Driven by some precinct voting numbers that were nearly double those in 2014, Democrat candidates had a strong showing Tuesday in races that primarily drew from Killeen voters, according to final, unofficial Bell County results.
On Tuesday, Killeen voters helped precipitate a historic victory for John Driver, D-Killeen, to the Bell County Commission Precinct 4 post as the first black man elected to the seat and the first Democrat in 20 years.
The Republican who held the seat, John Fisher, was running for his fifth term and had been a Precinct 4 commissioner for 16 years.
In Texas House District 54, Democrat Kathy Richerson, of rural Bell County, beat out Dr. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, in Bell County voting despite Buckley’s name recognition and significant lead in campaign fundraising and spending.
Richerson also prevailed despite the Bell County Democratic Party leaders distancing themselves from her campaign during the uncontested Democratic primary.
Although Richerson won Bell County, which is primarily composed of Killeen voters, she lost the District 54 seat after Lampasas County voters elected Buckley by a nearly 60-point margin.
What explains the results?
Tuesdays’ figures followed an ongoing trend of heavy Democratic voting throughout Killeen’s 17 precincts, building on 2016 when the Democratic candidate for House District 54 nearly took the county over her Republican competitor.
Tuesday’s results are even more stark when compared to the 2014 midterms, with some Killeen precincts turning out at double the rate of four years ago and polling heavily Democrat.
Here’s a snapshot of Tuesday’s results and the growing blue stronghold in Killeen.
Of Killeen’s 17 voting precincts, every single one had a higher turnout than during the last midterm elections four years ago. Some of them more than doubled those figures.
The single largest turnout Tuesday was in Precinct 409 in far west Killeen, where 49.65 percent of 1,855 registered voters took to the polls. That turnout rate exceeded Bell County’s average turnout of 43.99 percent — a virtually unheard of result for Killeen, which routinely underperforms the rest of the county in polling.
While Killeen’s other precincts did not hit those highs, the results did show a promising turnout trend.
In Precinct 405 in west Killeen, turnout jumped from a measly 14.16 percent in November 2014 to 30.69 percent Tuesday. Precinct 206 in southeast Killeen had a turnout increase of 15 percent from 21.77 percent turnout in the last midterm.
But the single largest turnout bump was in Precinct 110, which primarily covers Fort Hood.
Four years ago, the 110 had an unbelievably low turnout of just 4.16 percent, which is around average for that precinct for almost every election.
On Tuesday, that precinct jumped to 11.97 percent — a meager figure, but nearly a three-fold increase from 2014.
For Democrats hopeful those numbers will parlay into future wins, Tuesday’s results show a growing blue stronghold in Killeen.
Sixteen of Killeen’s 17 precincts favored Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke, D-El-Paso — some by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
In District 54, Bell County results have increasingly narrowed over the last few elections, leading to Richerson’s countywide win Tuesday.
In 2016, Democrat challenger Sandra Blankenship lost the Bell County vote to former Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper by 0.6 points — or just under 300 votes, according to Bell County archives.
In 2012, Democrat Claudia Brown, now a Bell County Justice of the Peace, lost to former Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock by seven points.
In both those races, the Republicans were propped up by heavy leads in Lampasas County, which elected Buckley by a 3,500-vote margin Tuesday.
Sign of the times?
For Nancy Boston, the chairwoman of the Bell County Republican Party, Tuesday’s results reveal a changing demographic in the western portions of the county — but also a failure of Republicans to turn out the vote.
“(The Democratic Party) really worked the west side of the county, and the Republican Party did not do as good of a job as we should have,” Boston acknowledged Thursday. “We are going to take a brief break for the holidays, let our volunteers recoup and identify the people in an increasingly transient part of the county and hopefully get them out to vote.”
Boston said the party’s strategy in Killeen would be to reach out more consistently to the military, which she said hasn’t turned out strongly for the GOP in recent elections.
“We are just so fortunate to have the military because they are very educated and tend to stay in this community,” Boston said. “But they’ve been busy protecting our country, and they haven’t been turning out to the polls. We’ll just to have to play it by ear and do our outreach.”
On the changing demographics in Killeen, Boston pointed to the 2020 Census and coming redistricting and said no one knew how districts were going to look after the next presidential election.
For Buckley, who relied on Lampasas County to fuel his win Tuesday, swelling population figures along the Interstate 35 corridor could result in a vastly different voting district by the time he — potentially — runs for a third term in November 2022.
DEMOCRATS LOOKING AHEAD
Democratic Party chairwoman Chris Rosenberg, in an emailed response to Herald questions, said: “HD 54 is a heavily gerrymandered District as some courts have ruled. Bell County’s District 54 is ready for Democratic representation in the statehouse but stymied by the overwhelming number of Republican voters in Lampasas County. With an additional 4,000-6,000 votes in Bell County, we can win the District, and we intend to do so in 2020.”
Rosenberg lauded Driver for his win in the county commissioner’s court race over incumbent Fisher.
“John Driver is a veteran who has been a community leader in Killeen for decades. Voters are looking for leaders who will represent Precinct 4 on the Commissioners Court, and they found that leader in John Driver.
“John ran an excellent grassroots campaign. He walked countless doors in his Precinct, meeting voters personally and sharing his vision for the Court.”
On Thursday, Boston specifically lamented Fisher’s defeat, saying the county was losing years of “institutional knowledge.” She said the party would be looking for ways to better inform voters about the role of their elected officials to underscore the need for continuity and experience.
“(Fisher’s) been a very good commissioner, and he’s been hands-on,” Boston said. “He’s taking a lot of institutional knowledge with him. I think a lot of voters don’t know what their elected officials do, so that’s going to be a focus of ours to better inform them before the next election.
Rosenberg said, “The state of Texas is now in play for Democrats. Other than John Driver’s decisive win, the great news from election night was that Democrats flipped the Third Court of Appeals. Chari Kelly, Thomas Baker, Judge Gisela Triana, and Edward Smith handily defeated the sitting Republican Justices on the Court. The Third Court of Appeals will now have a diversity of opinion unseen in years past that will lead to a more balanced Court.”
Rosenberg is determined to make greater gains.
“Bell County Democrats are marching confidently towards 2020. Our challenges going forward are bigger and better voter registration drives and massive getting out the vote initiatives.”
Rosenberg added, “Texans across the state yearn for access to affordable healthcare, fully funded public schools, an opportunity for higher education, good paying jobs, and a fair shot for working families. In addition, our community’s veterans are hurting and are badly in need of services that will support them. They deserve better than what Republican leadership has offered thus far.”