Voting in Travis County 2012

Election Night Recap

Above: Waiting to vote at the Travis County Courthouse.

That’s a Wrap: Some Big Wins for Democrats, But Republicans Continue to Dominate in Texas
12:15 a.m.

Most of the returns are in, and we’re calling it a night.

What’s the bottom line in Texas tonight? Overall, Texas Republicans continue to dominate. They swept all nine statewide races—with only one Democrat even cracking 40 percent of the vote—including Ted Cruz’s blowout of Paul Sadler in the U.S. Senate campaign. The GOP has now won 100 consecutive statewide races dating back to 1996. Yes, that’s 100-0. And President Obama performed about five points worse in Texas than in 2008.

But Democrats captured a couple of big wins. None was bigger than Fort Worth’s Wendy Davis retaining her seat in the Texas Senate. She held off pediatrician Mark Shelton 51-49, meaning Democrats will hold 12 seats in the state Senate—a key number that will help Democrats block bills in the 31-member body.

Dems also saw Pete Gallego oust Francisco “Quico” Canseco from Congress in Texas’ 23rd District that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. It was one of the most closely watched and most expensive congressional races in the country, and the Dems won it.

They also gained a handful of seats in the Texas House. Dems eroded the Republican supermajority by winning half of the roughly 10 competitive races. This isn’t a wash for both sides because, as Quorum Report has noted, nine out of those 10 seats were previously held by Republicans. So the GOP majority in the Texas House will drop below 100 votes. And Democratic incumbent state Rep. Craig Eiland held on to his seat. But, still, Republicans will maintain an overwhelming edge in both chambers when the Legislature convenes in January.

Davis, Gallego and few Texas House candidates pulled out big wins for Texas Democrats. But in the wide view, Republicans remain utterly dominant in this state.
—Dave Mann and Forrest Wilder


Moody Ousts Margo in El Paso, Eiland’s Re-election Bid Succeeds in Galveston
12:14 a.m.

I promised updates on a pair of Texas House races here, and both have been close. One is all settled, though: in El Paso, Democrat Joe Moody, who was just 27 when he was first elected to the Lege four years ago, has ridden another presidential election wave back into the House. Moody beat Republican Joe Moody, whose reelection effort drew some surprise support from two El Paso Democrats, fellow House members Naomi Gonzalez and Marisa Marquez.

In Galveston, polls stayed open late because of computer troubles, and those late votes will take a while to count. Longtime House member Craig Eiland has a thin lead, 53 to 47 percent, over Republican challenger Wayne Faircloth. Eiland won two-thirds of the vote in Galveston proper, but Faircloth has gotten serious support from new voters drawn into the district during the Republican-controlled redistricting process. The votes in so far are decisive enough for the Associated Press, which called the race for Eiland a little after 12:30 this morning. (*Mini-update at 1 a.m.: With 100 percent of the precincts in, Eiland has indeed kept his seat in the House, by a 54-46 margin.)
—Patrick Michels
Dems Pick Up an SBOE Seat in El Paso
12:14 a.m.

Those three close races I mentioned below on the State Board of Education are down to one, in Corpus Christi, where Ruben Cortez has a slim lead in his bid to hold that seat for the Democrats. He’ll replace longtime Democratic member Mary Helen Berlanga, if he can hold onto his 51-to-46 percent advantage over Laurie Turner, the Republican teacher challenging him.

But social conservative Tom Maynard has cemented his win in Williamson County, in a seat held now by Marsha Farney, a more moderate Republican who didn’t seek reelection. And in El Paso, Democrat Martha Dominguez has convincingly ousted Republican Charlie Garza from his seat with 56 percent of the vote. She’s been criticized for running a half-hearted campaign and seeming unacquainted with the issues the board will face, but she’ll have to learn fast before the board begins its arguments over science and social studies textbooks for Texas schools in the next couple years.
—Patrick Michels


Garza, Toureilles and Canseco Lose; Cortez, Gallego and Lozano Win
11:51 p.m.

