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« Wendy Davis' Primary Disaster. | WILLisms.com | American Homelessness. »

Addressing Questions About Wendy Davis' Disastrous Primary Election Results.

It's now been a week. The dust has mostly settled.

The primaries are behind us, and other than a handful of statewide runoffs with all-but-foregone conclusions (and a tiny number of contested State Representative and State Senate runoffs), the general election is up next.

The day after the primary, this post (and the map representation of Wendy Davis' losses in South Texas) about Wendy Davis' primary election disaster went somewhat viral-ish:


The results sparked a lively debate over whether Wendy Davis' poor performance in South Texas and beyond is something that actually means anything. Is it all really a dispositive clue pointing to a Republican wave and/or Democrat slump in 2014? Or is it just noise and/or meaningless circumstance? Some sought to explain away the results by saying things like:

1. Ray Madrigal is Hispanic. His surname is Hispanic. Therefore just being on the ballot should be enough to get 20 percent or so of the vote statewide and 50 percent or more in majority-Hispanic counties.

2. Wendy Davis wasn't really pushing for a big primary win. She is saving it all for the general election. Right now, she has yet to spend much time, money, or other resources in the Valley.

3. Wendy Davis still beat Republican Greg Abbott in most of the heavily Hispanic, deeply blue counties.

Let's address these one at a time.

1. Ray Madrigal is Hispanic. His surname is Hispanic. Therefore just being on the ballot should be enough to get 20 percent or so of the vote statewide and 50 percent or more in majority-Hispanic counties.

In the heavily Democrat Rio Grande Valley, an essential region of the state if Democrats want to turn Texas blue, Davis got fewer votes than any Democrat on the primary ballot in more than two decades. This is astonishing, given that Valley population has grown by more than a third during that time.

Moreover, Wendy Davis is the only Democrat nominee in the last 20 years to lose any Valley counties, suffering defeat in Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy (plus about two dozen others along the border and around the state), and winning a marginal victory in Cameron County (Brownsville) by a mere 688 votes. Her Rio Grande Valley performance (for the sake of time alone, I didn't include every single border or South Texas county here) was historically awful, despite rapid growth in the region over this timeframe (click for larger version):


And the dagger through the heart of the "they just voted their race" argument is that former gubernatorial nominee Bill White, the palest, blandest, Elmer Fuddiest-looking white guy in the history of white people (his name is even white) faced not one but two people with Hispanic surnames in 2010, and they received 2.83% and 4.95% of the statewide primary vote, respectively:


In Cameron County (Brownsville), Bill White's two Hispanic opponents earned (combined) 15.5% of the vote. In Webb County (Laredo), White's two Hispanic opponents together received 14.8%. In El Paso County (El Paso), they together got 16.5%. In Hidalgo (McAllen), they received 19.9%, and in Starr (Rio Grande City), they got 18.4%.

Wendy Davis, meanwhile, lost these counties (and others), often by large margins. If "voting the race" was a thing in 2014, it was a sudden thing and not something that has shown up before, except perhaps for Tony Sanchez in 2002 (although he spent 18+ million dollars before the primary, so his Valley performance may have been more about exorbitant spending than anything else).

2. Wendy Davis wasn't really pushing for a big primary win. She is saving it all for the general election. Right now, she has yet to spend much time, money, or other resources in the Valley.

This is just wrong. There's no other way to put it.

Wendy Davis' team of Obama alumni is comprised of the experts of all experts when it comes to voter registration and turnout, and they aren't humble about it.

Texas Monthly, February 21, 2014:

"Key to Davis’s victory is turnout, and in recent memory no organization has proved more adept in this area than the Obama campaign. ...When it comes to the gritty task of getting out the vote, they’re the experts."

Houston Chronicle, February 26, 2014:

“As senior adviser to (Battleground Texas), Bird said his goal is ‘bringing some of the best talent and strategies in politics to the Lone Star State to help expand the electorate by registering more voters and by mobilizing Texans who are already registered but haven’t made their voices heard.’”

