LEWISVILLE — Beto O’Rourke is bullish on the record turnout for early voting, going so far as to not only project victory, but also plan for his first term as senator.
“If this continues, we win,” O’Rourke said Friday after a rally in Lewisville. “I feel very good about our prospects, not just on Election Night, but on being able to deliver for the next six years that follow on every priority, from health care to education to immigration to criminal justice reform. Texas is going to be the leader that this country has been waiting for.”
The El Paso Democrat’s underdog campaign against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz hinges on an above-average turnout from Texas voters known for their apathy. Democratic Party voter turnout is usually low during midterm elections, which has resulted in a 24-year drought in statewide contests.
But over 12 days of early voting in this midterm, participation has crushed records, particularly in Dallas County, where O’Rourke needs an oversized turnout to beat Cruz.
He said Friday that he’s on the verge of making history.
“If North Texas continues to turn out in the record numbers that we’ve seen, shattering every midterm total for as long as we’ve been looking at them, in some cases rivaling presidential voter turnout, then we’re going to win this race,” O’Rourke said. “The best thing I can do is continue to be with the people of North Texas, just as we have been for almost the last two years.”
But Republicans, while impressed with O’Rourke’s effort, said the race is Cruz’s to lose. Historically there are more Republicans in the Texas electorate than Democrats.
“It’s a presidential-level turnout,” said Republican political consultant Bill Miller. “But for the last 24 years, voters in Texas, in midterms and presidential elections, have voted for Republicans. If you’re a Republican in a state that votes Republican constantly, more voters will help you.”
Miller conceded that O’Rourke, based on the early-voting numbers, would make the contest competitive, if not close.
“He’s going to come closer than anybody in recent memory,” Miller said.
The surge in early voting has fascinated political candidates and observers alike. With Texans going to the polls to early-vote in unprecedented numbers, does it signal that there is a blue wave coming?
And what does the turnout mean in Dallas County, where there are critical Texas legislative races, a hard-fought race for Congress and a competitive race for district attorney?
Last week, Dallas County started off strong with more voters on the first day of early voting than the first day of the 2016 presidential election.
The county’s numbers flirted with 2016’s through the rest of early voting, ending Thursday with 468,715 ballots cast — about 16,000 fewer than 2016, with one day to go.
Counties across the state have also seen turnout shatter previous midterm records, with many approaching 2016’s totals.
Democratic Party political consultant Jeff Dalton said he expected the overall turnout to be somewhere between a midterm election and a presidential contest, which would mean victory for every Democrat running on the countywide ballot.
The other contests could be determined by 30,000 new voters on which neither political party has data.
“There will be some Republicans in House races who are not popular that will lose,” Dalton said.
The high turnout in early voting also signals a close contest between incumbent Republican Pete Sessions and rival Democrat Colin Allred for the 32nd Congressional District seat in Dallas.
Ryan Data and Research, a right-leaning political consulting company, collected data from the Texas secretary of state and analyzed voter history by looking at previous primary and general elections from the top 15 counties.
Its report Friday showed that 30 percent of voters in this year’s midterm have voted in a Republican primary, 25.9 percent in a Democratic, and 30.8 percent who haven’t voted in either, so there’s no indication of their party preferences.
His research also revealed that 10.7 percent had no voter history.
Early-voting data from Target Smart, a Democratic political data company, shows that the youth vote in Texas has jumped 508 percent since 2014, Newsweek reported, and voters over the age of 65 increased by 96 percent. More than 200,000 first-time voters had cast ballots in Texas by Thursday, the company said.
Newsweek also reported that the company’s data shows turnout for white voters increased 165 percent, and 200 percent for Hispanics.
Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, a professor and the department chair of political science at the University of North Texas, said there’s no way to tell if the early-voter turnout is a good thing for Republicans or Democrats, but he attributes it to the competitive nature of the Senate race.
“Democrats see there’s a chance O’Rourke can win, so they’re going to the polls. Republicans see he could beat Cruz, so they know they better go out and vote,” he said. “Texas has a low turnout for a variety of reasons, but the political culture of it being a red state has typically discouraged Democrats from voting because they know their candidate will lose by 20 percent. And Republicans may not vote if they know their candidate will win by 20 percent.”
The professor said he’s always skeptical about early-voter enthusiasm until he sees the final numbers.
“I don’t think we’ll get a voter turnout level of some other states, that being 50 to 60 percent [of the voting-age population] turns out,” he said. “That would be unheard of, but I believe we will see an improvement.”
Texas’ voting-age population was 19,900,980 for the March primary, according to the secretary of state. This means about 10 million people would need to vote for turnout to reach 50 percent.
Brent Boyea, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington, said it’s logical for people to assume the high voter turnout is a “blue wave,” but it’s difficult to tell just from numbers.
“People on the left are motivated against Trump to oppose Republicans,” he said. “But in a fairly Republican state, [voter turnout] could be Trump supporters and Republicans pushing back.”