Why Democrats Won in Dallas County

Many people have already written about the Democrat’s win in Dallas County. Here is a very good essay by Ken Molberg that covers much of the same ground that I will here. I think Ken is quite right in almost everything he says.

(UPDATE (12.16.06): The Lone Star Project has now released their own report on these elections in Dallas County. And they have analyzed the actual voting data to an extent that others, including me, have not. They reach many of the same conclusions that I do in this essay, only they’ve crunched actual numbers from the election. Here’s a pdf of their report.)

First off, this: Anyone who says they know definitively why the Democrats won Dallas County, but does not give you multiple reasons for the electoral wins, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The roots of this electoral victory are deep and the shifts in Dallas County are complex. In my opinion, many of the old ways of analyzing the vote –where voters come from, who they vote for, and what their politics are– will not hold in the future. And if you want to understand what did happen November 7th, and what will happen in Dallas County in future elections, you must look to at least three major factors:

1) An incredibly well organized Dallas Democratic Party and Coordinated Campaign.
2) The changing demographics of ALL of Dallas County, including the southern sector, a potential increase in the Hispanic vote, and the surprisingly strong showing in every suburb.
3) The intensity of the anti-Bush/anti-Republican vote, symbolized by Libertarian candidates getting crazy-good numbers in races where there was no Democrat.

Let me speak to all of these because, IMHO, you will not understand the election unless you understand them all…..

“What Did You Do With the Dallas County Democratic Party?!!”
That’ s what many observers kept asking themselves during this campaign season. Because, unlike years past, when political infighting and recriminations tore unity to shreds, the Democratic Party in Dallas County was unified and strategic this time.

Over Labor Day weekend, I read a quote from Kenn George, the Dallas County Republican Chair, in the Morning News. He said that, in his opinion, the Democrats were unorganized and underfunded like “usual.” I didn’t know at the time time whether he was blowing smoke, or just genuinely deluded. To me, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if anyone outside of the small circle of candidates knew just how well they were working together. THEY knew they were, and they kept it going the whole election season.

Candidates stayed motivated on the task of beating their opponents, and did not beat up on each other. Each candidate, each party activist, brought his or her strengths to the table, and brought out the vote in many key areas of town.

At the heart of this effort was the “Coordinated Campaign.” Ed Ishmael has described the Coordinated Campaign quite well in a Dallasblog essay. Kirk McPike, who led the Coordinated Campaign’s “Northern Office,” has also written an excellent summary of the organization behind it and even some of the key personalities who ran it. Please read it here on Burnt Orange blog. These two links will tell you just about everything you need to know about the Coordinated Campaign and the Democratic Party during this election.

I cannot add much to either of these two essays, except to say that its unity of purpose made this campaign season light-year’s different from 2004.
Hats off, and major kudos, to Darlene Ewing, who managed to herd all the Democratic cats in one direction long enough to keep the unity going. I am quite impressed with her leadership skills. Darlene was decisive when she needed to be decisive. But she also listened to alternative opinions, and changed her mind when that was the best thing too. She intentionally chose to keep the Democrat’s campaign a positive one; concentrating on lifting up the qualifications of Democratic candidates, and showcasing Democratic values, as opposed to wasting time tearing down either on the Republican side. I cannot praise her highly enough for all she did in this campaign.

The candidates pitched in too. They raised money, enlisted their relatives, worked long hours at events when few people showed up, and did not take one single Dallas County voter for granted. They made sure the Democratic Party has a presence at Women’s Events, Black Events, Hispanic Events, Gay/Lesbian Events, Christian Events, Jewish Events, Muslim Events….you get the idea…

They marched in dozens of suburban parades. They attended candidate forums of two listeners, and two hundred. They walked, door-to-door, to the homes of thousands of county residents. I don’t know what the total count was, but I am certain that candidates and volunteers of the Dallas Democratic Party knocked on tens of thousands of doors during this election cycle.

In short, they worked their butts off. And their unity and hard work, is the first reason Democrats won.

“Oh the Times, They Are A Changin'”
And so are the demographics of Dallas County. But it is far too simplistic to reduce this shift to the classic “North/South” polarity of old. Yes, that’s a part of what’s going on. But, as I will go into below, it’s not the whole story.

The key point to understand is this: every single neighborhood of Dallas County is trending more Democratic, and has been for the past few election cycles.