Tonight was a mixed bag for Hispanic Republicans in Texas. In HD 117 in Bexar County, incumbent Hispanic Republican John Garza lost to his Democratic opponent Philip Cortez. In Congressional District 23, Republicans lost the district to Democrat Pete Gallego who ran against incumbent Republican Francisco “Quico” Canseco in one of the most hotly contested races statewide and one of the most expensive per capita nationwide.

Republicans did better in the Coastal Bend district of HD 43, however, where incumbent J.M. Lozano won against Democratic opponent Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles after switching parties. And in HD 114 Jason Villalba won against his Democratic opponent Carol Kent.
–Melissa del Bosque


Wendy Davis Wins
10:55 p.m.

Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth has squeaked by her Republican challenger, state Rep. Mark Shelton, 51-49 percent with most of the votes tallied. The Democrats hang on to one of their fresh faces and maintain somewhat of a buffer against the Republican majority in the Texas Senate. This is especially important given the right-ward lurch of the Legislature’s upper chamber.
—Forrest Wilder


The Straight Ticket
10:39 p.m.

Houston-area results tonight hinge in part on the popularity of straight-ticket voting.

With 45 percent of precincts reporting, the area’s die-hards are almost perfectly split between the major parties: 51 percent of straight-ticketers went Republican, 49 percent Democrat. The Green party has 18 candidates on the Harris County ballot and the Libertarians have 29, but their straight-ticket voters combined barely break half a percent.

For Democrats here, voting S-T means supporting Lloyd Oliver for District Attorney, a man whose party literally thought having nothing was better than. Oliver, a lawyer and perennial candidate who says he runs for office to drum up business, was as surprised as anyone that he beat a highly qualified favorite in the Democratic run-offs, which he attributed to “dumb luck.”

I’ve spilled as much ink as I’ve been allowed reporting how the man who wants to be DA for Texas’s largest city thinks things like, for example, that for some people “part of their making love is to beat up one another first.”

Right now, Oliver is only down against Mike Anderson six points. If Oliver wins, I’m going to steal a car and then explain that it’s part of how I make love.

LaRouche Democrat Kesha Rogers, part of whose platform is “Colonization of the Moon and Mars” (paging Newt Gingrich!), only has 36 percent, but can pretty much be counted upon to run another day.

Houston’s bond issues all look to pass tonight, sending millions of dollars to parks, libraries, affordable housing, and public health and sanitation projects, plus more than two billion dollars for Houston’s public schools and community college system. Unfortunately for public transit supporters in this famously car-bound city, the “Metro” proposition is also poised to pass, which will make a quarter of Metro funding available for road projects, which, let’s be honest, is way meaner than just cutting it by a quarter.
–Emily DePrang


San Antonio Voters Agree With Castro: They’ll Pay For ‘Pre-K 4 SA’
10:29 p.m.

San Antonio voters looked pretty evenly split on mayor Julian Castro’s signature “Pre-K 4 SA” plan earlier tonight, but with almost 90 percent of the vote counted, support looks very strong—if one were so inclined, one might even safely call this race for the “yes” crowd. Castro staked a lot of political capital on the plan, which was basically a message to the state’s Republican leadership that the city didn’t need their stinking money (which the Legislature cut last year anyway) to pay for full-day pre-K. San Antonio voters look to have approved the plan, with 56 percent of the vote so far. With the voters’ go-ahead now, the city will hike up its sales tax by 1/8 of a cent. Next fall, the city will start opening its pre-K centers in a few corners of the city, which will take three years to get up and running.
—Patrick Michels

Canseco Up With 41 Percent In
9:40 p.m.

One Hispanic Republican is up slightly with incumbent Congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco who has 48.1 percent of the vote to Dem. Pete Gallego’s 47.8 percent and 41 percent of the votes in so far. In House District 117 in Bexar County not looking so good for Republican John Garza’s 47.1 percent to Democrat Philip Cortez’s 52.9 percent with 55 percent of the votes in.
–Melissa del Bosque


Still In Flux
9:37 p.m.

