More Travis County Democratic Club Primary Endorsements

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More Democratic Clubs cast their ballots last week at the multi-club endorsement forum. You can read the various candidates' questionnaires here.

Below is a chart showing the winners of the Capital Area Asian American Democrats (CAAAD), Capital Area Progressive Democrats (CAPD), Circle C Area Democrats (CCAD; and yes, there are Democrats in Circle C, lots of them, and they are awesome!), Northeast Travis County Democrats (NETCO), and Austin Tejano Democrats (ATD). I am also including the endorsement threshold, or the percent of votes each candidate needed to receive to earn the endorsement. These thresholds are set up by the clubs' by-laws. Higher thresholds can be more difficult to reach depending on the number of club members.

Quick note: “n/a” means the club did not consider the race (some clubs do not endorse in races that are outside of their geographic area) and None means no candidate met the threshold for endorsement.

Endorsement Threshold 50% 55% 55% 65% 60%
US Senate Sadler Sadler Sadler Sadler n/a
Travis DA Lehmberg Lehmberg Lehmberg None Lehmberg
Travis Sheriff Hamilton Hamilton None Hamilton Sisson
Travis Tax/VR Elfant Elfant Elfant Elfant Elfant
Travis 167th de la Fuente de la Fuente None None de la Fuente
Constable Pct 1 Thomas Thomas n/a n/a Thomas
Constable Pct 2 Ballesteros Ballesteros n/a Ballesteros Ballesteros
Constable Pct 3 Hernandez Hernandez McCain n/a Hernandez
Constable Pct 4 Canchola Canchola n/a n/a None
Commissioner Pct 1 Davis Davis n/a None Gonzales
Commissioner Pct 3 Huber Huber Huber n/a None

A few notes and observations:

  • Efrain de la Fuente had an impressive run of victories of these clubs, winning all 3 that endorsed, and now has a lead in club endorsements (I believe it is 5-3, feel free to correct me). Arguably this is where the early start to his campaign paid off (he was in and campaigning hard several months before David Wahlberg) — he's had more time to call every single member of every club and earn their votes. Also, there seems to be little traction for Bryan Case at this point, so perhaps he might want to ponder taking his considerable appellate experience and running for the 3rd Court of Appeals in the remaining open Democratic place on the ballot.
  • The Austin Tejano Democrats endorsed challenger John Sisson over incumbent Sheriff Greg Hamilton, likely due to controversy surrounding Travis County's immigration and deportation issues. They also went for Victor Gonzales in County Commissioner Pct 1. This has traditionally been an African-American seat on the County Court, though due to population changes, the district has grown more Hispanic. Gonzales, the Mayor Pro Tem of Pflugerville, hasn't had much of a visible campaign presence in the Democratic club scene yet, though he did show up at the multi-club forum this week. Given that the three other challengers are African-American, it will be interesting to see if Gonzales can build a coalition of Hispanic voters and Pflugervillans and make it into a run-off.
  • Incumbent Precinct 2 Constable Adan Ballesteros has continued to pick up endorsements over challenger and professional gun nut Michael Cargill. Cargill has taken to his Facebook page to decry the “Democratic establishment” that apparently is preventing him from gaining traction. He recently wrote, “We have 1% of Austin controlling endorsements in this county. I need the help of the 99%.” Maybe what's happening is people are realizing that he's a) a gun nut who b) voted for Debra Medina and c) is seemingly only running to promote his CHL training business. Oh, and he wants to arm college students and repeal federal Gun Free School Zones and the background checks before gun purchases legalized by the Brady Bill. No big deal. Guns for everyone! Not.

  • No big surprises in the DA's race as incumbent Rosemary Lehmberg won four of the five endorsements over challenger Charlie Baird, with no candidate meeting NETCO's endorsement threshold.

