The Texas Tribune reports on a growing cause for concern among Democrats statewide, Wendy Davis’ lackluster primary finish. State Senator Davis (D-Forth Worth), now officially the Democratic nominee for Governor, had a somewhat disappointing finish in the Democratic primary. She faced an individual named Ray Madrigal, who is a Municipal Judge in the Corpus Christi suburb of Seadrift, who spent $0 and engaged in absolutely no campaigning. However, somehow, Madrigal not only racked up over 20% of the vote, he won 25 counties (tied in 2 others), with nearly all of them being Hispanic majority counties.
Perhaps you should read that again: a perennial candidate with no experience and no serious outreach program soundly defeated Wendy Davis in the most strongly Democratic portion of the State purely on the basis of having a Hispanic surname. I make the distinction about Madrigal’s non-campaign because it has relevance when one compares this primary victory with Greg Abbott’s or Bill White’s. Abbott’s opponents engaged in campaigning; indeed, all three of them had campaign websites and one even submitted a Texpatriate Questionnaire. And yet, all put together, the three opponents conjured up less than half the vote-percentage as Davis’ non-opponent.
The preceding image represents the 2014 Democratic primary for Governor, split by county. Blue counties represent those won by Davis, green counties represent those won by Madrigal and blacked out counties represent those who did not hold Democratic primaries. Light green counties indicate a place where Davis and Madrigal tied.
Two things immediately jump out at me about this chart. The first is that nearly the entire Rio Grande Valley, as well as a significant portion of the west, voted for Madrigal. These two regions are the only places in the State, save Bexar County, where Hispanics represent a majority of the electorate.
However, the other key fact is that Madrigal did not win those counties with the densest cities: Cameron (Brownsville) and El Paso. Admittedly, Hidalgo County has nearly twice the population of Cameron County, but it is about twice as big by area. Density is actually higher in Cameron County.
Similarly, this graph represents the 2010 Democratic primary. In that contest, former Houston Mayor Bill White faced off against six challengers, including two with Hispanic surnames (Felix Alvarado and Alma Aguado, respectively) and one who ran a legitimate campaign (Farouk Shami), complete with commercials and everything. Accordingly, since there were so many candidates, White won every county. However, the dark blue counties represent those we won a majority in, whereas the light blue ones represent only plurality victories.
Obviously, White did not do nearly as bad in the valley, especially considering how many opponents he had. That being said, I would like to provide a thorough examination of two counties and how they shifted in the last quadrennial. Specifically, Starr County and Maverick County, both valley counties, come to mind in particular.
In Starr County, which is the third county from the right along the Rio Grande river, White received only 43% of the vote in an election with above-average turnout of over 15%. Comparatively, Davis only received 35% in the two-way contest, with turnout about the same. This is completely the opposite of what happened slightly up river in Maverick County.
In Maverick County, which is the sixth county from the right along the Rio Grande river, White received a pitiful 31% of the vote, and actually came quite close to losing the plurality to Farouk Shami. Only four years later, Davis was able to garner nearly 55% of the vote in the county.
My long winded point with all this is that there is not all that much rhyme or reason that should be ascribed. Republicans, however, have been quick to attack Davis for being weak with Hispanics, and point to the fact that Madrigal is anti-abortion rights. This gives the average primary voter far too much credit. Indeed, after a little bit of digging, I found this article from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that confirms this is the political position of Madrigal. However, I did not know this until today, so I have grave doubts that the average primary voter in Hidalgo County was aware either.
That being said, this should set off at least a few alarms at the Davis campaign. If the campaign actually still wants to win –which, admittedly, is not even a forgone conclusion at this point– they need to get over 80% of the Hispanic vote, and see extremely high turnout in those Valley counties. What we all saw Tuesday should serve as a wakeup call that they are not even close to doing that.