Still a lot of races in flux but it looks like Democratic challenger Abel Herrero, who previously served in the Legislature, is going to upset tea partier Connie Scott in House District 34, a Corpus Christi district.

Meanwhile, in Ron Paul’s old district, Democrat Nick Lampson is trailing Republican Randy Weber 47 percent to 51 percent. But only 14 percent of the precincts have been tabulated. Lampson served in Congress last for one term from 2006to 2008 following Tom DeLay’s fall from grace.
—Forrest Wilder


Three Close Races for State Board of Education
9:12 p.m.

All but three of the races for the State Board of Education are pretty much settled by now, but the ones that are left are going to be fun. In Georgetown, former teacher and current social conservative Tom Maynard is leading Democrat Judy Jennings 55 to 45 percent. Maynard would be a new addition to the board’s far-right contingent. Democrats are hoping to hold onto their seat in Corpus Christi where Mary Helen Berlanga is stepping aside. Democrat Ruben Cortez is up, but just barely, over Republican Laurie Turner there, leading by around 1,400 votes with almost one fifth counted.

Last is the Democrats’ best chance to pick up a seat on the board, where Martha Dominguez leads incumbent Charlie Garza 56-44. Dominguez ran a shadow campaign for the seat after upsetting two better-funded candidates in the primary. San Antonio Democrat Marisa Perez also puled an upset running a minimal campaign—and odds look good now they’ll both be on the board next year.
—Patrick Michels


Cruz Cruises to U.S. Senate
8:10 p.m.

News organizations declared Republican Ted Cruz the winner of the U.S. Senate race before even 2 percent of the vote was reported. When the early returns came in, Cruz held a lead of nearly 700,000 votes. Paul Sadler, thanks for playing.

Sadler had asked in his television ad if we really wanted to hand the tea party a Senate seat. Well, whether we wanted it or not, that’s what Texas will be getting.

Cruz is the new star in Texas politics. This could be the first of many election night victories.
—Dave Mann


Early Voting Updates
8:10 p.m.

HD 117 in Bexar County — Republican John Garza vs. Democrat Philip Cortez early votes favor Cortez 14,814 vs. Garza 13,665.

Early votes in for Congressional District 23 Republican Francisco “Quico” Canseco has 42,829 votes to 32,071 for Democratic State Rep. Pete Gallego.
Melissa del Bosque


Davis v. Shelton at 1,500 Vote Difference
8:07 p.m.

It is very early in the important (and only competitive) Texas Senate race between incumbent Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft Worth) and Republican challenger state Rep. Mark Shelton. With over 200,000 votes tabulated (there are approximately 700,000 people in each state senate district), Shelton has 101,016 votes and Davis has 99,482. For you non-math people, that’s 50.38 percent (Shelton) vs. Davis’ 49.61 percent. A difference of just over 1,500 votes. You don’t see it that close too often.

If Davis loses, the Democrats will only have 11 of 31 seats in the state Senate, the bare minimum needed to prevent the GOP from doing pretty much whatever they want.
—Forrest Wilder


Blogging Houston, Texas’s Purple City
7:45 p.m.

Tonight I’ll report on two area Democrats that even their own party can’t love: Harris County District Attorney candidate Lloyd Oliver (read why Harris County Dems would rather run no one than Oliver here) and Kesha Rogers, a LaRouchian who seeks ballroom dancer Tom Delay’s old seat in Congress, CD-22, and wants to impeach Obama. If, you know, they both make it. Plus, I’ll talk about why the Houston Press once called imminent-Texas Supreme Court Judge John Devine a “pro-life ayatollah.” It’s all very upsetting.

Harris County—which, in early and absentee voting, picked Romney/Ryan by just three percent—is also deciding tonight on billions of dollars in propositions to improve their schools and roads. Supporters complained about running all the props in the same election, fearing voters will get sticker shock and knock them all down. Will they?

