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Democrats, Women Candidates Score Big In Texas Primaries

Wednesday, March 07, 2018
Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP

WILL WEISSERT and PAUL J. WEBER,  Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democrats in deep-red Texas turned out Tuesday in the largest numbers in more than two decades for a midterm primary election, propelling women candidates toward challenges to Republicans in Congress in the first state primary of 2018.

The biggest question was whether Texas is just the start of what's to come nationwide. Energized Texas Democrats showed up despite the long odds this November of ousting Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Republicans kept their edge in the total number of votes cast although Democrats made significant inroads in what had been a lopsided GOP dominance for decades.

Democrats have their sights on flipping three GOP-controlled congressional seats including a Houston district where two women were the top vote-getters in a race likely to go to a May runoff. Another is a sprawling district that runs along the Texas-Mexico border, where Gina Ortiz-Jones advanced to a May runoff and another woman, Judy Canales, was battling to join her.

"I think that a Congress that is only 20 percent women is not where we need to be," Ortiz Jones told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. "This is not a spectator sport, we've got to participate, all of us and that's what's important."

It was also a big night for two Hispanic women, Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, who won their Democratic primaries and are poised to become the first two Latina congresswomen in a state where a population boom has been driven by Hispanic growth.

College students waited more than an hour to vote in liberal Austin and rural counties offered Democratic candidates for the first time in years. Nearly 50 women were making a run for Congress. Many were running in a record eight open congressional races this year in Texas — two of which are up for grabs after longtime GOP incumbents abandoned plans for re-election amid scandal.

More than one million Democrats cast ballots in the midterm primary for the first time since 2002, which were the first elections after the Sept. 11 attacks. Democrats, who once dominated Texas politics, would have to go back to 1994 to find more voters casting ballots for their party candidates. Since then it has been all Republicans, who have held every statewide office.

There was some good news for Republicans. They cast a record 1.5 million ballots Tuesday, topping the previous GOP record in 2010, and suggesting that voters on both sides were motivated. But the increase in participation was much greater for Democrats.

While 2002 was a recent high water mark for Democratic turnout in Texas, it also showed the limits of the exuberance for turning the state blue. In November that year, the Democrats running for statewide office were all beaten.

Democrats will have a tough time winning statewide races in November because they have fielded little-known candidates against top Republicans, such as Republican Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. .

In a closely-watched Democratic race, congressional hopeful Laura Moser, who moved from Washington to her native Houston was in contention for a runoff to challenge U.S. Rep. John Culberson. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, fearing Moser would be a weak candidate in the general election, blistered her for comments from a 2014 Washingtonian magazine article in which Moser said she'd "rather have her teeth pulled out" than live in rural Paris, Texas.