Caller-Times: Vincent Harris quoted on political sway of Texas cities
November 1, 2014 3:48 PM CST
By Matthew Waller
The end is near for intensely campaigning candidates who are traversing Texas to persuade voters to cast ballots for them.
Most of the action, however, centers around big cities when the tallies arrive on Election Day.
The votes are where the people are.
“You look where the people and the economic activity is,” University of Texas Political Science Professor Jim Henson said. “There is the obvious piece, which is, Texas is an urbanized state.”
The last time there was a governor’s race, Gov. Rick Perry beat out Democratic candidate Bill White, the former mayor of Houston, with a total of 2.7 million votes to about 2.1 million votes.
On Tuesday, Texas voters will decide the first new governor in 14 years.
Some parts of Texas, however, have more say than others.
POWER OF HOUSTON
While the political influence of a region may depend on the type of race, such as whether it’s a primary, and the party involved, such as a Republican or Democratic Party, Harris County has an enormous role to play.
With Houston as its county seat, it ranks as the state’s most populous county — home to more than 4 million — and tops the state in the sheer number of voters. It also carries moneyed supporters and big political players.
In the last comparable election, when Texans voted for a governor in 2010, more than 788,000 of Harris County’s 1.9 million registered voters cast a ballot for governor, a 41 percent turnout.
“Houston is often one of the largest places for small donors and fundraising,” said Vincent Harris, owner of the conservative digital campaign organization Harris Media and an adjunct professor at Baylor University.
Harris County is also home to mega donors, such as those who fund the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC. In recent campaign filings, the PAC took in $25,000 from William Lummis, $137,500 from W.E. Bosarge Jr., and $250,000 from Doylene Perry, all of Houston.
Democratic mega donor Steve Mostyn also has his law office in Houston.
And Harris County is home to the Conservative Republicans of Texas founder Steven Hotze, a frequent mover in primary elections with a prominent mailer.
Harris, who worked on the primary campaign of lieutenant governor candidate state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said Houston was an important part of Patrick’s base. Patrick claims the city as his home.
But winning Houston alone won’t do.
Rob Johnson, Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign manager in 2012, said politicians will need to appeal to Texas broadly to gain approval from the rest of Texas’ 26 million population.
“Texas is a big state, and I think candidates are wise to reach out to all parts of Texas, not just a specific region,” Johnson said.
Candidates will vie for other parts of the state, although those may also center around urban areas.
Dallas County, for example, brought in 424,500 votes for its 1.1 million registered voters in the 2010 election for governor, and neighboring Tarrant County saw 347,000 of its 937,000 registered voters cast ballots in that election.
San Antonio’s Bexar County and Austin’s Travis County bear out similar situations with sizable voting numbers for their massive populations.
There are also what Henson called the “collar” counties, such as Denton and Collin counties around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and Fort Bend and Montgomery counties around Harris County.
They are areas “not only with high voter turnout but relatively interested populations and a degree of organization” such as where tea party groups center, Henson said.
Yet while the metropolitan swaths of Texas dominate the map as far the number of people per county, more than individual votes from these areas help bring a candidate to victory.
Mark McKenzie, an associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, said Democratic candidates are going to want to focus on their voters in South Texas, including Houston Democrats and those in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.
It’s easiest to get people to the polls in Republican strongholds such as the suburban counties around large cities and heavily conservative areas such as Lubbock, McKenzie said, and therefore they’re the areas campaigns want to focus on first. But the large urban counties also contain the swing voters, he said.
“You can’t just rely on the base,” McKenzie said. “You’ve got to somehow pick up that 5 to 10 percent of the electorate that might go your way.”
Other regions of the state may hold more political sway in the future, Henson said.
“Those areas where we’ve seen suburban and exurban growth have really become more important,” Henson said. “Hispanic areas of the state have always been important because of the concentration of Hispanic voters, and rapid growth is what’s driving a lot of these. More cities and areas are joining the main regions.”
Harris called the Rio Grande Valley “a dormant voting block.”
“Both parties are patiently waiting for the sleeping giant to arise,” Harris said.