I’ll also be re-tweeting cleverer people all night (@deprangy) and taking a drink every time a fancy new interactive news thing malfunctions.
—Emily DePrang


The Plight of the Hispanic Republicans
7:00 p.m.

The Texas Republican Party needs to do something to appeal to Latino voters. Republican state Chair Steve Munisteri said as much during a 2011 Observer interview: “The Republican Party is living on borrowed time. If every Latino were to vote today in Texas, the Republican Party would lose all of its statewide seats.” Republicans were going to remedy the situation, Munisteri said, by devoting a significant chunk of time and money to protecting their Hispanic members and to recruiting more Latinos. “You are going to find this time it’s different,” he said. “We have a commitment from a group of significant donors. … They are very well aware that we need a larger majority of Hispanic voters to remain a majority.”

I’ll be following three hotly contested—and expensive—Hispanic Republican races this evening: state Rep. John Garza who is running in western Bexar County in HD 117 against Democrat Philip Cortez; state Rep. J.M. Lozano, a former Democrat now running as a Republican against Democrat Yvonne Gonzalez-Toureilles, and U.S. Congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco campaigning in one of the most expensive per capita races in the nation against Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego in congressional district 23.

Bexar County, HD 117
Former south San Antonio City Councilman Philip Cortez came out on top of a bruising Democratic primary, which included mud slinging, private detectives and nasty attack ads.

Since then, the majority of San Antonio’s Democratic establishment has recovered and managed to rally behind Cortez in his race against incumbent Republican John Garza in a district that has historically leaned Democratic. One of the most divisive issues during their public debates has been over public education spending. Garza is defending the massive cuts to education during the last legislative session, which he voted for. “We can’t spend what we don’t have, unfortunately our federal government is not like that, but education is not exempt from being effective and producing results,” Garza said during a recent debate.

Garza has a significant campaign war chest. He’s nearly doubled Cortez’s fundraising—$346,000 to $182,000. I’ll keep you updated on this race throughout the night.

Congressional District 23, Big Money in the Big Bend
Both political parties and their allies have poured more than $1 billion into campaigns for just a handful of seats in Congress. One of the most hotly contested races—and one of the costliest—is Texas’ 23rd district, where Democrat Pete Gallego is challenging Republican incumbent Francisco “Quico” Canseco. And it’s getting nasty. A total of $10 million has been spent so far, about $660 per registered voter, making this congressional race one of the most expensive races per capita in the nation. That’s a lot of cash for a sparsely populated congressional district that spans two time zones, from South San Antonio to El Paso County. The big spending is not just because the district will help determine who controls the U.S. House, but also because both parties see the majority Hispanic district as a bellwether that signals which party can best appeal to the growing number of Latino voters. We’ll find out tonight.

HD 43, Portrait of a Party Switcher
After the Republican sweep of 2010, state Rep. J.M. Lozano was the last Democrat standing from the Coastal Bend area near Corpus Christi. With his redrawn district looking more Republican after redistricting, Lozano took the path of self-preservation: He switched parties.

Since then, Lozano won the Republican primary in his district against two Anglo challengers. He faces former Democratic state Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles in today’s election. Lozano has a significant advantage money-wise with more than $440,000 raised for his campaign compared to his opponent’s $169,000.

Check back for updates later tonight.
Melissa del Bosque


Texas’ Statewide Races: Can The GOP Winning Streak Reach 100?
6:15 p.m.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Texas’ statewide races tonight, and I’ll tell you right now that none of them are likely to be competitive. There are nine statewide offices on the ballot—one U.S. Senate race, two seats on the misnamed Texas Railroad Commission, three places on the Texas Supreme Court races and three on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Republicans are very likely to win them all.

Of course, that’s keeping with tradition. Democrats last won a statewide race in 1994. Republicans have won every race since—a total of 91 campaigns, according to an Observer analysis that involved adding them all up.