But first, the county as a whole. Consider this analysis of the county-wide straight party vote in the past three elections:

Republican: 2000: 49.28% 2002: 49.06% 2004: 48.32%
Democratic: 2000: 49.86% 2002: 50.41% 2004: 51.22%

As you can clearly see, since least 2000 the Democrats have been winning the straight party vote percentage battle. Not only is their percentage increasing over this time period, but the Republican’s percentage has been decreasing.

The actual percentages for the recently held 2006 election were:
Republican: 46.14
Democratic: 53.04

These percentages actually exceeded my predictions (Rep: 47.24; Dem: 51.9) for this election. Democrats did even better than the straight party vote of the previous three elections would indicate.

This next line I am about to type is crucial: There is no imaginable way that this trend will reverse.

Read that last line again, and say it with me three times slowly. Especially those of you who believe this election was a fluke, or that Dennise’s election last time was as fluke…or that Sally Montgomery’s election the time before that was. Say it until you believe it.

And if you still don’t believe it, consider these other facts:

In 2000, a Democratic State District Judge candidate (Mary Ann Huey) narrowly lost by less than one (0.74!) percent to the incumbent Republican.
In 2002, the Democrats won one county-wide judicial race (Sally Montgomery).
In 2002, another candidate (Lisa McKnight) lost by a just over 1,500 votes (0.42 percent!).
In 2004, Democrats ran in six contests, and won three (fifty percent)
In 2004, George W. Bush (Dallas resident of ten years, and personal friend to many in this county) won Dallas County by the slimmest of margins (10,000 out of more than 680,000 votes cast).
In 2006, Democrats ran in 40 races, and won all of them.
In 2006, Chris Bell won Dallas County (and might have even won a “head-to-head” with Rick Perry too).

So, yes, the “the times, they are a changin'” county wide.

But! They may be changing in more ways than you think. At least the data seems to indicate this. Here’s what I mean….

These are not your Mother’s Democratic Voters
As I said above, there are many folks who attribute almost all of the Democratic victory to an increase in southern sector voting. And while the southern sector vote is absolutely essential, always has been and always will be, if the analysis just stops there, I believe it misses the whole story.

Facts are, if you look just at the early voting numbers, turnout in the traditional South Dallas stronghold areas was significantly down. (BTW, this freaked out a lot of folks during early voting. There was not much confidence, in some circles, that ANY Democrats would win because this traditionally Democratic area was so lagging, turnout-wise…)

In fact, turnout was down at almost every early voting location in South Dallas, by percentages of between 15 and 37 percent. (compared to 2002, the last comparible midterm election…) So, it doesn’t make sense to say that it was only the South Dallas vote that was decisive. It was important. VERY important. The races could not have been won without it. But, in my opinion, it was only when this is combined with other factors that the clear victory emerged for Dallas Democrats.

My personal hunch is that we will find another significant factor was increased Hispanic voter turnout. Domingo Garcia and others have already called it the most important single factor. We probably don’t know enough of the facts yet to say that definitely. But you can’t rule it out that claim based on the evidence.

Pundits argued for months about whether or not the Hispanic vote would “turn out,” in record numbers this Fall. They didn’t turn out in a tidal wave, that’s true. But the facts are –with Dallas County as close as it is– even a marginal increase in Hispanic voter turnout would have been enough to have a really key impact on this election.

And the Dallas Observer is reporting that it looks like there was a this kind of marginal increase. Their story reports that at least one analysis shows Hispanic turnout up 9 percent in early voting. If that total held for the general election, there’s no doubt that it was a HUGE factor in this election. (In fact, taking into consideration traditional voting patterns, if the EV was up 9 percent, the election day voting was probably up even more than this).

The Observer story found anecdotal information about increased Hispanic turnout:

Poll workers in heavily Hispanic precincts say they noticed more Latinos casting ballots, especially people in their late teens and early 20s, and noted a high number seemed to be voting straight-ticket Democrat. Rising numbers of Hispanic activists and volunteers, along with a surge in citizenship applications, point to long-term political influence, and in the short term, observers believe Latino voters played a major role in Dallas County’s Democratic sweep.

One factual indicator of this is the early voting turnout at Grauwyler Recreation Center. While there were not huge total numbers of votes there, it’s interesting to note the huge percentage increase. This heavily Hispanic neighborhood saw a whopping 63 percent increase in early voting over 2002.