  • There are a few surprises in these endorsements — the Austin Tejano Democrats had no candidate meet the 60% threshold in the Pct 4 constable race, though challenger Ernest Pedraza apparently earned more votes than incumbent Maria Canchola. Additionally, neither candidate in the Precinct 3 commissioner's race earned their endorsement, though incumbent Karen Huber won the other three up for grabs over challenger Albert Gonzales.
  • Arguably the most interesting endorsement here is Circle C's choice of incumbent Richard McCain over challenger Sally Hernandez for Precinct 3 constable. To date Hernandez had swept every public safety, labor, and Democratic endorsement. However, the club most firmly rooted in the district went for McCain. In a post to the group's Facebook page, one member noted that McCain ran and ousted a Republican when no one else thought it was possible, and has been active in the community.
  • Tax Assessor / Voter Registrar frontrunner Bruce Elfant remains the only candidate to win every. single. endorsement. to date. No ties, no “no endorsements,” no failing to meet a threshold. It's just all Bruce all the time. The man is a Democratic juggernaut! More importantly, he's vastly qualified and a tremendous public servant, with a real vision for how our Tax Assessor / Voter Registrar can do even more to reflect the values of our community.

Yet to endorse in the 2012 primaries are West Austin Democrats (WAD), North by Northwest Democrats (NXNW), Black Austin Democrats (BAD), St. Edward's Democrats, and Capital City Young Democrats (CCYD). Also not endorsing to date are Tall Austin Democrats (TAD), Democrats with Last Names Beginning with 'B' (BDems), or Apartment Dwelling Democrats (ADD).

Now, obviously I'm poking fun at the process, but this raises a valid question: do any of these club endorsements matter? Well, yes. Plenty of the clubs spend money to support their candidates, from sending postcards and robo-calls in support of their endorsed candidates, and also volunteer in their endorsed candidates' campaign offices. These clubs also provide that all-important list of endorsements on mailers or TV ads that local hyper-partisan Democrats have come to look for around voting time. It not only looks bad if the Democratic clubs all vote for your opponent instead of you, it suggests that for some reason  your campaign isn't getting any traction with the voters.

The endorsements also signal momentum, and can help indicate to the broader electorate and media who the frontrunners are in a given race. In some cases it can also indicate which candidates are actually working hard to win the endorsements, by attending the clubs' meetings, calling their members and asking for support, and often even joining and serving as an officer in these clubs. They also represent a well-organized effort to GOTV the club members for the actual endorsement meetings. Supporters are great, but if they don't show up and “do stuff” that helps you win, well…

These endorsements represent who's leading the “Democratic insider” race, as it is primarily the most locally engaged Democratic activists who join these clubs and vote in these endorsements, in an effort to signal who they think is the best person for the job. In past cycles, some campaigns have endeavored to sign up friends and random people for these clubs simply to stuff the ballot box during the endorsement season. However, we haven't seen too much of that here, or not on a level that seems to have vastly changed the outcome of any given club.

For better or worse, that's the system we've got, and it's one that has been fine-tuned over the last few decades here in Austin. Only during years of extraordinarily high turnout (2008, anyone?) does this “system” really break down and enable primary candidates who don't win the vast majority of club endorsements to win at the ballot box. Otherwise, the hyper-engaged Democrats who vote in every single primary (and most of the run-offs to boot) tend to vote as the clubs do, unless there's any other game-changers out there — for instance, newspaper endorsements or really effective attack ads. And, of course, in a Democratic primary, female candidates and names that indicate an obvious minority can also receive a boost in the voting booth from voters who don't know anything about the other candidates.

The remaining clubs should endorse within the next two weeks — just in time to take a quick breather before doing it all again for the Austin City Council elections!  


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.


  1. B Dems
    The B Dems are withholding endorsements this year due to conflicts in the DA and Pct 2 Constable races.

    • BDems?
      is there really a club for dems whose last names begin with B? I love that! is it open to folks who just want to B dems?

      • Ha, no.
        But it would be funny if a group of tall people started the Tall Austin Dems and just endorsed the tallest candidate in the race (good news for Bill Spelman!). In response, other folks might start Petite Austin Dems, and endorse the most diminutive candidate. Small in stature, big in ideas!

  2. Endorsements only matter in at-large elections and/or county-wide elections with low turnouts
    The higher the voter turnout the less these insider head games will matter. Also, these endorsements have very little impact on races at the precinct or district level.

