O’Rourke outpacing Cruz in Bexar County early returns
Straight-ticket voting powered an early commanding lead for Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke over Sen. Ted Cruz, with the Democrat taking close to 60 percent of the vote with early and mail-in ballots from Bexar County.
Libertarian Neal M. Dikeman trailed in third place.
Statewide, the Associated Press reported that O’Rourke was slightly ahead of Cruz, with 1 percent of all precincts reporting as of 7:49 p.m., or a little more than 3.3 million votes.
In other contentious races Republican Chip Roy edged his Democratic challenger Joseph Kopser for Rep. Lamar Smith’s District 21 seat, with Libertarian Lee Santos in a distant third. There was a total of 415,292 early and mail-in ballots cast in the county.
Incumbent Republican Will Hurd led Gina Ortiz Jones, a Democrat, in District 23, commanding more than half the vote, with Libertarian Ruben Corvalan in third. In other congressional races, Reps. Henry Cuellar and Lloyd Doggett, both Democrats, established early commanding leads over their challengers in Districts 25 and 35, respectively.
Democrat Lupe Valdez was well ahead of Gov. Greg Abbott, with 52 percent of the vote, while their Libertarian Party challenger Mark Tippetts got less than 2 percent of the early and mail-in vote in Bexar County.
Another Democrat, Mike Collier had 55 percent of the Bexar County early and mail-in vote over Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Libertarian Kerry McKennon netted just over 2 percent. Attorney General Ken Paxton was well behind his Democratic challenger Justin Nelson, who collected close to 60 percent of the early and mail-in vote.
Libertarian Michael Ray Harris had a little over 2 percent of those ballots.
In the battle for Bexar County judge, incumbent Nelson Wolff took a comfortable lead over Republican Tom Rickhoff, holding 57 percent of the early and mail-in votes, with Libertarian Lauro Bustamante in third place with 3½ percent.
Three controversial charter amendments supported by the firefighters’ union and blasted by a wide cross-section of community leaders, perhaps the hottest items on the local ballot, were getting mixed support.
Propositions A and C, which would make it easier to use referendums to challenge council decisions, including on tax and utility rates, and give the firefighters’ union unilateral power to decide when contract negotiations would be taken into binding arbitration, respectively, were losing in the early and mail-in vote.
Proposition B, which would cap the salary of future San Antonio city managers and impose a term limit, was winning easily, with 57 percent of the vote.
More than 57 of those casting ballots did so on a straight-Democratic ticket.
A near record people cast early and mail-in ballots in Bexar County this fall, a mark that fell short of the total in 2016 when Donald Trump won the presidency but was above what officials have seen in typical midterm elections.
Trump’s name wasn’t on the ballot, but he was certainly on the minds of those who streamed to the polls, including first-time voter Maria Velayo.
“I’m not into politics until lately. I’ve been constantly watching a lot of news and seeing what’s really going on in our nation,” Velayo, 44 of San Antonio said outside the Great Northwest Library.
“Not only the rallying, but the way he handles the policy, the problems for our country; not only the border but so many other things, too many to say,” she added. “So in general I don’t like him.”
Velayo and her father, Reynaldo Agorilla, 72, said they had come to the wrong polling site but were headed to the right one so they could vote in protest of Trump, his dispatch of U.S. troops to the border and rhetoric coming from his rallies.
Another voter who exited the library said that in 2016, she switched parties and voted for Trump because she believed that Hillary Clinton, as a woman, would not be as strong as a man. She also expressed concerns about the border.
“No open borders and that’s what Beto’s saying, that he’s allowing open borders, and I don’t agree with that,” said the woman, who said “no name!” when asked to identify herself and quickly walked away.
She said she voted for Democrats until Trump ran against Clinton.
“I just didn’t want a female president,” she said, laughing. “All these terrorists’ threats, I think they would take advantage of a girl more than (man).”
The five busiest polling sites were Aue Elementary, Montgomery Elementary, Hueber Elementary, Rawlinson Middle School and Monroe May Elementary. All had seen more than 500 people cast ballots, Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said.
The pace of voting appeared to be slower at the Great Northwest, with open parking spaces available and occasional voters entering the library, among them a younger man helping his elderly father out of their car. A short walk away, a young man wearing a T-shirt saying “Firefighter” talked with a woman standing next to her aging Honda, a Ted Cruz supporter standing silently 15 yards away.
They were part of a steady stream of people casting ballots around Bexar County. Voting was moving at a brisk pace early Tuesday afternoon with more than 102,000 people around the county going to the polls. Callanen said she expects a turnout of 120,000 voters by Tuesday evening, with a rush of people heading to poll sites.
“I think it will look a little bit higher,” said Callanen, who noted earlier that polling sites around the county were averaging around 10,000 voters an hour.
Few problems were reported, but her office said it had received several reports of people standing too close to polling sites while campaigning. State law prohibits campaigning within 100 feet of all election sites.
Some voters went to heroic lengths to cast their ballot.
One of them was a 100-year-old man from the nursing home on Cypress, said Annette Vallejo, a part-time substitute teacher for San Antonio Independent School District who was working the polls. Vallejo said the man made his way to the booth using a walker. He had the option to vote by mail but declined.
“He wanted to come to the poll,” Vallejo said.
