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January 27, 2005

Frost and the Success of 2004 Dallas Democrats

By Byron LaMasters

In 2004 Dallas County Democrats had perhaps their most successful election in twenty years (on a countywide level). They elected a Democratic Sheriff for the first time since the 1970s, and Democrats picked up three GOP-held judicial seats. Naturally, everyone wants to take credit for such success. But instead of debating over who worked harder, who donated more, who ran the best ads or who registered the most voters, it makes the most sense to take a good, hard look at the numbers, because the numbers don’t lie.

Last week, Anna wrote this:

i've seen all sorts of folks whom i respect write that martin helped downticket dems. i don't believe this is borne out by the numbers. byron over at BOR attributes the high turnout in dallas county, as well as the judgeship and sherriff victories, to martin's campaign (i hope i'm not misinterpreting what you said, B). i respectfully disagree, and here is why. i think that in order to really get an idea of who martin's race affected the downticket dems, we need to focus on the numbers that came out of martin's district and how the non-martin candidates fared there. then we need to look at the county-wide totals. but you can't really just throw out the county-wide totals and claim that's the end-all-be-all assessment.

I had hoped to respond earlier, but it took about a week to get the numbers that I needed to make my points about how the 2004 Martin Frost campaign affected downballot races. At the December 2004 Dallas County Young Democrats meeting, former SDEC member of the 23rd Senatorial district, and well-known Democratic freebooter Gary Fitzsimmons presented his analysis of the 2004 election results. Gary didn’t work for the Dallas County Democratic Party or the Martin Frost campaign. He’s just a well respected activist who crunches the numbers after the elections and presents the results to local Democratic clubs.

Gary’s presentation effectively showed that much of the success of Dallas County Democrats (winning the race for sheriff and three judicial races) was due to the GOTV operation of the Martin Frost campaign as opposed to any of the efforts put forth by the Dallas County Democratic Party. He prepared a PowerPoint presentation to present to Democratic clubs which you can download here.

I’ll explain this slide-by-slide. Slide two shows how turnout in 2004 in Dallas County was up sharply. The 58% turnout of 2004 contrasts sharply with the 49% turnout of 2000, and the 52.5% turnout of 1996. Slide three shows how the number of registered voters compares to the number of voters in each presidential election since 1992. The number of registered voters varies greatly from 1992 to 2004 as the county “cleaned up” it’s voter rolls at various points. That explains the decline in registered voters between 2000 and 2004, while the number of voters in 2004 increased by over 70,000 from 2000.

Slide four makes some noteworthy comparisons. It takes a look at each congressional district that contains a portion of Dallas County – 3, 5, 24, 30 and 32, and compares the percentage of the vote received by three candidates. First, is the vote of (losing) 2002 Democratic DA candidate Craig Watkins, second the vote share of 2002 U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk (also lost), and third is the vote of the victorious 2004 Democratic Sheriff candidate Lupe Valdez.

Watkins' race is a good benchmark race for DPI in Dallas County in 2002. The DPI (Democratic Performance Index) of Dallas County in 2002 in 2002 can be generally pegged at 48-49%. Watkins received 48.8% of the vote in his race. Kirk, meanwhile won Dallas County with 50.2% of the vote in 2002. In 2004 the DPI of Dallas County was pretty much right at 50%. Valdez won her race with 51.35% of the vote. That's a 2.5% increase over Craig Watkins vote in 2002. Where did that increase come from? Much of it came from the District 32 portion of Dallas County. Slides four and five show how Lupe Valdez improved on Craig Watkins 2002 performance by a full 6% in the 32nd Congressional District. That effectively amounts to nearly 12,000 votes (slide 5).

Valdez won by just over 17,000 votes, so Martin Frost’s GOTV operation can legitimately lay claim to providing over two-thirds of her victory margin. However, assuming that Valdez’s improvement over Watkins’ performance remains a relative constant for all Democrats in the 32nd district (and the evidence suggests as much), Martin Frost’s GOTV operation can legitimately claim to providing the entire margin for two of the three victorious Democratic judicial candidates. Judge Don Adams and Judge Dennise Garcia won their races by 5000 and 7000 votes respectively. The ability of Martin Frost to raise the DPI in the 32nd Congressional District in 2004 easily provided the entire margin of victory for both.