    That's why Constable McCain and I support the 10-1 geographic representation proposal for the Austin City Council elections rather than the current At-Large elections system.  Both Pct. 3 (in South Austin and Southwest Austin) and Pct. 4 (South Austin, Southeast Austin, and a portion of East Austin) have no members on the Austin City Council along large areas of North Austin. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but it appears that five city county members live in County Commissioner Pct 2 and two live in County Commissioner Pct 1.

    Our local endorsement dance is similar to the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary at the presidential level. Early insider momentum by about 500 persons, many of which are members of multiple endorsing groups, does not necessarily determine the winner of a marathon race. Especially with the primary date moved from March 6th to April 3rd and now to May 29th.

    Stacy Suits

    Constable McCain's Chief Deputy

    Former Travis County Constable Pct. 5

    Candidate for Travis County Sheriff 1992 and 1996

    Owner of Ace Printing

    Treasurer for Austinites for Geographic Representation

    Proud resident of South Austin and member of Circle C Democrats

    • They matter in all down-ballot races, especially with high turnouts
      High-profile candidates like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Lloyd Doggett have the resources to make the case for themselves. Low-profile candidates can run as hard as they like, and their appeals directly to the voters will matter on the edges, but they'll never be able to contact more than a fraction of the electorate in a presidential year. Instead, what matters is their indirect appeal; their ability to win over people who then influence others.

      The fact is, most primary voters know very little about who is running down-ballot. Without solid info one way or the other, they'll either vote based on the recommendations of people and organizations that they trust, or based on random stuff, like ballot order or which name sounds familiar (Gene Kelley) or friendly-sounding (don't run in the GOP primary with a Hispanic name!).  This goes for everything from SBOE to judges to county commissioner to JP and constable. I may not always know the candidates, but I'll still vote for the guy or gal endorsed by the Sierra Club over the one endorsed by the Club for Growth. With that kind of thinking, I'll sometimes wind up voting for an idiot who got endorsements for all the wrong reasons, but I'll get it right more often than I'll get it wrong.

      There's a LOT wrong with the insider game of gathering club, union, newspaper and elected official endorsements, but it sure beats totally uninformed voting.

      • King of France on

        Richard McCain is the exception? If endorsements are so important why does McCain keep winning elections?

        Also, can I get an answer as to why the party isn't supporting him? It just seems odd. He has a great relationship with the community and he's a two term incumbent.  

  3. Ahh – Heck Yes Endorsements Matter.
    If they didn't matter, candidates wouldn't spend hours upon hours attending club meetings and wooing members. It is a major focus of almost everyone's campaign (at least those who run their campaigns professionally). Never met a candidate who would turn down an endorsement from a DEM club!

    In a crowded primary race – especially when the average voter doesn't understand the office (such as Constable, various judicial benches) DEM voters certainly look at these to gain more information.

    That being said, the process itself is the ultimate “insider baseball”. Piss off the Manager or the Team Captain – and players are less likely to follow you when times get tough. That's why someone like a John Sisson starts sneaking in some surprise endorsements – it's an indication the players are restless and enough want to make a change that it should act as a big yellow light to the incumbent.

    Then again, voters can take what they want from the endorsements – and that's why I personally like it when not everyone marches in lockstep.  Some voters prefer a more regional or “establishment” focus – while others have more local, neighborhood and special interest concerns.

    In the end, do the votes generated by endorsements hold more sway than those generated because voters who like a candidates name or the color of their campaign signs? In a primary – and most especially in a Travis County Democratic primary – the answer is most certainly yes.  

  4. Constable Pct. 3 Race
      It should comes as no surprise to any experienced political observer of Travis County politics that Richard McCain received the endorsement of the one Democratic Party club that is actually in Precinct 3, the Circle C Democrats.  These Democrats know how hard he has worked to represent all voters in southwest Travis County and don't care who Central and North clubs endorse; those Democrats don't live in Precinct 3.  When the actual primary finally takes place, don't be surprised to see Mr. McCain once again beat an upstart challenger who has impressed the wrong people. As a longtime Precinct 3 resident who has voted for McCain multiple times in primaries and general elections, I look forward to voting for him again.

    David Terrell

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