Republican President Donald Trump has managed to accomplish something Democrats haven't in the past couple decades, at least in Texas: stir up, excite and unite Democrats about politics.
Red State Texas, which hasn't elected a Democrat statewide since 1994, is creating a national buzz about a possible Blue Wave in 2018.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott seemed concerned enough to use it to further fatten his campaign coffers.
"Numbers for the first week of early voting should shock every conservative to their core," Abbott warned in a fundraising email.
In the early voting period that ended last Friday ((March 2) before the March 6 primary election day,
Texas Democrats had raised a national buzz by more than doubling their early vote in this year's primary compared to the last non-presidential election year in 2014.
That's contrasted to a Republican turnout increase of 15 percent, but Democrats outpolled the Republicans for the first time in years.
Some reasons include:
- Spreading concern about the unpredictable, mind-changing Trump;
- A huge jump in the number of women candidates, spurred by last year's post-inauguration Women's March on Washington, and the #MeToo movement, following a wave of sexual harassment allegations;
- Two Republican Texas congressmen opting to retire because of alleged sexual impropriety, added to four Republicans and two Democrats already retiring.
- An exciting grassroots Democratic effort to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by El Paso U. S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke.
- O'Rourke, 44, is giving up his congressional seat in his third two-year term to run for the senate, but he had pledged to serve only four terms anyway, so it's not a huge political sacrifice.
- O'Rourke is running one of the most interesting statewide campaigns in a long time – combining tactics of the past with the present and future.
In the 1950s and before, back in the pre-TV days when politics was still entertainment, statewide candidates would go from town to town, campaigning at the courthouse square or elsewhere – and that was most of the exposure they could get.
Candidates like populist Democrat Ralph W. Yarborough would get in their station wagon with a driver, take naps between towns, and then get out and speak to 300 or so people and shake everyone's hand.
That kind of campaigning largely evaporated in the 1960s, when TV became commonplace. And candidates like former Gov. John Connally and former U.S. Sen. John Tower would fly from one TV market to the next – Texas has 19 to 21, depending on who's counting – and hold several regional airport press conferences a day.
They'd count on free media to show they'd been there and build name identification, region by region. They'd also spend money – if they had it – on TV ads.
O'Rourke is campaigning the old way – driving from town to town, even to Republican strongholds – holding rallies, talking to whoever will listen, constantly recruiting volunteers -- even taking early-morning jogs with current and prospective supporters.
But, he's also sending out an almost continuous livestream on Facebook, showing him out there speaking and shaking hands and taking questions from people, which he answers pretty directly.
The result is that he may speak to and shake hands with perhaps 300 people at an event, who will get their picture snapped with the personable candidate, remember it, and tell their friends – and another 30,000 or 40,000 or more will see it on social media.
So he's combining the old in-person, personable, press-the-flesh accessible campaigning with the up-to-the-minute live broadcasting to reach those who couldn't be there.
That in turn builds momentum and curiosity, which, coupled with the high negative ratings for both Cruz and Trump, is also boosting turnout at O'Rourke's rallies.
Pre-election polls had shown O'Rourke almost certainly winning the Democratic nomination, despite ballot competition from Sema Hernandez of Pasadena and Edward Kimbrough of Houston.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, taken Feb. 1-12, showed him with 73 percent – winning without a runoff.
Cruz, by the way, polled 91 percent against four challengers in the GOP primary. However, even though he's significantly better known than O'Rourke, Cruz's negative rating among voters is consistently higher than his positive.