Lagging in the polls, Democratic governor candidate Wendy Davis and the voter turnout group Battleground Texas predicted the actual election results Nov. 4 would be surprising.
They were, but in the wrong direction. Davis got tromped by Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott in the governor’s contest, losing by more than 20 percent.
And the overall turnout actually dropped from the last gubernatorial election in 2010, by about 271,000 votes — despite four years of population growth in Texas. (All 2014 election results are unofficial so far.)
At a session analyzing the election results at the University of Texas at Austin Nov. 7, expert analysts like the University of Houston’s Dr. Richard Murray termed the turnout operation “a disaster.”
In Harris County (Houston), Battleground Texas sought to register and turn out “unlikely” voters, but waited until the final days to scramble to turn out their traditional voter base, Murray said. Rice University’s Dr. Mark Jones cited the loss by Democratic U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego in his sprawling West Texas 23rd District that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso to Republican challenger Will Hurd as evidence the voter turnout effort was ineffective.
“That shouldn’t happen if Battleground Texas is really helping,” Jones said. In fact, the ballyhoo around the effort’s launching in 2013 helped spur the Republicans to ramp up their ground game, he said.
Battleground Texas’s long-term effort to turn Texas blue (Democratic) “got sucked into the vortex” of Davis’s 2014 campaign, said Dr. Jim Henson, director of the UT Government Department’s Texas Politics Project.
Her dramatic Texas Senate filibuster June 25, 2013, against a bill to make it harder for women to obtain abortions, made her a national phenomenon and catapulted her into the governor’s race.
It also made her candidacy tough for Battleground Texas to ignore. So they joined forces.
But control was scattered, and the result may inadvertently have hamstrung her short-term and Battleground Texas’s longer-term efforts, the three political scientists agreed.
Jones said Democrats had hoped to drag Abbott down by linking him to candidates like Sen. Ken Paxton for attorney general and Sen. Dan Patrick for lieutenant governor “for going so far to the right” in the Republican primary. But there was “no blowback,” he observed, and down-ballot candidates only ran between 50,000 and 110,00 votes behind Abbott’s almost 2.8 million. That’s a normal falloff in elections.
Some observers said the lower Democratic turnout was due to the state’s requirement that people show a photo ID in order to vote — thought to punish Hispanics, senior citizens and young voters, who tend to favor Democrats.
Also, Nov. 4 was a debacle nationally for the Democrats. The Republicans regained a majority in the U.S. Senate, increased their U.S. House majority to the largest since 1929, and unexpectedly upset incumbent Democratic governors in blue states like Maryland and Massachusetts.
There was the factor of so-called “dark money,” flooding tens of millions of dollars in undisclosed expenditures in states across the nation, aimed at punishing Democrats.
The Republicans nationally, and also in Texas, had learned from and copied the turnout operations that had elected Barack Obama in 2008, and again in 2012 in states like Ohio, against the expectations of Republican Mitt Romney.
Virtually every Republican candidate for any office, from U.S. Senate down to dogcatcher, ran against Obama and his signature health insurance program, the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “ObamaCare.”
In Texas, Davis largely avoided much discussion of the health insurance act until late in the campaign, although she did criticize Abbott for endorsing Gov. Rick Perry’s rejection of tens of millions in federal funds to expand Medicaid.
Some of her other efforts to appeal to voter groups were undermined by circumstances.
Abbott had defended the Texas voter ID law, which offends many Hispanics, as attorney general. But his wife is Hispanic, making it hard to attack him as anti-Hispanic – particularly with his Hispanic mother-in-law praising him on TV ads in English and Spanish.
On education, when Davis plugged universal pre-kindergarten, “Abbott immediately bear-hugged (her),” Jones said. “ ‘Me, too,’ “
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And So On. . . .
The biggest vote-getter among the Republican statewide candidates was, not surprisingly, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
Cornyn, the only incumbent statewide non-judicial candidate, got 2,855,068 votes, to 1,594,252 for Democrat David Alameel. Cornyn got 61.5 percent to Alameel’s 34.4 percent.
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Bush Name Still Works . . . .
In his first political race, George P. Bush was elected Texas Land Commissioner with the highest vote total of anyone except Cornyn. He ran 33,709 behind Cornyn, but still had the highest total vote among those seeking state offices.
Bush outpolled Gov.- elect Abbott by 31,132 votes.
That said, despite the lower turnout in 2014, Abbott got 52.749 more votes than Perry had in 2010.
DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458 2963.