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Democrats hope biggest Texas midterm primary turnout in 15 years starts national wave

In the first election of this year's midterm season in Texas' primaries Tuesday, Democrats surged whiled Republicans turned out in more normal numbers.

WASHINGTON — Democrats hoping for a blue wave in November were buoyed, if not jubilant, Tuesday as Texas voters cast the first ballots in this year's midterms in closely watched primaries for Senate, House and governor.

While final turnout numbers were not as strong for Democrats as heavy early voting had suggested, more than 1 million party members in Texas cast ballots — the first time Democrats topped that figure in a primary since the 2002 midterms.

"We are seeing some extraordinary turnout in the Democratic primary in Texas that has us feeling very hopeful about what the general election might look like," Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014, told MSNBC.

President Donald Trump, she added, has Democrats "chomping at the bit" to get out and vote.

Thanks to Texas' booming population, both parties saw a record number of voters head to the polls.

Democratic turnout was up 84 percent from the last midterm primary, in 2014, while Republican turnout increased about 14 percent, according to data from the secretary of state's office. GOP turnout was the highest since the 2010 midterm.

Republicans still easily outnumbered Democrats at the polls on Tuesday and in early voting — 1.54 million to 1.04 million — underscoring just how difficult it will be for Democrats to take the country's second-largest state, even in what is shaping up as a strong year for the party.

Republicans have been sounding the alarm for months, warning their voters not to take things for granted, even in a red state like Texas.

"We are going to see historic turnout from the extreme left in November, which means if conservatives stay home, we could lose both houses of Congress," Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican up for re-election, said on Hugh Hewitt's radio show Tuesday. "In Texas, if conservatives stay home, if we rest on our laurels, we could see Texas turn blue."

That’s long been the dream of Democrats, who are hoping state Rep. Beto O'Rourke will take a big leap in that direction in November by unseating Cruz.

Before the results were even in on Tuesday, Cruz unloaded on his opponent in a conference call with reporters and in a spoof country song released by his campaign with lyrics accusing O'Rourke of wanting "to take our guns" and being too liberal for the Lone Star State.

Both Cruz and O’Rourke easily won their party's nomination in the Senate race Tuesday, but O'Rourke underperformed some rosier expectations, showing he still has plenty of room to grow outside liberal areas like Austin.

That was consistent with a pattern across the state, where Democrats' growth was strongest in major cities and more limited in outlying areas.

Still, Democrats found plenty to cheer about.

For instance, even in the largely rural 23rd Congressional District, where they hope to unseat an incumbent Republican in November, Democratic turnout shot up 65 percent while Republican growth was a more modest modest 20 percent.

It also was a big night for female candidates — more than half of the nearly 50 women running won their primaries or advanced outright to runoffs in May, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, George P. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush, beat back a primary challenge in his re-election campaign as Texas land commissioner.

"I continue to be a partner of President Trump. We need his help in Texas," Bush said at his victory party, where he was joined by his father, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Texas, home to one of the largest Hispanic populations in the country, is now almost guaranteed to get not just its first Latina in Congress, but its second.

Veronica Escobar cleared a crowded primary field in O'Rourke's old House seat in El Paso and is on her way to an easy race in the deep-blue district in November. Sylvia Garcia is on a similar path in Houston.

The Democratic family feud in the Houston suburbs will go into round two after Laura Moser made it into the May 22 runoff election against Lizzie Pannill Fletcher for a House seat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tried to push Moser out of the race, but some analysts think it backfired and actually helped Moser into the runoff.

"I guess the (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) can't rig a primary as well as their counterparts at the DNC," quipped Matt Gorman, communications director for the Republican National Campaign Committee, referring to allegations that the Democratic Party rigged the 2016 presidential primary for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

At the center of the controversy were op-eds Moser wrote expressing negative opinions about Texas and other issues. "I have recently been made aware of some hurtful language and satire that more than missed its mark. It caused real offense, and I am sorry, full stop," Moser wrote on Facebook this week.

Progressive allies of Moser wasted no time preparing to take on Fletcher. The Working Families Party, which spent $20,000 on digital ads hitting Fletcher for a case she was involved in as a lawyer that they say enriched her while hurting immigrant women, said Tuesday night that more was on the way. "We need candidates who fight for working families, not fight against them," said WFP spokesperson Joe Dinkin.

But Democratic turnout will likely overshadow internal party squabbling.

"Look, anybody who's not getting ready for a real election that is a Republican is kidding themselves," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday.