give them a win, some warned.
“Having Democratic turnout surpass Republicans is a big deal in Texas, and should have the GOP scared,” Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, told Fox News Tuesday. But, he said, it will “not enough to flip the state.”