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GOP keeps a firm grip
Collin County: But Democrats say they're gaining ground
12:00 AM CST on Friday, November 10, 2006
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
The Democratic tsunami that swept Dallas County Republicans from office isn't likely to hit Collin County.
Democrats say they're chipping away at the Republicans' two-decade dominance of Collin County politics, but they don't expect to become the ruling party anytime soon.
This year, Bill Baumbach became the first Democrat to seek a Collin County courthouse office since the mid-1980s. He lost to Republican Commissioner Jerry Hoagland, 62 percent to 38 percent.
Democratic challengers in a Collin County congressional race and two legislative races also lost. But the outcome was closer than four years ago, when Democrats sought those seats.
"Obviously, we're in a rebuilding mode, but the goal of electing a candidate is much, much closer than it was just a few years ago," said Deborah Angell Smith, chairwoman of the Collin County Democratic Party. "In a short matter of time, I expect Democrats to win a lot of races."
Republicans acknowledge that Collin County Democrats are making strides. But they don't foresee the wholesale rejection that Dallas County Republicans suffered Tuesday.
"We've got the energy, dedication and determination to stand up for the people who support Republicans because of conservative principles," said Kathy Ward, chairwoman of the Collin County Republican Party. "We love a good fight."
Republicans should remain in control of the county for the foreseeable future, said Mike McConachie?, a political science professor at Collin County Community College.
"Collin County is one of the reddest counties in the United States," he said. "I don't think the [Democratic] gains made in Dallas County will be seen in Collin County for a long time because of the demographics here.
"I know Plano is becoming more diverse as a city, but what Plano used to be has moved to the northern part of Collin County."
Growing more diverse
In Collin County, the percentage of blacks, Hispanics and Asians has steadily risen.
Between 2000 and 2005, the Hispanic population increased from 10.2 percent to 12.8 percent, according to census data. The Asian population grew from 7.4 percent to 9.8 percent, and blacks rose from 4.4 percent to 6.5 percent. During the same period, whites in Collin County decreased from 76.3 percent of the population to 68.6 percent, census figures show.
Historically, racial minorities have sided more with Democrats. So the census numbers could bode well for them.
Mr. Baumbach, a longtime Democratic activist in Collin County, said his party won't just rely on the increase in minorities to gain power.
"It's not that simple," he said. "I think it's the responsibility of the Democratic Party to come forth with candidates and policies that reflect the will of the people.
"As we do that, we'll get more votes."
Ms. Ward sees positive indicators for Republicans.
For instance, of all the voters who cast straight-party ballots in Tuesday's election, 71 percent chose Republicans.
The Democrats, however, see progress in other numbers.
In the 3rd Congressional District, for instance, longtime Republican Sam Johnson received 65 percent of the vote in defeating Democrat Dan Dodd. But four years ago, Mr. Johnson got 76 percent against another Democrat.
The same trend held true in two state legislative races. In House District 70, Republican Ken Paxton got 69 percent of the vote against Democrat Rick Koster. But in 2002, Mr. Paxton won with 78 percent over another Democrat.
"We're seeing good trends in most cases," Ms. Smith said. "The margin between the Republican candidate and Democratic candidate is not as great as it used to be."
Ready to hold party off
Mr. Hoagland, a Republican county commissioner for 26 years, thinks the GOP can hold off Democrats in Collin County.
He points to the key issue in his race – health care for the poor – as a barometer of voter sentiment. Mr. Hoagland opposed additional spending on indigent care, while Mr. Baumbach supported it.
"I think that Collin County is still a conservative area," Mr. Hoagland said. "I think we haven't heard the last of the Democratic Party. ... They're small in numbers, but they were energized this time."
Mr. Baumbach's candidacy should encourage more Collin County Democrats to take on Republicans, Ms. Smith said.
"All the commissioners can count on opposition," she said. "I think there are certainly a lot of people out there who are qualified and willing to make a run."
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