Democrats have reclaimed the voting advantage they lost 14 years ago in elections for Harris County offices, according to a poll conducted for the Houston Chronicle. But Republican County Judge Ed Emmett appears to be swimming strongly against the tide.
Voters favored Democratic candidates over Republican candidates by 7 percentage points in elections for county leadership jobs, except in the county judge's race, where Emmett has a 13-point lead over Democrat David Mincberg, according to the survey. Sixteen percent of the respondents were undecided or said they lean toward neither party's entry.
The number 7 also popped up specifically in the race for district attorney; Democrat C.O. Bradford ran 7 percentage points ahead of Republican Pat Lykos in the poll, conducted Monday through Wednesday as early voting began for the Nov. 4 election.
Now the caveat is that the polling outfit is Zogby, which has a poor track record of prognostication. Unless their methodology has improved I simply place only a small bit of enthusiasm in these numbers. Still ...
The pattern suggests that the Democratic identity has become more popular here in the last two years and/or that Barack Obama's lead in the national presidential race is filtering down to local elections, pollster John Zogby said.
"It's about the party, and it's about the (presidential nominee) characters," he said.
The results point to Nov. 4 becoming the first transitional election in Harris County since 1994, when Republican challengers swept Democratic administrators and judges from their jobs as the "Republican revolution" led by then-U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich captured the majority in Congress.
County leadership races on the ballot are for county judge, DA, sheriff, tax assessor-collector, county attorney and district clerk.
There were two exceptions to the local trend.
In the 40 judicial races on the ballot, voters favored Democratic challengers over Republican incumbents by 3.7 percentage points. The finding puts the party's judgeship slates in a statistical tie, because the gap is within the poll's margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.
Now that's significant, because as the story notes ...
Most Republican judges seeking re-election have campaigned as a group, saying they protect people and property through their work in the criminal and civil courts. Democratic candidates for court benches mainly have campaigned individually or as part of the overall Democratic ticket.
That's what we're seeing in the political advertising here. Only the Texas Supreme Court Republicans are running individual ads -- as the Democrats do so collectively -- while the Democratic county judicials have ads for themselves all over cable TV. The Texas Democratic Party is spending $800,000 in the television ad campaign to capture a seat or three on the TSC.
In county leadership races and specifically in the race for district attorney, the Democratic contenders had robust leads over their Republican opponents among moderate voters and even got 20 percent or more from conservatives, according to the survey.
This year has been troubling for Republicans on the local scene. The campaign season has included the resignation of Republican District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and controversies about the actions of Sheriff Tommy Thomas and Commissioner Jerry Eversole.
The poll assumes the black and Hispanic populations each will contribute 20 percent of the countywide vote.
Some local experts predict a higher turnout by blacks, citing excitement about Obama's candidacy. They also say Hispanic turnout could be lower than 20 percent, because while the number of Hispanic registered voters keeps climbing, they probably have never voted at that level countywide.
A combined minority turnout above 40 percent could add to the advantage for local Democratic contenders. Eight-five percent of blacks, 60 percent of Asian-Americans, 54 percent of Hispanics and 28 percent of non-Hispanic whites in the survey said they favor Democrats in county leadership elections.
Turnout in Harris, as many have noted, is through the roof. Just south of 300,000 people have cast a ballot so far, and there's still a final week of early voting to go.
Things are looking awfully good, but there's still more work to be done if you're a grassroots activist. Keep making those phone calls and walking those blocks, and let's see if we can't make anothe hurricane in Houston land hard.