Voters couldn’t find parking at Memorial Library after 5 p.m. with a rush of people coming from work. Some found street parking while others circled the lot waiting for people to leave.
Eiginio Rodriguez, 54, who was campaigning for charter amendments since 11 a.m. outside the library said it’s been busier this year than in years past. He’s campaigned outside this location about five times before. Watching traffic in the lot, he mused at how packed it was.
“I have never seen it like that. That is crazy,” Rodriguez said.
Several people declined to be interviewed citing fear of backlash.
“It’s a scary election,” one woman said. Another woman said she didn’t want to give her name because she didn’t want her family to know she voted Democrat.
“They’re real Republican,” she said.
Dianna Mauser, 57, said the races that most strongly compelled her to go vote Tuesday were the proposed charter amendments put before San Antonio voters after a petition drive by the city’s fire union and the U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke.
Mauser said she voted in favor of all three charter amendments, which would expand the types of ordinances that could be subject to a referendum; limit the city manager’s years of service and compensation; and give the fire union unilateral authority to require the city to participate in binding arbitration for contract negotiations.
“Our taxes are too high,” she said after casting her ballot at the Great Northwest Library on San Antonio’s far Northwest Side. “Retired people cannot live in this city and pay their taxes. I think (City Manager) Sheryl Sculley makes way too much money.”
Lisa Oviedo, who asked that her age not be published, said she cast a straight Democratic ticket when she voted at the Great Northwest Library this afternoon.
“A lot motivated me to come out” to the polls, Oviedo said after leaving the election site. “Change - we need change. I have children and grandchildren. And I just see the direction of country. It’s going the wrong direction right now. So I’m kind of hoping by voting for who I voted for, it’s going to kind of change that a little bit.”
Oviedo said Trump motivated her “in a negative way” to go vote. “He was very negative, so I had to come out,” she said.
At the East Side polling site at 415 Gabriel, Carolyn Newton, said she has voted since she was 18 years old.
She said her concern for voting this midterm was the overall state of the nation and that Trump’s actions were definite factors in how she voted.
“It’s been very head-ache inducing,” said Newton, 29, who voted a straight-democratic ticket and was against the charter amendments. “I’m doing my part to calm the wild storm.”
First-time voter Ruben Enriquez said he voted a straight-Democratic ticket and was also against the charter amendments. He said Trump’s border policy was a big factor in his voting preferences in the midterm election.
“I dislike the Republican,” he said, after voting at the Lanier High School polling site, “they lie a lot.”
On the far West Side in Southwest ISD - outside the city limits but in Texas 23, Amy Lee, 28, came to vote with her niece Eliza Olvera, 18. This was Olvera’s first election and she voted straight ticket Democrat.
“I think voting makes an impact and I wanted to make an impact because last election was terrible in my opinion,” Olvera said. “I think there needs to be a change.”
Lee said she turned out primarily to vote for Beto O’Rourke. She said she voted for him because she was upset with the current political climate.
“I guess the climate is changing with racism. It’s verbalized now. And the future of our children - I feel like we’re regressing instead of progressing.”
Bexar County saw record breaking turnout during this year’s early voting period, which ran from Oct. 22 through last Friday. Callanen, elections administrator for the state’s fourth-largest county, said 37.7 percent of registered voters in Bexar had cast ballots by the end of last week. That was far above the 19.8 percent turnout in 2014, the last midterm election, and close to the mark set in the 2012 and 2016 presidential election years.
The numbers in greater San Antonio weren’t an anomaly, with the state’s 30 largest cities reporting that early voting had exceeded the entire turnout for the 2014 mid-term election. It also exceeded the total turnout for early voting in 2012. In Dallas County, 39.7 percent of registered voters had voted as the polls closed Friday, while the number in Harris County was slightly lower at 36.6 percent. Both were far ahead of the 17.5 percent recorded in Harris County at the same time in 2014, and 17.8 percent in Dallas County that year.
Data company TargetSmart reported that Texas saw more than 314,000 first-time voters hit the polls for early voting. Call it a passionate response to the current administration. Derek Ryan, a Republican political consultant in Austin, told the San Antonio Express-News he thought the waves of first-time voters was a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency.
“You have Democrats who aren’t big fans of his, and so they want to send a message that they don’t agree with his politics,” he told the paper. “And then you have Republicans who favor the tax cuts, (and) the boarder security issue, and so they’re shoring up to support the Republican agenda.”
Ryan found that 12 percent of early voters in Texas had no voting history in at least the past eight years, and that 21 percent of those people were older than age 50. He went on to say that in Bexar County, 19.5 percent of early voters were older than 50 and hadn’t voted in at least the last eight years, and noted that “something in this cycle (was) energizing people to vote like it was a presidential election.”
The “Beto bump,” as some have called it, galvanized many first-time voters, especially young adults able to vote for the first time. But then there were those who bucked the millennial trend, one of them Erika Espinosa, 41, in San Antonio has been a resident of the United States since she was a baby.
She said it took the last presidential election to inspire her to finally get her citizenship so she could vote for the first time.
“I felt finally that I was taking part in society,” she said.
Staff Writers Peggy O’Hare, Alia Malik, Vincent Davis, Krista Torralva and Liz Teitz contributed to this report.