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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Five Things to Consider About the Texas Primary

As soon as it became obvious that Texas' primary election was going to matter for at least one party and possibly both, media coverage of political currents in Texas began in earnest. As we prepare for the coming weeks, there are a few things that I keep coming back to.

The Texas primary is not tomorrow.
Between now and March 4, eight states (Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, Maine, Maryland, Virginia, Hawaii, and Wisconsin) one territory (U.S. Virgin Islands), and Washington, D.C. will all vote in Democratic primaries or have Democratic caucuses. The total delegate amount including pledged and unpledged delegates for those races is 599.

Four of the states have caucuses, contests in which Obama has performed very well. Virginia, Washington, and Maryland are decent-sized prizes. There hasn't been any recent polling in any of those states, so there are still a great many unknowns to be illuminated between now and March 4. So really, momentum could have shifted once or a few times between Democratic candidates by then, or it could still be locked up in a tie.

Turnout has been enormous everywhere and thus traditional turnout models are all but worthless.
Democratic excitement at the grassroots is producing remarkable turnout and voter mobilization, with Democrats outnumbering past totals and current Republican turnout as regular as clockwork. People that tell you they know what's going to happen in states that look close are lying, and you should avoid them both socially and professionally.

When the universe you are dealing with expands greatly, what you knew about it before that expansion may no longer apply. That's why there's been disparity in polls and predictions and actual results: the data is good but the predictive quality of the science behind projections and polls is diminished in this new environment.

A new dynamic in which Texas matters is problematic for campaigns on both sides.
Imagine you've been front-loading the massive ship that is your national campaign to strike a decisive blow on Super Tuesday for about a year. Then, suddenly, the first few primaries split and a Super Tuesday resolution becomes less likely. You can't really dedicate resources to post-Super Tuesday states until post-Super Tuesday, so you wait.

Then suddenly, you have to compete in Texas, which is so big it might as well be a free-standing continent and has roughly 16 million media markets, and you need to make buys in most of them. You organized Iowa for two to four years; now you must organize Texas, which is much bigger, in a month, while running races in between. In Iowa this year, 227,000 people caucused and it was a record turnout by far. In the Texas Democratic primary in 2004, the turnout was about 839,000. It is no small task, and campaigns are already working on it, but the strength of the ground game will be important in determining the winner if things are close, which they are likely to be.

The Republican race is uncertain in Texas.
You don't need me to reinforce what the media is reporting about Texas Republicans: they aren't crazy about John McCain. The press stories are anecdotal for sure, but Romney and Huckabee seem like they both have a good chance to steal one from McCain and gain a significant number of delegates.

And if you look at the exit polling from a place like Georgia, where it was close among those three candidates, you'll see that church-goers, evangelicals, "values voters" and conservatives all broke significantly for Huckabee, as did voters who were most concerned that the candidate "shares my values." Interestingly enough, Romney won where immigration was most important and among urban GOP voters.

In Tennessee, Huckabee won voters in even more categories. His strong run in the South on Super Tuesday was not a fluke — he is a good fit for many Southern Republicans. McCain is very, very close to having it all sewn up, but Huckabee might still make some trouble in his road if the mood takes him. He would have to commit himself to causing that trouble, but let me say again that conservatives hate John McCain and may have been clinging to Romney over doubts about Huckabee's electability. Those doubts may have dissipated for some conservatives after Super Tuesday. All of this speculation about Huckabee goes out the window if he drops out, which he very well could. But hey, when you have the Power Of Dobson compelling you, it is hard to turn away,

Obama must do well among Hispanics to win in Texas.
This isn't some startling revelation, but it is still something worth considering. This is a solid demographic for the Clintons and they are likely to run away with the Valley's votes. Exit polling indicates that Clinton pulled 6-in-10 Hispanic votes on Super Tuesday in general and 7-in-10 in California. Obama took 8-in-10 black votes. All the headlines about a race and gender divide at least seem to be bearing out thus far, but that may not always be the case, as shifts are still possible among many demographics.

Maybe he makes up ground among another demographic, but at these rates it is a lot of ground to make up. It is possible that an overwhelming win in some Senate districts could give Obama an edge and flip the delegate weight to him, but that's really true for either candidate in an environment of genuine uncertainty and a state with as many disparate areas as Texas. If the momentum shifts significantly, maybe either one blows the doors off, but I still think that making up ground in the Hispanic bloc is vital for Obama's chances. Phillip Martin breaks down how the delegate caucus system works here and, if you check that out, you can see that there's even some action to be had in organizing at the precinct convention level. Truly, our process is a rich tapestry.

There's more to think about than this, and each new day will bring new developments that potentially shift the paradigm of how we're thinking about the upcoming primary. It is also worth considering what sort of echo the increased importance of the primary will have in the general, but we may not have a clear picture of that until we see how the primary turns out.

And a couple more things to consider

There are two races in Texas -- the primary and the caucus -- and even in the primary there are two prizes: votes and delegates.

In the caucus, Obama has two big advantages. One is that it's a caucus! The other is that delegates to county conventions (and beyond, to the state convention) are based on the vote in the last race for governor. Chris Bell did poorly in South Texas, so South Texas (where Clinton is expected to do well) won't get very many delegates to the state convention. Bell did much better in Houston and in Austin, areas that are likely to go for Obama. For instance, Harris County will have 10 times as many state delegates as Webb County.

In the primary, the delegate structure also favors Obama, but not as much. National delegates are allotted to Senate districts based on the last governor's race and the last presidential election. Still, SD14 (Austin) will get 8 delegates, while most South Texas districts will get 4. In the 4-delegate districts, Clinton will have to get 62.5% of the vote to do better than a 2-2 split.

When it comes to statewide votes (and the bragging rights and momentum that come with a win), Clinton is stronger. She has a lot more Texas endorsements than Obama, and she has a lot of support among Tejanos. But Obama will have momentum, probably coming into Texas with a 9-state winning streak.

Presidential Debate

I hope Texas Blue will be liveblogging the debate between Clinton and Obama, because I don't get CNN on my TV.


Hopefully, we'll be liveblogging it from the debate site itself. Our liveblogs get a lot of hits; it's a service that seems to be very useful for our readers. One way or the other, we will be doing that.

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