Another example of the Martin Frost campaign helping Dallas County Democrats is with the campaign of State Representative candidate Harriet Miller (slide 6). Harriet ran in a state representative district partially within the 32nd Congressional district. She took on a longtime incumbent Republican, and ran nearly a full ten points ahead of DPI, losing with 47% of the vote. Miller’s campaign was one of the biggest surprises of election night in Texas. Her race was not highly targeted by the state party nor typical interest groups that generally engage the top state representative campaigns. Texas Tuesdays and BOR didn’t mention the race, because I pretty much expected her to get in the low 40s. Well, Harriet Miller surprised us all, and got 47%. Why? Harriet Miller ran a great campaign, and Martin Frost raised the DPI of the district with his campaign. Because of that, Harriet Miller is running for state representative again in 2006. You can bet that we’ll be paying attention this time.

Slides seven through twelve focus on the turnout in various state senate districts, so that’s not particularly relevant to our discussion of Martin Frost here, but in my analysis, I’m inclined to give the Martin Frost campaign much of the credit for the success of Dallas Democrats in 2004. Gary Fitzsimmons comes to similar conclusions:


The Martin Frost campaign improved Democratic performance in Congressional District 32 by 3% to 8% depending on race. Lupe Valdez ran 6% ahead of DPI in the congressional district [...]

The Martin Frost campaign was responsible for the overall improvement of the Democratic margin countywide. The more aggressive Democratic campaigns were able to capitalize on this improvement.

Most Democratic improvement came from outside the Democratic base and probably resulted from Frost’s intensive voter persuasion efforts.


Furthermore, I’m inclined to credit the Martin Frost campaign for much of the success of Dallas County Democrats as the Dallas County Democratic Party is in relative disarray. The activist base in the county Democratic Party has become increasingly disenchanted with the county party chair, and several high dollar donors have cut their contributions to the county party after some of the actions of the county chair, notably her endorsement of a Republican judge. At least five Dallas County Democratic clubs have passed resolutions denouncing her leadership.

There are a few examples here: Dallas County Young Democrats, Dallas Stonewall Democrats, the Lake Highlands / White Rock Democrats, Dallas County East Democrats and the Richardson / Northeast Democrats. This may all seem beside the point, but I think that this information reinforces my point. The evidence from both the voting data, and the analysis of Gary Fitzsimmons suggests very strongly that much of the Dallas County Democratic success in 2004 can be attributed to the Martin Frost campaign while the turnout efforts of the Dallas County Democratic Party among the base were relatively mediocre.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at January 27, 2005 08:17 PM | TrackBack


Comments

Byron---

HD102 (Harriet Miller's race) is only half inside the 32nd CD. It is true that the portion of the district inside the CD was relatively more Republican than that outside it, but it is also true that Harriet outperformed the other Democratic candidates in her district over all. The only Democrat who beat her head-to-head in identical precincts was Frost, and her relative performance versus the other Democratic candidates within her own district appears to have been essentially the same, regardless of whether the precincts were inside or outside of CD32. Thus, it's hard to identify any "Frost effect" in her race at all, since her differential wasn't changed by whether his people were working the turnout phones.

Posted by: Precinct1233 at January 27, 2005 10:25 PM

I'll correct that... thanks

Posted by: Byron L at January 27, 2005 10:34 PM

On January 5th, at a Finance Council meeting of the Dallas County Democratic Party, in response to a question from Katy Hubener (the recent candidate for HD106 who came very close) asking what effect the 4.5 million dollar Frost race had on the performance of the county-wides, Chair Hays said that she thought that the Frost campaign had no effect at all because all the money was spent entirely within the 32nd district, which Frost lost very badly. How would you characterize Chair Hays's reasoning, Byron?

Posted by: Dallas Dem at January 28, 2005 04:47 AM

Hays is an idiot. I don't use that term lightly either. She is incapable of raising money let alone organizing a field staff. I went to volunteer during early vote and there office was CLOSED!

Posted by: Count Blah at January 28, 2005 07:50 AM

I think it's fair to say this:

Frost ran 10 points ahead of Kerry in 32.

