Shifting Election Returns: Granger win shows moderate Republican stance in Tarrant County

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger’s decisive win over a conservative activist in the Republican primary may have been more about the political inclinations of the Fort Worth electorate than a vote of confidence for her.

The 12th District, which spans part of Tarrant County as well as Parker and Wise counties, is considered solidly Republican. But most voters in the district, particularly in Tarrant County, tend to be moderate Republicans rather than ultra conservatives.

The results of the past two Republican primary elections in State House District 99 race provide evidence of that.

Both times, incumbent Charlie Geren defeated challenger Bo French, a conservative endorsed by the influential Empower Texans, which also endorsed Granger’s challenger, Chris Putman.

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Portraying himself as the true conservative in the race and an honest loyalist to President Donald Trump’s agenda, Putnam won the backing of the powerful and well-funded conservative organization, Club for Growth, which financed a media blitz of blistering attacks ads on Granger.

Granger won the coveted endorsement of Trump and then lined up endorsements from key conservative groups such as the National Right to Life and in her battle against Putnam, who she defeated 57.9 percent to 42.1 percent.

“There was really no surprises in that race,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “It was an effort to defeat her with a run to the right.”

Putnam preyed upon the vulnerabilities of Granger’s record, which include earlier career pro-choice statements on abortion and call for Trump to drop out of the presidential race in 2016 after a video of him bragging about his lewd behavior toward women surfaced before the election.

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Despite her primary victory, Riddlesperger said her re-election is not assured.

“There is always a chance that the November presidential election could turn into a Democratic sweep,” Riddlesperger said. Granger faces Lisa Welch, a college professor, in November.

Factors such as demographics shifts across Texas as well the elimination of straight party voting and distrust of long-serving elected officials, particularly by young voters, are factors that could influence the outcome this race and others in November, Riddlesperger said.

Besides that, there is the Trump factor.

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“There are people who are very loyal to him and there are people, mostly women, who are disgusted by him, but most people are just worn out by what has gone on during the past three years,” Riddlesperger said.

Granger remains vulnerable due to her inability to bring home critical federal funds for the $1.17 billion Panther Island project that will improve flood protection and create expansive economic development opportunities north of downtown Fort Worth.

“A lot of people who are supportive of Kay Granger are not comfortable with her son J.D. being in charge of it,” Riddlesperger said. “There’s a lot of frustration there because she has not been fully successful with this project.”

J.D. Granger is no longer in charge of the project, but had been for many years.

The outcome of other competitive primary races is indicative of the demographic shifts in Texas as well as an inclination by voters to hold onto traditional values, he said.

One of the biggest surprises is Joe Biden’s astonishing comeback and his sweep of many Super Tuesday states, including Texas, Riddlesperger said.

“No one gave Joe Biden any chance of winning Texas a week ago,” Riddlesperger said.

But Texas is still a state that prefers a moderate candidate to someone on the extreme fringe of either the Republican or Democratic parties, he said.

Biden won Texas with 34.5 percent of the vote, followed by Bernie Sanders with 30 percent. Sanders had been predicted to win Texas.

In Tarrant County, Biden captured 38.2 percent of the vote to prevail over Sanders with 30.8 percent.

In another tight Congressional race, former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne captured 64.3 percent of the vote in the Republican primary for U.S. House District 24. Van Duyne was the clear favorite among the six candidates for the seat that has been held by Republican Kenny Marchant since 2005.

She will face the winner of the Democratic primary runoff between retied Air Force Col. Kim Olson and former Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member Candace Valenzuela. Olson captured 40.9 percent and Valenzuela took 30.4 percent in the race the crowded race of seven candidates.

District 24 straddles Dallas and Tarrant counties but the majority of it is Dallas County, which is already a Democratic stronghold.

Marchant saw the “handwriting on the wall, which is why he is retiring,” Riddlesperger said.

Although the district is still considered “lean Republican” it is one that Democrats are expecting to flip, Riddlesperger said.

Another high-profile race in Tarrant County is the contest for the State House District 92 seat, which is represented by a conservative firebrand Jonathan Stickland, who is not seeking re-election.

With Democrats’ trying to flip the Texas House of Representatives ahead of redistricting in 2021, the District 92 seat is among the top prizes. The Democrats need to flip nine seats.

In 2018, Stickland defeated his Democratic opponent Steve Riddell of Bedford by 2.5 points.

Riddell ran again but was defeated in the primary by his Democrat opponent Jeff Whitfield of Euless, 56.2 percent to 43.8 percent.

In the Republican primary for the seat, Jeff Cason of Bedford captured 54.1 percent of the vote to defeat opponents Taylor Gillig of Arlington and Jim Griffin of Bedford.

A series of problems occurred during primary voting and slowed ballot counting. Long lines at vote centers, especially for Democrats, were reported across the county.

“The allocation the parties requested was based on the turnout they had at each location in the in the last two primaries,” said Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia. “Hence, where a party historically had more voters show up, they had more machines assigned.”

Garcia also acknowledged that there were technical issues with voting machines, which required deploying resources to various vote centers that had higher-than-anticipated turnout.

Tarrant County Democrats turned out in higher numbers than Republicans to cast votes in the primary. Democrats recorded 152,676 votes or 13.1 percent of 1,160,856 registered voters. Republicans cast 122,02 ballots for a turnout of 10.6 percent of total registered voters.