One of the most Republican areas in Texas may have as much as 45 percent support for Barack Obama today. Electing Obama in Williamson County is a big stretch, but the fact that it is even possible is astounding in this place, the fastest growing area of the state. More importantly, this suburban area northwest of Austin is a bellwether for political winds sweeping through Texas, where Democrats need only five seats to win back control of the state house of representatives.
Williamson County, which includes the cities of Hutto, Round Rock, Georgetown and Taylor, is seeing most of its growth from urban populations moving out of the city, creating a much more diverse community than just a few years ago. This movement is seen in many other areas of Texas as well, according to state demographers.
Early voting in Texas took place from Oct. 20 through Oct. 31, which included both mail-in ballots and in-person voting at polling places. Just in those 11 days, 113,000 ballots were cast. That's only 10,000 votes shy of the total ballots counted from Williamson in the 2004 presidential race. But as of 2:00pm CST on Election Day, turnout has been pretty light.
Campaign staff from both parties are knocking on doors and calling residents today, but no one knows what the results will be, because no public polls have been done recently on the presidential race or otherwise in Williamson County. The only data from which to predict is from the primaries, where Democrats came out in unprecedented numbers and chose Obama over Clinton.
"I think Obama - if not really close, he'll be within three or four points. Remember, we have cities out there that are solid blocks of Republicans," said Richard Torres, chair of the Williamson County Democratic Party. "A lot of people are focusing in on Williamson County because we're such a red county and they're starting to see the movement to be more purple. There are 26 precincts that we won [in 2006]."
Twenty-six precincts may not seem like a lot, considering that they have 99 total precincts in the county, but Torres compares this accomplishment with having only two blue precincts in 2004. Torres said that from studying the previous records of this year's early voters, he can tell that about 45 percent of them voted Democratic in the past, nearly 30 percent have records of voting Republican, and the remainder did not have any previous voting records and thus were labeled Independent. Texas does not have official party registration.
Bill Fairbrother, chair of the Williamson County Republican Party, said that he still expects John McCain to win easily, despite the light turnout thus far. His volunteers have also been going door-to-door, putting out signs, and phone banking.
The goal for Democrats in the county was to turn out at least 70 percent of the voters who came out in the Democratic primary. But by midday today, Torres said that probably would not happen. Still, he is optimistic that even if the county elects John McCain, the high level of support for Barack Obama will positively benefit Democratic candidates down the ballot, including a race for the open state house of representatives seat between Democrat Diana Maldonado and Republican Bryan Daniel.
The Republican incumbent, Mike Krusee, is not running for re-election. Krusee won in 2000 with 84 percent of the vote, and in 2004 with 91 percent of the vote. This time around, the two candidates have raised almost equal amounts of money, with the Republican raising about $40,000 more between January and the end of October, according to the Texas state ethics commission.
This is one of the five seats Democrats would need to win to take back control of the state house. The Democrat, Diana Maldonado, is predicted to win by Texas blogs, is endorsed by the Austin American Statesman, the Austin Chronicle, and the Williamson County Sun, the latter which the Maldonado campaign manager doesn't think has endorsed a Democrat "since God was a boy."
The Maldonado campaign manager, Genevieve Van Cleve, also said, "We have run out of people to flyer, talk to, block walk, etc. Anyone that understands campaigns will know what that means - We have run out of turf!... If nothing else, we have done everything humanly possible to win this race and I'm incredibly proud of Diana's staff, volunteers, and family."
Laura Jackson, the campaign manager for the Daniel campaign, said that Daniel has been advertising heavily in the last few days, which may sway the results in his favor. "He's on the radio, and she's not," Jackson said.
Regardless of Williamson County's choice of president, voting trends over the last decade show this area may be turning purple. It might not be today, but tighter races for a variety of contests show change is in the air.