If this came in any part from getting more Democrats to the polls, then the DCDP candidates had their margin of defeat in 32 cut by a considerable amount.

Not losing a bad box by as much as you expected is just as good as out-performing a good box.

Now the question is, where did Frost's ballots come from? Increasing Dem turnout, or drawing cross-over votes?

That really ought to be the question.

Posted by: Jim D at January 28, 2005 07:59 AM

Or perhaps my question presents its own answer.

Obviously, a lot of people who voted for Frost didn't vote for Kerry.

Then again, a lot of people who voted for downballot Dems also didn't vote for Kerry.

Posted by: Jim D at January 28, 2005 08:01 AM

QUESTION: Now the question is, where did Frost's ballots come from? Increasing Dem turnout, or drawing cross-over votes?

ANSWER: Both

[*someone who crosses over and doesn't vote a straight ticket is far less likely to keep going done and individually voting for a all Rs.]

Posted by: DonnyW at January 28, 2005 08:48 AM

Dean: 69%
Frost: 25%

because the numbers don't lie :)

Posted by: Karl-T at January 28, 2005 08:54 AM

What numbers are those Karl T? Is the the DFA poll spread?

Don't get me wrong I like netroots but why do they feel that they are the only opinion that matters in Dem politics. Alot of people slammed the 14 TX members of the DNC for being out of touch with the grassroots. I disagree. Our elected dems are on the frontlines and most connected with the grassroots.

Those leaders have funded and organized the campaigns for the last several decades. Is the average Dem activist more likely to have a job where they can regularly post to a blogg throughout the day or someone who does what they can to get their friends and neighboors to vote?

Posted by: Doomsday at January 28, 2005 10:45 AM

Another point worth making:

Dallas County's been trending Dem for years.

Granted, Frost should get credit where credit is due.

But I think the modest increase in DPI should not necessarily be viewed as surprising.

Posted by: Jim D at January 28, 2005 01:31 PM

I agree Jim, and that's what the PowerPoint presentation is for. It takes an in-depth, detailed look at where the increases came in 2004.

Posted by: Byron L at January 28, 2005 01:50 PM

I don't know much about the inner-workings of the Dallas County Democratic Party, but I do feel I should jump to Susan Hays' defense here.

I am very fimiliar with the situation of Susan allegedly "endorsing" a Republican judge. That's not at all what she did. She wrote a letter of support for a (as I understand it) centrist/moderate GOP judge who she'd known a long, long time. To me, supporting someone toward the middle in an era when there will be few moderates appointed by the administration isn't a hanging offense. If it were an election, that'd be an entirely different matter, but it was a federal judicial appointment.

Also, from my work with Susan in SD2, I've found her very helpful. Again, I can't speak for the inter-party politics, but I will defend Susan on what I'm familiar with.

I'm sure there are some centrist Democrats in Van Zandt County who'd consider passing a resolution of no-confidence in me--in spite of our wins and financial success--because I'm too liberal and won't "get along to go along" with the Republicans locally.

Posted by: Vince Leibowitz at January 28, 2005 06:36 PM

Vince, what Susan did would have been ok if she did it on her own letterhead as a lawyer, but she used the Dallas County Democratic Party letterhead. Even Sen. Cornyn read the letter into the record as the Chair of the Democrat Party of Dallas County.

Regarding Dallas County SD-2; The SW Dallas County portions are Democratic (Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Lancaster), but there's not enough population, although its growing. Garland is a low turnout town except for the affulent areas as well as Mesquite which used to be David Cain/Ted Lyon territory. West Mesquite is where most of the Dems live. North Mesquite has a large christian coalition contingent which is very organized and gets out the vote for Jeb Hensarling and Elvira Reyna. The problems in SD-2 are Rowlett, Sachse and the new areas of Garland, which have voting patterns more similar to Collin County or Rockwall. I look forward to attending the Canton meeting on SD-2.