BTW, as an aside, let me give you one more factoid for your collection, regarding Latinos and this election…

On November 7th, Democrats elected five persons to countywide judicial posts. That one election night total is more than a 100 percent increase over what Republicans have elected in the past 20 years.*

Now, hold all these thoughts in your mind (about possible increased Hispanic turnout) and let me give you some other interesting factoids from the early vote.


Early voting turnout was waaay DOWN in the Park Cities.
(22 percent to be precise).

Early voting turnout was waaay UP in many of Dallas’ suburbs (somewhere between 11 and 25 percent) take a look:
Irving: up 22 percent.
North Dallas: up 23 percent.
Richardson: up 22 percent.
Mesquite: up 25 percent.
Duncanville: up 11 percent.

As I puzzled over these numbers during early voting, it made no logical sense that early voting could be so far down in the Park Cities, but so far up in the suburbs, and for this to still just be Republican voters coming out. Coming out in the suburbs, but staying home in the Park Cities?!! It couldn’t be. It had to be something else.

No, I was pretty convinced then (but too chicken to say it too aloud), and I’m even MORE convinced now, that this was something different and new. These were Suburban Democrats. I believe they are Black, Anglo, Hispanic, and Asian, and I personally believe turnout is up for all of them.

Elements of the Democratic Party (some candidates and several PACs) spent a lot of time cultivating votes in these more traditionally “Republican” or “swing” areas. I believe it paid off. You see this no more clearly than in the races for State Representative, which tend to be very localized. We assume that there are many safe Republican seats among these races, and that Democrats have no chance of winning them.

But take a look at these facts….

Moving from left to right across the Dallas area, take a look at how surprisingly well Democratic State Representative candidates did in this election:

Grand Prairie/Irving: Katie Hubener lost by a heart-breaking 250 votes!!! So, basically, she pulled in 50 percent of that vote.
North Dallas/Richardson: Harriet Miller hoped to beat Tony Goolsby. She did not, but she did pull in 46 percent of the vote.
Near North Dallas/Lake Highlands: My good friend, and church member, Phillip Shinoda did not win his race against Will Hartnett, but he topped a quite respectable 42 percent.
East Dallas: Allen Vaught (one of these candidate who walked door-to-door) won his race…pulled in 50 percent.
Center of Town/Park Cities: In one of the most Republican areas of town, Jack Borden pulled in 40 percent of the vote.
And, let’s throw in one more: Will Pryor, in a district drawn to be “Republican safe,” drew 41 percent of the vote in his effort to unseat Pete Sessions. Again, that’s a District that’s mainly North Dallas and Irving.

The point is this: No Democrat running for state legislature took LESS than 40 percent of the vote in Dallas’ northern suburbs and in North Dallas itself.

Get your mind around that factoid. Yes, this is not your Mother’s Democratic voter. These are Anglo suburbanites, joined by Black, Hispanic, and Asian suburbanites, and the traditionally rich Democratic base of South Dallas to form a powerful and winning combination.

We saw these Suburban Democrats first in 2004 during the Frost/Sessions race. Countless North Dallas and suburban Democrats expressed surprise at how many “Frost” signs were up in their neighborhoods. This time saw “Had Enough?” signs replaced the many Frost signs, along with signs for the aforementioned statehouse candidates; and folks like Will Pryor.

Summary: I believe we are seeing a permanent shift in the voting patterns of BOTH North Dallas and of South Dallas. And in both cases, this shift favors the Democrats.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Voter Scorned
There is no question that this election carried an anti-Bush, and anti-Republican, patina. It hung over the election at every level: from the Congress to the local race for County Judge. People –Republicans, Democrats, and Independents– wanted to send a statement. They are mad about the war, they are mad about Katrina, they are mad about Jack Abramov, they are mad about the dozen or so Republican members of congress who have gone down with him, they are mad about Tom Delay, they are mad about Mark Foley.

They are just mad.

One anecdote from the Fretz Park early voting location (told to me by a Harriet Miller volunteer, so take it with a grain of salt if you must):

The story goes that a guy came up to vote, and walked right up to Tony Goolsby’s (the Republican incumbent’s) volunteer, and said something like this:
“I have voted straight ticket Republican all of my life.”

To which, allegedly, the volunteer whooped and hollered.

But, as the volunteer calmed down, the man continued, “But this year, I am going to go in and vote straight ticket Democrat!”

With that, he then turned, and walked straight into the voting location, leaving everyone watching in stunned silence.

