Primary results indicate Victoria's shift back to GOP

Gabe Semenza

Oct. 30, 2010 at 5:30 a.m.

Victoria County's last two primary elections couldn't have ended more differently.

In March 2008, the majority of Victoria County voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary. This year, most voted in the Republican primary.

How can this be? What - if anything - do these polar-opposite results suggest about Tuesday's General Election?

Historically, Victoria County is a Republican stronghold. The 2008 primary results, then, were an anomaly. Of 15,182 voters, 9,445 residents voted that year in the Democratic primary.

"The 2008 primary energized an entirely new base of voters for the Democrats, including younger voters here in Victoria County," said Kelli Gill, the county's Democratic Party chairwoman.

The fight for the Democratic presidential nomination featured then Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Although presidential election years typically prompt stronger voter turnout than non-presidential election years, this marquee match-up offered its own allure.

Keisha Smith, a 23-year-old University of Houston-Victoria business major, stayed clear of politics until just before that historic primary.

"My parents used to take me in the voting booth when I was very young, but it wasn't until that presidential campaign that I got involved, " Smith said. "The Democratic candidates all spoke issues that were important to me."

While theories about this left-leaning Victoria County result vary, the most prevalent include:

Obama and Clinton energized once-dormant voters, and they spent ample time and money in Texas.

Most Victoria County primary voters - even conservatives - tired of Republicans in the White House after George W. Bush's eight-year reign.

County Republicans felt secure Sen. John McCain would win the party's nomination. They could then vote for the perceived weaker Democratic candidate, helping to ensure a Republican win in the General Election.

A local or state race compelled voters toward the Democratic primary.

"One thing is for sure: I have never seen the Democrats get as organized as they did in 2008," said James Gleason, a former Victoria College professor. "They undoubtedly had the best campaigns and took advantage of new media, new technology. This year, I don't see the same fervor as they had in 2008."

Despite the fervor in 2008, the majority of Victoria County residents voted for McCain and not Obama during the General Election.

Fast forward to this year, a non-presidential election year. During off-election years, the incumbent parties often take a beating at the polls - and the country has a Democrat for president and a Democrat-controlled Congress.

In March, most voters - 7,678 of 12,084 - voted in the Republican primary, which is the norm for this county.

"I think a lot of people in general are upset about the state of our country, and the trend toward socialism," said Michael Cloud, chairman of the Victoria County Republican Party. "They're interested in turning that around."

The emergence of the Tea Party and cries for limited government - in light of big government bailouts and spending - arguably caught fire just like Obama's "Yes we can" mantra from two years ago.

The question is: How will this off-election cycle affect county races - or will it? Unlike during primaries - which in essence force a vote for one party or the other - General Elections allow cross-party votes.

People can vote for the candidates in each race they feel will do the best job, regardless of party affiliation.

George Matthews is Victoria County's elections administrator.

"Voters are fickle. It's hard to say how this election will shape up," Matthews said.

When he examines the 2008 and 2010 primary elections, he notes voters became a determining factor.

"They were able to exercise their right to vote in the process," Matthews said. "It's that participation that's important."



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