Early voting in Texas sees steady numbers

PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — If voters are overly excited about electing the first new Texas governor in 14 years and wholesale changes across state government, the turnout so far hasn’t shown it.

Despite a governor’s race between Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis that has generated a combined $83 million in fundraising, and a massive voter outreach effort from the engineers of President Barack Obama’s re-election, early voting across Texas has stayed relatively flat.

Early voting ends Friday, and Election Day is Tuesday.

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“I’m a little surprised. I thought turnout would be higher,” said Bruce Elfant, the voter registrar for Travis County.

He and other election officials cautioned that the final day of early voting — which falls on Halloween this year — typically sees longer lines and bigger numbers. Nearly 1.3 million people in the state’s largest counties had cast a ballot through the first 10 days, a figure that’s slightly up from the last midterm election in 2010 but down in terms of total percentage of registered voters.

For Davis, a heavy underdog who has trailed in opinion polls since her campaign launched a year ago, a big turnout among Democrats is needed to pull an upset. She and her campaign have shrugged off the turnout numbers and claimed their analysis shows them making ground with black and Hispanic voters.

Republican analysts who’ve crunched their own data paint a far different picture and predict an Abbott victory that’s in line with polling.

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Courting Hispanic voters has been a priority for both campaigns, and on Thursday, Davis campaigned in the Rio Grande Valley with U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro. Davis also sought to energize her supporters with the help of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, tweeting a message of Clinton saying she had a run a “tough, strong campaign.”

The Clintons have been on the ground in other states campaigning for Democrats in hotly contested races, including governors’ races in Wisconsin and Rhode Island.

Abbott, who was set to vote Thursday in Austin, has said he wants his victory to include breaking then-Republican Gov. George W. Bush’s record in 1998 for winning Hispanic voters.

“I don’t know why a Democrat considers it encouraging news that the Hispanic vote is up,” said Craig Murphy, a Republican consultant whose firm analyzes voting data.

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A record 14 million Texans are registered to vote. The election is widely seen as a test for Battleground Texas, a Democratic political organization that launched last year with the goal of making Texas competitive after two decades of Republican dominance. It ran Davis’ field operation and helped raised $13 million in a joint political action committee with the Fort Worth state senator.

Jenn Brown, executive director of Battleground Texas, said, “We’re encouraged by the support we’ve seen to date.”

Some elections officials say long ballots might also be keeping voters from rushing in to vote too soon. No incumbents are running for any of the major statewide offices, meaning Texas will see its biggest overhaul in state government in decades.