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Trump key to Dem primary turnout rise

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Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial

An interesting story has emerged during early voting in the run-up to Tuesday's Republican and Democratic primaries.

The Democratic Party primary is drawing an abnormally large number of voters. As of last Saturday, 135,070 people had voted in the Republican primary in the 15 Texas counties with the most registered voters. By comparison, 151,236 had voted in the Democratic primary in those counties.

We are not sure what to make of this. The electorate is notoriously fickle. Voters are motivated by something one week and totally change their thinking a month later. Any analysis can be flawed.

Texas Republicans on the 2018 ballot are embracing Trump, believing that his coattails are long enough to help them win election. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, and his primary foe, Veronica Birkenstock, both feature Trump in their campaign advertisements.

But Trump is a polarizing politician, to say the least. It appears that anti-Trump sentiment is fueling Democratic turnout in this year's early voting.

For example, the Texas secretary of state's website shows that 1,390 Democrats and 7,659 Republicans cast ballots in person (as opposed to by mail) during the first six days of early voting in February 2014. A startling shift shows 5,305 Democrats and 9,213 Republicans voted early this February. This means that 15.4 percent of primary voters were Democrats in 2014 compared to 36.5 percent this February.

We do not believe this reflects a greater excitement about Democratic candidates in statewide or local races on the primary ballot. Texas in general and Denton County in specific are still blood-red in their devotion to candidates who label themselves "conservative Republican."

Negative campaign ads run by Republican candidates and divisiveness in hotly contested races may have chased some voters to the Democratic primary during early voting. But we believe Trump is the key variable that caused increased Democratic primary turnout in 2018 versus 2014 when he was not a factor.

The president -- his policies, personality and demeanor -- drives Democrats to apoplectic anger.

We don't believe the increased energy among Democrats portends defeat for any of the top Republicans who will appear as nominees on the general election ballot in November.

When the dust settles, Greg Abbott will still be governor and Dan Patrick will still be lieutenant governor. And incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz will outdistance U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

After all, no Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994.

We predict, however, the Trump factor will come into play heavily when he runs for re-election in 2020. One thing is for sure. Trump will remain Trump. He ain't gonna change, and he will continue to enrage Democrats, driving them to the polls in record numbers to vote against him two years from now.

If Democrats have any hope of turning Texas purple, it will happen in 2020. And they will have Trump to thank.