We continue our look into straight-ticket voting trends in today’s competitive or potentially competitive districts by looking into HD54, which is comprised of southwestern Bell Co. and all of Lampasas Co. Most of Killeen and all of Harker Heights and Salado are located in the Bell Co. portion of the district.
Democrats are competitive in the Bell Co. portion of HD54, but Lampasas Co. is strongly Republican, and it tips the district safely Republican in all but the best Democratic years.
In 2008, Barack Obama carried the Bell Co. portion of HD54, and about 1,400 more Democratic straight-ticket votes were cast there than Republican straight-ticket votes. However, Lampasas Co. voters preferred John McCain by a 3-to-1 margin, and there were 2,100 more Republican straight-ticket voters than Democratic. McCain carried HD54 as it is currently configured, 52%-48%, and Republicans had a straight-ticket voting advantage of less than 1,000 votes districtwide.
Four years later, the Republican straight-ticket voting advantage grew to 2,500 votes, and Mitt Romney carried the district, 54%-46%, over President Obama. That same year, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock won a contested re-election race, 58%-42%. Aycock received more votes than Romney, and his opponent received 2K fewer votes than Obama.
Estimates of the number of straight-ticket and full-ballot votes cast in the 2008 presidential election and the actual number of those votes in the 2012 presidential election are shown below.
- Straight Republican – 13,400 58% 58%
- Straight Democratic – 12,700 55% 55%
- Full Ballot – 23,100 100% 100%
Republican Advantage: ~700 votes
- Straight Republican – 16,499 71% 71%
- Straight Democratic – 13,991 61% 61%
- Full Ballot – 16,762 73% 73%
Republican Advantage: 2,508 votes
Our analysis cannot go as far back into history here as we have done with some of the more urban/suburban districts. Lampasas Co. did not begin recording straight-ticket voting totals until 2006, and Bell Co. did not begin doing so until 2008. Bell Co. also lumped all early votes into a single precinct (rather than allot them to the voters’ precincts) prior to that year, so we cannot accurately split them into the current district.
As with 2008, the Bell Co. portion of HD54 slightly favors Democratic candidates. Obama carried the Bell Co. portion of the district, 51%-49%, and Democrats had a slight advantage in straight-ticket voting. Lampasas Co. voters overwhelmingly preferred Romney, 79%-21%, and Republicans had a more than 3,000-vote advantage.
Districtwide, the number of straight-ticket voters in 2012 rose 17% from 2008 at the expense of full-ballot voters. The number of Republican straight-ticket voters increased by nearly 3,100 while the Democratic increase was closer to 1,300. Part of the explanation for these increases was a lack of partisan competition at the county level.
Once again this year, no Democrats filed to run for county office in Lampasas Co. Just over 500 people voted in the 2016 Democratic primary there, far fewer than the nearly 3,900 who voted in the Republican primary. Just two Democrats filed for county office in Bell Co., but both are running in portions of HD54.
This is all good news for former Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper, who edged out Harker Heights optometrist Austin Ruiz in a Republican runoff to succeed the retiring Aycock. He faces Harker Heights nurse Sandra Blankenship, who received 72% in the Democratic primary. No minor party candidates are in the race.
Neither Bell nor Lampasas Co. has been represented by a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives since 1996, and we expect that streak to continue.