Indeed, Battleground Texas and the Davis team are on the record saying they were indeed pushing for a strong primary turnout as a trial run for November.

Associated Press, March 2, 2014:

Davis and Battleground have “signed up 12,000 volunteers and attempted more than 370,000 phone calls and door-knocks to boost the Democratic Party.”

Associated Press, March 3, 2014:

“Her campaign and Battleground Texas have been running phone banks to get people in the habit of voting before it really counts in November.”

Despite Wendy Davis’ massive, hyped, well-funded, all-star staffed voter registration effort with Battleground Texas and millions of dollars from out-of-state, today there are 45,000 fewer Texans registered to vote than in November 2012.

Keep in mind that Barack Obama lost Texas to Mitt Romney by nearly 16% in 2012 and Republicans tend to perform better in off-year elections, when low information voters stay home in greater numbers.

There is obviously not any sort of perfect r-squared correlation between partisan primary turnout and general election results, but a primary election is undeniably is a key indicator of voter interest and excitement-- and there is a clear and present enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats in Texas today.

In the 10 bluest, most reliably Democrat-machine counties in Texas (the ten counties, other than the "big five," with more than 10K registered voters where Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by the widest margins in 2012: Cameron, El Paso, Hidalgo, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Maverick, Starr, Val Verde, Webb, and Willacy), Davis got fewer votes than any Democrat in the last twenty years, while primary turnout was the lowest (in both raw votes and percentage voting) since 1998. Davis actually lost five of these reliably Democratic counties, and in only one (Jefferson) did she match her statewide performance.

In some of the deepest blue counties in Texas, Wendy Davis simply bonked (click for larger version):


In Texas' 5 most populous counties, there were 12,897 fewer total Democratic votes than in 2010 and 62,469 fewer than in 2002.

Wendy Davis received roughly 85 thousand fewer votes than Bill White did in 2010, despite spending over $1.7 million more than Bill White, pre-primary.

Think about that (click for larger version):


In a practically uncontested primary, Wendy Davis spent more than Bill White in a contested primary, to achieve poorer primary results.

3. Wendy Davis still beat Republican Greg Abbott in most of the heavily Hispanic, deeply blue counties.

And it's true.

These are rock-solid blue counties. That's not surprising for more Democrats to vote than Republicans, by a big margin. As former State Representative (D turned R) Aaron Peña noted, to participate in local elections in the Valley at present, you have to participate in D primaries.

Greg Abbott doesn't need to win these deep blue counties to win in November. He just wants to get enough votes from them to be able to break the George W. Bush high water mark of 40% among Hispanics statewide. Based on what we've seen from the primary numbers, that may be very doable.

Moreover, if we want to play the game of which counties Greg Abbott or Wendy Davis won, Abbott won the vast majority of counties, including all major metro counties other than Travis County (Austin) and El Paso (map via @suemclean on twitter):

Democrats outperformed Republicans along the border and in places with competitive local D primaries (plus a small number of low population counties that are still, in 2014, believe it or not, transitioning from blue to red). There were also a few rural counties without Republican primaries and only a handful of D votes. That is nothing new.

What is eye-opening is that Greg Abbott got more votes in Wendy Davis' home county, Tarrant County. And in Dallas County. And in Harris County (Houston). And in Bexar County (San Antonio). In nearly all counties with more than 100,000 registered voters, Abbott dominated (click for larger version):