Let’s just pause and admire that number for a moment. Ninety-one! That means Texas Democrats are winless in their last 91 statewide elections (yes, nothing escapes me). Zero for 91. What do you think would happen to the Texas football program if the Longhorns went 0-91 (which, by the way, would cover a span of about eight seasons)?

My point is that Texas Dems are working on an historic losing streak here that probably won’t end tonight. In fact, if Republicans sweep all nine statewides this evening, they will reach an even 100-0 since 1996.

One-hundred to zero. Consider this number the next time you hear some national pundit proclaim that Texas is about to turn blue, but I digress.

Anyway, on to the races!

The headliner—and I’m using that term loosely—is the campaign to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in the U.S. Senate. Ted Cruz bested Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the GOP primary, and is an overwhelming favorite to beat Democrat Paul Sadler.

Sadler, a former state rep, has been an admirable public servant, and he’s tried his best to make this a race by focusing on his centrist record and highlighting Cruz’s more radical tea party positions. He just never really had a chance. Cruz is one of the more talented candidates the Texas GOP has produced in some time, and he’s raised an obscene amount of money—$13.5 million through the last federal reports on Oct. 17, compared to Sadler’s $600,000. Much of Cruz’s money was spent in the primary (along with millions spent by super PACs on Cruz’s behalf). But Cruz had more than enough left for the general. As of Oct. 17, Cruz had $2.5 million left in the bank; Sadler had $180,000. With a win tonight, Cruz is set to be a force in Texas politics for years to come.

Democrats are contesting just one of the Railroad Commission races. Christi Craddick—the 42-year-old daughter of state Rep. (and former House Speaker) Tom Craddick—is widely expected to win a six-year term on the commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry. She’s running against 80-year-old Democrat Dale Henry, a retired engineer making his fourth bid for the Railroad Commission. He lost in 2004, 2006 and 2008, and this race isn’t likely to turn out differently.

Then there’s Barry Smitherman—a climate change denier and tea party ally appointed by Gov. Rick Perry who’s running for a full term on the Railroad Commission. Smitherman once wrote a book called “If Jesus Were An Investment Banker,” and his Facebook page has become a virtual wingnut water cooler.

Two of the three Texas Supreme Court races feature no Democrats. That means John Devine, whose views must be seen to be believed, will soon join the state’s highest civil court.

The one race where Democrats might have a shoot-the-moon chance is Keith Hampton’s challenge to Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. The CCA is the state’s highest criminal court and often rules on cases of alleged wrongful conviction.

Keller has generated lots of controversy over the years, including in 2007 refusing to accept a last-minute brief from lawyers representing a man about to be executed. Hampton ($100,000) has out-raised Keller ($15,000), though neither total is enough reach voters statewide.

I’ll have more updates throughout the night on the GOP’s quest for 100-straight statewide wins.
—Dave Mann


Capitol Gains: Can the Democrats Gain Any Ground in The Texas Legislature?
4:30 p.m.

My contribution to the Observer’s election coverage tonight will include frequent beer runs and managing the office pool on the outcome of the presidential race ($5 buy-in).

But somewhere between these essential duties, I’ll also be keeping tabs on a grab-bag of important races. I don’t know what they have in common other than they’re likely to be close, involve obscene amounts of money and that Ultimately the Voters Will Decide™.

The best way to keep up is to follow me on Twitter @forrest4trees. I will also be blogging here in this space.

The Republicans have a lock on every statewide race as well as control of the Texas Legislature. As I wrote today, the Texas Senate is set to become considerably more conservative because of turn-over among Republicans in five non-competitive districts. However, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) is trying to hold off challenger state Rep. Mark Shelton (R-Ft Worth) in one of the most closely watched races. If Davis loses, the Democrats in the state Senate will only have 11 seats, the bare minimum needed to keep the Republican majority from taking up any bill it likes.

