Texas holds the nation’s first primaries of the year on Tuesday, previewing whether reinvigorated Democrats will turn out in big numbers for the November midterms.
Early voting in Texas, which lasted 11 days and ended on Friday, is way up since the last midterm elections ― a nearly 50 percent increase. In fact, Texas’ 15 largest counties have broken records for early turnout in a non-presidential election year.
The increase was driven by Democrats.
More than 465,245 early votes were cast in the state’s Democratic primaries this year, compared to over 420,329 in the Republican races. In 2014, by contrast, Republicans outpaced Democrats in early voting ― 365,423 voters to 226,730.
“After the 2016 election, Texas became a single-digit state,” Texas Democratic Party spokesman Tariq Thowfeek said, referring to Donald Trump carrying it by 9 percentage points, whereas for decades GOP presidential candidates won it by double digits.
“We watched that progressive energy grow into a record-breaking number of candidates and an incredible excitement around the March primary,” Thowfeek said. “It’s clear that folks are fired up, exceeding all expectations, and voting in force. Texas Democrats are poised to have to the best midterm of our lifetime.”
In many previous campaign cycles, Democrats failed to even field a candidate in some Republican-held districts. But not this year.
According to NPR, 111 Democrats are running for the U.S. House in Texas, with contenders on the ballot in all 36 of the state’s congressional districts. It’s the first time this has happened in 25 years.
A particular target for Democrats are districts that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election but are currently represented by a GOP congressman ― seats like the 7th District, held by Rep. John Culberson, and the 32nd, held by Rep. Pete Sessions.
Such a high number of Democratic candidates means there are some crowded primaries ― four districts have seven running ― which has led to a bit of intra-party fighting.
In the race in Culberson’s district, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has inserted itself into the primary by publicly releasing opposition research on digital activist Laura Moser. The DCCC, which focuses on electing Democrats to the House, has such research on its website against just two people: Moser and a Republican running in a Pennsylvania special congressional election next week.
The DCCC hasn’t endorsed any of Moser’s six opponents, but it argues that she won’t be able to win in the general election. EMILY’s List, the pro-choice Democratic women’s group, is backing corporate attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in the district.
The establishment getting involved so heavily has upset many activists and highlights the potential for future splits in a party that has stood relatively unified in post-Trump resistance work.
Republicans traditionally have an advantage in midterm elections, making a potential Democratic surge on Tuesday even more significant.
In the battle for state legislative seats in Texas, Democrats aren’t playing in every district, but the party does have a larger presence than in recent years.
Already, Democrats have been performing far better than expected in state legislative elections since Trump became president. The party has flipped 39 seats from red to blue, compared to just four that have gone from blue to red. Democrats also won the U.S. Senate special election in Alabama.