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Lawmakers Watching Results Of Texas Primary For Signs To Come In November


The first primary of the 2018 midterm elections is happening today in Texas. It is a deeply red state, lots of Republican incumbents running to keep their seats. But after Democrats scored key victories last year across the country, many people wonder if the party might make inroads in Texas. From member station KUT in Austin, Ben Philpott reports.

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: It's been 25 years since Democrats held statewide office in Texas. But after two weeks of early voting in the primaries, more people had voted as Democrats than Republicans. Voter Carrie Rosenfeld (ph) says anger at the president is playing a role.

CARRIE ROSENFELD: People now see what direction our politics are going and where things could potentially continue to go if we don't start standing up and trying to do something about it.

PHILPOTT: Whether it's anger or excitement, Jim Henson says you still have to be careful when giving those early voting totals too much weight. Henson runs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

JIM HENSON: On one hand, I think it's fair if you're a Democrat or a Democratic advocate to be making a lot of the Democratic turnout because it's something.

PHILPOTT: That something could come from a number of places. Eight of the state's congressional seats are open, mostly because of Republicans who decided not to seek re-election. Democrats are fielding candidates in every congressional race and in the most state legislative races that the party has contested in years. Henson says those factors add up to increased primary turnout.

HENSON: On the other hand, to presuppose that that means some kind of unprecedented success in November is probably a bridge too far at this point.

PHILPOTT: He says voting history shows there's no real connection between primary and general elections. But that doesn't mean there won't be a couple of interesting races in Texas this fall. At the top of the list is Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke running for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. O'Rourke has gotten as close as eight points in a poll conducted earlier this year, which in Texas, is a victory for Democrats. For NPR News, I'm Ben Philpott in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT 90.5 FM. He has been covering state politics and dozens of other topics for the station since 2002. He's been recognized for outstanding radio journalism by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and twice by the Houston Press Club as Radio Journalist of the Year. Before moving to Texas, he worked in public radio in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at several television stations in Alabama and Tennessee. Born in New York City and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Philpott graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in broadcast journalism.