Among the 150 Texas House seats, there are a good number of competitive races, and the Democrats are likely to make gains tonight. The question is how many. Here are a few of the ones I’ll be watching. Admittedly, it’s a somewhat random assortment:

  • Abel Herrero (D) vs. Connie Scott (R, incumbent): A mild-mannered tea partier from Corpus Christi with a wicked Texas bouffant, Scott upset Herrero in 2010 in this district on the outskirts of Corpus. She’s well-funded by the anti-tort group Texans for Lawsuit Reform and other business interests but Herrero, in the last few weeks, has received a big slug of cash from trial lawyer Steve Mostyn and Democratic Party organizations. This district is largely Hispanic and could be seen as a test of whether the tea party gains in 2010 have staying power in a majority-minority district and in the Corpus area, which has been trending Republican in recent elections.
  • Ann Johnson (D) vs. Sarah Davis (R, incumbent): Two 30-something, pro-choice women campaigning on a health-care platform in this affluent Houston district that includes River Oaks. In another of those 2010 upsets, Davis ousted Democrat Ellen Cohen and now Johnson, a moderate Dem like Cohen, is back to reclaim the district. It’ll be interesting to see how the voters approach these somewhat (at least superficially) candidates.
  • John Adams (D) vs. Jason Isaac (R, incumbent): This booming Hill Country district, which includes my hometown of Wimberley, has historically been a swing district, so much so that UT filmmaker Paul Stekler made a fantastic documentary about the 2002 campaign between conservative Dem Patrick Rose, who represented the area from 2002 to 2010, and David Barton protege Rick Green. More recently, Isaac bumped off Rose two years ago. Like Rose and Green, Isaac is a tireless retail campaigner and I think Adams has an uphill battle here but it could be close.

—Forrest Wilder


Two Key Texas House Races on Opposite Ends of Texas, and a Few Education Battles
3:45 p.m.

I’ll be covering a pair of choice Texas House races on opposite sides of the state tonight. In West El Paso, Democrat Joe Moody is hoping to reclaim the seat he held from 2009 to 2010 from Dee Margo, the Republican who beat him two years ago. Each candidate pretty solidly represents the ideals of their parties, but as I wrote last week, two Democratic members of the El Paso legislative delegation upset party loyalists by saying nice things about Margo on one of his campaign mailers. The two state House members say they broke ranks just because Margo was such fun to work with in Austin last year.

In Galveston, Democrat Craig Eiland, the longtime, arguably mulleted House member faces a serious challenge from Wayne Faircloth, a Republican who squeaked into the General Election by winning a primary runoff. They have sparred over public school funding, but an even bigger issue in this race is each candidates’ ties to the insurance industry. Eiland was a major player in reforming Texas’ windstorm insurance policy last year, but in his day job, he collected more than a quarter-million dollars in attorney’s fees representing homeowners suing insurers to cover Hurricane Ike damage. Faircloth has loyalties on the opposite side—he’s literally an agent of State Farm, and the insurance giant has largely bankrolled his campaign.

I’ll also be watching a few big education developments tonight: Julian Castro’s well-funded campaign to pay for full-day pre-K in San Antonio, and a few close contests in the State Board of Education, especially another El Paso race, with Republican incumbent Charlie Garza hoping to fend off a challenge from teacher and nearly-not-a-candidate Martha Dominguez.

—Patrick Michels


2012 Elections Coverage Begins This Afternoon at 4 p.m.
10:05 a.m.

During this exciting election night, the Observer has you covered. We will be live-blogging and tweeting the election results starting around 4 p.m. today (November 6th).  You can find our up-to-the-minute posts at this very URL.

You can also follow @TexasObserver on Twitter for real-time updates with a healthy dose of snark.  

And to get ready for the big day, make sure to read our pre-election stories:

The Texas Senate Heads Toward the Right

In El Paso, Two Democrats Back a Republican for the Texas House: Democratic infighting marks third Margo-Moody race. 

Is Poll-Watching Voter Suppression? Greg Abbott Says, ‘No-Wait, Yes!’ 

In Gallego-Canseco Race, Big Money in the Big Bend: Key Texas congressional race attracts $7 million from outside groups.

Who Really Runs Texas?