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And among those who reliably vote, a majority are Republicans. Moreover, the GOP won’t be caught off guard this time. Republicans have been preparing for two years to defend Harris County. They may not have christened a coordinated campaign for the occasion, but they have raised plenty of money, and they’ve got a reliable get-out-the-vote operation that has worked for years. Westheimer Road runs west from downtown Houston through a seemingly endless gauntlet of chain stores, fast food joints, and gas stations. Thirty minutes from downtown, past the city line, the roadside monoculture gives way to the empty fields and leafy subdivisions of Houston’s far western suburbs. The Harris County Democratic Party has established a campaign office here in a drab brick storefront in a half-empty strip mall. The county party offices are here, as are those of three legislative candidates: Kristi Thibaut \(who’s challenging Chris Bell, the former gubernatorial candidate running in a special election for state Senate. The office-sharing is a big part of the party’s coordinated effort. On a sunny Saturday morning in early October, nearly 200 campaign volunteers cycle through the office to gather materials to canvass in the surrounding neighborhoods. For years, this areaan unincorporated section of Harris County wedged between Houston and Katywas mostly Anglo and dominated politically by Republicans. That has begun to change. The area’s population is increasingly diverse. More blacks, Latinos, Vietnamese, and South Asians have moved out of the city in search of affordable houses \(Thibaut’s district is which Democrats must perform to win Harris County. It’s only the second weekend of active campaigning since Hurricane Ike knocked out the area’s electricity and its politicking. The storm’s ultimate impact on local elections is anyone’s guess. Democrats lost three invaluable weeks in late September when they suspended their voter registration and block-walking effortsa loss that should favor the incumbent Republicans. In the western suburbs, where damage was less severe, life has returned mostly to normal. But the campaign must still make up for lost time. Volunteers in matching T-shirts gather their materials and cart off yard signs for nearly every candidate on the ballot, along with the blue signs that read “Vote Democrat, Be the Change.” \(The coordinated campaign, fearful that many first-time voters drawn by Obama won’t vote in down-ballot races, is encouraging Democrats to vote The canvassing is a large, all-volunteer effort. The coordinated campaignin charge of boosting turnouthas hardly any paid organizers. This has caused some grumbling among Democratic strategists. Although few wanted to criticize the effort on the record, they wonder if the party is funneling enough money to its ground game. Some Democrats worry that too much money is being spent on persuasionphone banking and the hundreds of thousands of mailers with which the campaign will flood the county in the final monthat the expense of turnout. \(It’s an axiom in politics that advertising may bring voters over to your side, but nothing convinces one County is already majority Democratic on paper, if only all the Democrats voted. The party doesn’t have a message problem, the argument goes. It has a turnout problem. Back at the west-side campaign office, Kristi Thibaut sounds optimistic. Two years ago, she lost to Murphy by 2,900 votes in her race for state representative. In that campaign, Thibaut was on her own. She had trouble raising money and creating excitement about the raceeven in 2006, an election year that favored Democrats. “A state rep race doesn’t drive people to the polls:’ she says. “Last time, it was me trying to gin up excitement. It was just my campaign out there trudging along.” Now she has more money and more help. “There’s no comparison. [The coordinated campaign] is like an overlay to what my campaign is doing. All the layers are just reinforcing that message to vote Democrat.” On this Saturday, she estimates that between the coordinated campaign volunteers, her own people, and third-party groups, 150 people were block-walking on her behalf. She says the turnout efforts will do the job. And, besides, given all the energy and excitement surrounding this election, if someone doesn’t turn out to vote this year, they were probably a lost cause to start with. The same may be true of winning Harris County. As Thibaut put it, “If we don’t do it this year, it might not happen.” 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 17, 2008