Posted by: pc at January 28, 2005 10:10 PM

Re.: Comments of PCT 1233 – What’s missing from the PowerPoint presentation provided is the commentary that went with it. My intention was to show not only how Frost’s effort “democratized” Dallas county, but also a gratuitous plug for how I think the prevailing thinking in Dallas must change in order to securely win in the future. The point was not so much that Miller benefited from Frost’s campaign, but rather that like Frost she brought an aggressive persuasional campaign to a republican district and the results were quite dramatic. Although there was certainly some synergy between the two candidates, Miller did exceedingly well largely due to her and her volunteer’s extraordinary efforts. Now Miller, like Frost, had only the most remote chance of winning, but their campaigns both proved the truth of what Frost himself said during the campaign – the democratic message can resonate even among voters that we have traditionally written off. The historical refrain, at least in Dallas, is that “turnout is everything” – thus, all of our county efforts have been targeted to minority or “base” constituencies. If raising turnout from our base alone could win elections, then we would have won the County in 2002 when the minority vote as a percentage of total county turnout was highest. We won a handful of races this year, however, when it was significantly lower. How can this be? Simply put – it seems to me that Frost’s efforts broke straight ticket voting and had the effect of making Democrats and our message more palatable to an enormous number of voters. And remember, Frost’s campaign was not limited to CD32 – he ran advertisements across North Texas and all sorts of people were exposed to his message thru media coverage and interaction with the candidates at forums, public events and churches. To suggest, as our Chairwoman has done, that the victory was due to turnout work in 16 precincts in the 23rd Senate District (this has now morphed into 35 precincts over the past two weeks) is simply erroneous. Not only was the 23rd’s contribution to the total countywide turnout this year lower than the past 3 election cycles, whatever gain was made in Hispanic turnout (largely located in those CD32 precincts within SD23) was offset by the drop in black participation! – Not surprising since there we no African Americans on the ballot. So what does this mean for the future? Well – it’s simply not reasonable to assume that black voters are going to be motivated by billboard appeals from Senator Royce West alone without African Americans actually on the ticket; this was a huge deficit which the Dallas County Chairman must accept some responsibility. Nor can we assume that the Hispanic electorate is going to come to the rescue anytime soon – they’re getting more republican and at least in Dallas still have very anemic turnout. What works is getting a persuasional message out to a much broader range of Dallas voters - and with our very limited campaign budgets, its only possible with aggressive direct mail (just like the republicans have been doing since the late 70s.) TDP sent out direct mail pieces (not the County party) featuring Valdez, Raggio & Ms. Huebener – quite effective. Simply put, our Party’s problem, not only in Dallas but the state as well, is not with minority voters; it’s with anglo voters. Our Dallas county effort in 2006 must have both turnout and persuasional components to be successful – in other words, replicate as far as possible what Frost was able to do among voters long written-off by party activists along with a diverse ticket and meaningful turnout efforts. Unfortunately, rather than planning for and building a war-chest for the 2006 elections, what we’re getting is a combination of self-serving propaganda and hot-air from an increasingly unpopular County chair feebly funded by a handful of strutting egoists among Dallas’ cadre of trial lawyers; and a growing insurgency among activists which will consume most of their energy for the better part of the year.

Posted by: Gary F.S. at January 29, 2005 07:45 PM

Gary.... thanks for your clarifications. My apologies if I misrepresented any of the arguments that you made.

Posted by: Byron L at January 29, 2005 11:44 PM

I agree with Gary's posting on Frost and Harriet Miller races. I am a precinct chair in a Republican majority precinct (1811) that is in both CD 32 and HD 102 and worked on both Frost & Miller's races. What made a positive difference this yr. were good candidates and good organization. Previously we didn't have strong Democratic candidates for Congress and House Rep. in this area, and our past numbers reflected this. In 2004 my precinct improved its DPI by 12+ pts, in 2002 our DPI was 21 and this yr for Frost we got him a 33% and 35% for Harriet Miller, while Kerry and the judges received about 29%. We saw this kind of improvement in many of the precincts in Far North Dallas, some of them recording middle 40s% DPIs for Frost and Miller. Also these DPI increases took place in precincts that had turnouts in the 70-75%.

I am strong believer that Lupe and the Judges owe their victories in part to the good organizing work that Frost did in increasing DPI throughout the 32nd and repressing the Republican vote. While many are rightly excited about the Democratic victories, 2006 may not be as Democratic friendly for the county as some think without a Frost on the ticket fighting the good battle.

Posted by: Anthony P at January 31, 2005 01:17 AM
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