Counties with more Abbott votes:
Harris County: 128,057 Abbott to 47,372 Davis
Tarrant County: 84,695 Abbott to 38,560 Davis
Dallas County: 76,318 Abbott to 59,649 Davis
Bexar County: 57,104 Abbott to 35,578 Davis
Collin: 40,939 Abbott to 9,030 Davis
Montgomery: 39,574 Abbott to 2,345 Davis
Denton: 34,191 Abbott to 6,757 Davis
Fort Bend: 26,095 Abbott to 7,745 Davis
Williamson: 21,616 Abbott to 6,849 Davis
Lubbock: 20,564 Abbott to 3,191 Davis
Smith: 19,577 Abbott to 1,973 Davis
Galveston: 16,751 Abbott to 3,969 Davis
Brazoria: 16,744 Abbott to 2,601 Davis
Bell: 12,433 Abbott to 2,319 Davis
Nueces: 11,541 Abbott to 5,411 Davis
McLennan: 10,498 Abbott to 2,053 Davis
Jefferson: 9,996 to 9,322 Davis
Hays: 7,426 Abbott to 2,954 Davis
Total: 624,123 Abbott to 238,356 Davis (a 385,767 margin)

Counties with more Davis votes:
Travis: 43,414 Davis to 28,307 Abbott
El Paso: 19,753 Davis to 8,359 Abbott
Hidalgo: 16,994 Davis to 4,760 Abbott
Webb: 10,446 Davis to 725 Abbott
Cameron: 8,514 Davis to 3,368 Abbott
Total: 99,121 Davis to 45,519 Abbott (a mere 53,602 margin)

Note that in the counties Abbott "won," his margin of victory was higher than Wendy Davis' margin was in the counties she "won." The median "score" in Abbott counties was 79-21. In Davis counties, the median score was 29-71. Also note the median voter ratios in these counties.

There is a Texas enthusiasm gap in 2014, and it strongly favors Republicans (click for larger version):


You can quickly see why Texas is such a red state, despite the cities and South Texas being so strongly blue. Texas has plenty of heavily populated (and rapidly growing) suburban and formerly small town counties that are strongly Republican. Montgomery County, for example, just outside of Houston, is roaring with growth and prosperity. It also produced nearly 17 times more Abbott votes than Davis votes in the primary.

Over the past two decades or so, Texas has gotten both far more Hispanic and far more Republican. Eventually, Texas being a majority-minority state (as of 2012, Texas was 44.5% non-Hispanic white) might "quickly" change the political realities in Texas, but so far, it has not. And it won't in 2014. Or 2016. Or 2018. Or probably well into the 2020s or even much later (if ever). Nothing is inevitable in politics.

Why Did Wendy Davis Perform So Atrociously In Her Primary?

Let's address what may have really been behind Wendy Davis' awful performance: Texas Right To Life. In October, and again in February, Texas Right To Life ran both English and Spanish radio ads in South Texas highlighting Wendy Davis' support for unfettered elective late-term abortion after five months of pregnancy.

As Michael Barone noted, Wendy Davis' infamous filibuster repelled Hispanic voters in Texas. And it makes sense.

After voting to limit elective late-term abortion and require abortion facilities to meet basic standards of safety and cleanliness, State Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr. (D-Palmview) was challenged by Maria Regalado from the left on the issue of his HB 2 vote. The pro-life Muñoz demolished her, pulling in 76% of the vote. Support for late-term abortion doesn't play in Texas, especially South Texas.

Indeed, some of us saw this coming many months ago in Wendy Davis' awful, no good, horrible, really, really bad fundraising figures from South Texas, and after her disastrous not-ready-for-primetime campaign appearances in the Valley.

And while we're on that, let's address Wendy Davis' campaign appearances in the Valley. I saw suggestions that Wendy Davis just hadn't spent much time in South Texas. In fact, though, Davis made a lot of appearances in the Valley, including her infamous "not ready for prime time" event in Pharr and Charro Days just before the election. Wendy Davis visited the Valley a disproportionately large number of times.

It wasn't a lack of attention. It wasn't a lack of money. It wasn't a lack of name identification. It wasn't that her last name wasn't Hispanic. It wasn't a lack of institutional party support-- the Democratic Party of Texas endorsed her before she even entered the race.

Wendy Davis' poor primary performance was simply the result of a lack of compatible values or message. She just is a mismatched candidate for South Texas, and her well-known extremism on behalf of late-term abortion was a disqualifying flaw for many voters in South Texas and beyond.

Posted by Will Franklin · 12 March 2014 10:28 AM