I don’t know if that story was true or not. But either way, the facts show that a LOT of people did exactly that: voted straight Democratic. Some of them were Republicans, voting Democratic for the very first time. Other Republicans stayed home.

As I said above, more people voted straight ticket than was predicted by my own estimate this time. In fact, the anti-Bush anger vote probably accounts for about one percent of straight ticket votes overall. Doesn’t sound like much, but countywide, that’s a lot of mad folks. Liberally, it could have been as many as 15-20,000 votes.

So, yes, there was an anti-Bush/anti-Republican edge to this election. And yes, some really fine human beings –Republican office holders and candidates; some of whom I have known for years and consider friends– got caught up in it.

But before you dismiss it as a one time fad, please understand how deep it went, and how it factors in with everything else going on in the county. Again, we turn to some interesting numbers….

Take the races for State Supreme Court, for example. In almost all these races, no Democrat ran. It was a Libertarian verses a Republican. You’d assume a Republican stomping here, wouldn’t you? In fact, in 2002 when a Libertarian ran against a Republican (with no Democrat on the ballot) Libertarians were only able to garner 13 percent of the vote in the very best case.

This year, Republicans still won those races handily. But! This year, Libertarian candidates drew between 20 and 26 percent of the vote in Dallas County. In some races, 26 percent of the people voted for a Libertarian, rather than vote Republican or just leave the ballot blank!! That’s significant, friends. It points to a real desire to send a message, and express an anger and frustration with the President and the Republican Party. Whether you think it misguided or not, it’s there, it’s real, and it was a factor.

Before Republicans sooth themselves by believing that this is a temporary situation, they should remember points one and two of this essay:
— The Democratic Party is well organized and, especially now that they’ve won, there is every indication that they will continue their winning strategies.
— The demographics of Dallas County continue to shift, in the direction of Democratic voters, in every sector and neighborhood of the county.

In fact, even if there was a one percent anti-Republican factor in this election, and even if you assume that it caused some Democrats to get elected this time who otherwise would not have, the simple continuing trends in the Democrats favor will mean that by next election (2008) the percentages of Democratic voters will more than increase enough to account for the anti-Republican vote this time. In other words: the results of this election, a Democratic sweep, were never in doubt over the long term.

The point is this: whether everyone admits it or not, what happened November 7th was never a question of “if,” but only of “when.”

The anti-Republican backlash may have caused it to happen this election cycle (rather than next) for some (not all) of the candidates who won this time. But even if you take away that backlash-vote next time, the Democrats will more than be able to make up for that small percentage in their own continuing gains.

As for Republicans, the task becomes pretty monumental. To re-take county-wide offices, the Republicans will not only have to win back the angry swing voters, woo back their voters who stayed home, but also win OVER some new voters to make up for continuing Democratic gains.

And that’s probably too tall an order, given the realities of a party whose own straight party vote has now decreased for four straight elections.
Well, that’s about it. I have now exhausted all my thoughts about turnout in this election. Others will disagree, of course, and come up with much more simplistic reasons for why November 7th happened. That’s fine. It’s one of the fun parts of politics…the second guessing…the armchair quarterbacking…the trying to put an election into context and come up with reasons for why what happened happened.

So, I am sure there are other ways to look at it. And others can write their own essays. But, I will remind you, I am now 2-0 as a political advisor to my favorite Democratic candidate.

So, if you take only one point away from this essay, I hope it will be this:

Lots of people think they have this election all figured out, but their figuring only includes one of the preceding set of factors, while the real answer is more complex:

— They point to surpressed Republican straight ticket turnout, but fail to recognize that the trendline has been dropping for Republican turnout for the last four elections.
— They point to the changing Demographics of Dallas, and assume it’s all a “southern sector” thing, but fail to account for the increases in Northern sector and Hispanic voting.
— They point to anger against the Republicans, but fail to see just how well organized and funded the Democrats were.

The answer to why the Democrats won is complex. And I hope I’ve given you all something to think about.

*Based on research I have done for election returns going back to 1992 in countywide judicial races. And the claim here applies to elected verses appointed judgeships. The point being that Democrats, in one night, increased the number of elected Latino judges in Dallas County by more than 100 percent. And not only 100 percent more than those serving currently, but 100 percent more than the Republicans have ever elected in their history. If anyone finds evidence to contradict this claim, I would be happy to correct it. But I’m pretty sure it’s right.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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