Bexar County Democratic and Republican candidates both remained cautiously optimistic as they shifted their gaze Friday from early voting to drawing independents into their fold by Nov. 8.
Following a week in which record turnouts favored Democrats, the Republican base rallied, likely in part due to renewed national attention on Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. As in national polling data, Republicans still have a ways to go, but with a large percentage of the independent vote still in the balance, candidates on both sides know the next three days could be pivotal.
“We’re seeing the Republicans now starting to catch up to (Democrats), but we’re not quite there yet,” Bexar County Republican Party Chairman Robert Stovall told the Rivard Report.
Part of this is due to a dip between 2012 and 2016 in turnout among Northside voters, the muscle of the county’s Republican base. According to Manuel Medina, Chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party, while the Northside’s share in the early vote has dropped from 41.6% to 39.7%, turnout has grown in historically Democratic precincts – in the Southside from 16.2% to 18.7% and in the Westside from 19.8% to 20.4%.
Nevertheless, the churning realignment of national politics and the recent success of Republicans like State Reps. John Lujan (R-118) and Rick Galindo (R-117) in the Southside and Westside give Stovall hope. He believes a streak of unseen support may be hiding in the independent vote, much of which includes a sizable subset of voters participating their first election.
“There’s a lot of (the Southside and Westside) where the independent voters are living, and we think we’re going to get a good portion of those votes,” he said.
But Medina feels fairly confident those votes will be blue, pointing to a surge in typically underrepresented, left-leaning demographics. Hispanics, for instance, have increased their turnout in Bexar County from 31.3% to 37.1%, while the youth vote has jumped from 9% to 13%.
Still, Medina recognizes that a dip in the representation of predominantly black neighborhoods on the Eastside could jeopardize these gains. Without President Obama and County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) on the ballot, and with State representative candidate Barbara Hawkins holding a sizable lead, Medina says turnout has dropped to 11% in the predominantly democratic State District 120.
“That is a concern at the moment, and we’re going to work it even harder on the weekend and election day to drive up our numbers,” he said. “We do that, and this election’s over.”
Medina also recognizes independents as potentially crucial players on Tuesday.
“The partisan Democrats came through the doors first, then the Republicans followed, and now it’s up to the independents to decide,” he said.
On Friday, Bexar County hit an all-time high in voter turnout, with 46,651 entering the polling booths. That figure follows a pattern that started with record high registration numbers and record turnouts every day of early voting.
Much of that is attributable to the county’s increasing population. In fact, as a percentage of total citizens, registered voters made up only 55% of the population – up from 2012 – but about two percentage points lower than the county’s 20-year average.
What interested many analysts, however, was the elevated percentage of registered voters casting their ballots early. Many, like Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen, originally attributed this to “all the emotion behind the election,” predicting that the overall turnout would far exceed initial expectations.
By the end of early voting, however, that disparity slowed, as the cumulative early vote turnout rate leveled off at 42%, two points higher than in 2012, but one point below 2008. This suggests that higher turnout could represent a growing interest in early voting rather than any actual surge in the county’s overall voter rate.
Candidates on both sides of the aisle praised the high turnout as a sign of a well-functioning democracy.
“It’s great to see so many people voting in Bexar County,” Eliezer Flores, campaign communications director for U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-23), wrote in an email. “We are confident that Will’s record of accomplishments as representative and his hard work throughout this campaign will propel us to victory on Nov. 8.”
His Democratic opponent, Pete Gallego wrote, “It’s good for Texas when more people vote.”
Ousted by Hurd in the 2014 mid-term elections, Gallego said his renewed bid for office has widespread bipartisan support.
“We have seen people who have never voted before, and people who have voted for every Republican since Eisenhower, who know that real leadership starts with real leaders,” he wrote.
In other neck-and-neck races, candidates on both sides voiced similar bipartisanship. Both Republican Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau and her Democratic opponent Javier Salazar claimed to receive support from both parties.
“I see support from people who are interested in public safety in Bexar County, and that’s across the board from Independents, Republicans, and Democrats,” Pamerleau wrote in an email.
Similarly, Salazar told the Rivard Report, “I’ve gotten overwhelming support from the Republican side. That’s refreshing to hear, when someone’s willing to cross party lines.”
Perhaps the most unpredictable force on State and local elections is the top of the ballot, where the two least popular presidential candidates in decades have dragged the nation’s political discourse through scandal and vitriol. At times, Clinton’s lead was so sizable that analysts began speaking of her as a shoe-in. But Trump’s outsider advantage, Clinton’s private email server debacle, and a continuous stream of leaks only affecting Clinton have kept Trump in the running.
Similar to the self-imposed damage caused by his week-long public debate with two Islamic Gold Star parents, Trump’s polling numbers plummeted shortly before the second debate when reporters unearthed a recording of him bragging about sexually assaulting women.
For much of October, Clinton held a sizable lead, until last week, when a slight decline in her popularity was accelerated by FBI Director James Comey’s public decision to examine a series of Clinton’s emails discovered on notorious “sexter” Anthony Weiner’s computer. Though Clinton’s advantage has been winnowed down to a lead of between 1% and 3% in recent polls – within the polling margin of error – it appears to have stabilized.
Medina is watching those numbers closely.
“There is a direct correlation between the national elections and the elections here in Bexar County,” he said. “For the past 50 years, the winner of the presidential race has also won Bexar County… So it’s a concern that we see some of these polls tightening.”
The last time Bexar County’s presidential choice didn’t match the national winner was 1968.
One thing that doesn’t concern Medina is the electoral process itself. Though Elections Administrator Callanen received a temporary restraining order for failing to ensure voters were accurately informed of ID requirements, Medina commends Callanen for her overall management of the elections.
“I give our election administrator credit, she’s trained the election judges – the people who take information at the poll sites – to ensure as long as (voters) have one of the ballot IDs, they’re not giving people too much of a hassle,” Medina said.
Medina also said he’s seen no evidence of voter intimidation, a concern raised nationally as Trump encourages supporters to monitor polling stations to combat what he calls “a rigged electoral system.”
“I’ve seen almost zero Trump presence at the polls,” he said. “… But regardless of who’s outside, what matters is who’s inside. And inside there’s a Democratic party representative and a Republican party representative who have both been trained by the elections office. And I feel confident that they’re doing a good job.”
As far as Trump’s concerns about rigging, Stovall agrees there is broader systemic corruption but maintains his faith in the electoral process and machinery.
If anything, candidates took increased voter enthusiasm from 2012 as a sign that the system is functioning well.
“The record voter turnout in Bexar County is a good thing for our community because it is a key to representative government,” Pamerleau wrote in an email. “That’s good for all of us.”