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Election 2008

Texas Dems Warm Up to Political Spotlight

Michael May

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Obama supporters in Austin
(Ben Sklar/Getty Images)
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As the primary season roars on to Wyoming and Pennsylvania, folks in Texas are still reeling from an exciting and chaotic week. Texas is one of the reddest of states -- voters there haven't elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than a decade.

There's a primary hangover in the state capital of Austin, a tiny blue island in an ocean of Republican red. Democrats here aren't used to this kind of attention -- it's kind of like being the nerdy kid who finally gets pulled onto the dance floor. It's fun while it lasts, but then it's over before you know it.

"It's kind of a bummer, it's kind of a letdown," says Eileen Smith, author of InThePinkTexas.com, a Democratic blog. "It's been so exciting with all the campaign events and the rallies, and the press descending on Austin and Texas."

Over the past few weeks, Eileen's readership has almost doubled. But with all the excitement came tension. Most of Eileen's friends are Obama supporters, Eileen is for Hillary. It caused a lot of arguments on her blog, but she found ways to cope. "Drinking. Holing myself up in my house. It was nerve-racking," she says.

Eileen's got a recovery plan for this weekend, though: rest, bask in Hillary's victory and stay off the blog. "Now I can at least breathe a little easier," she says. "I've been so on edge with the excitement, which was fun for a while, but you're so high strung all the time. It will be nice to watch from the outside again."

My friend Joe England is one of those rare people who finds the minutiae of the political process itself fascinating. So he signed up to work the primary and caucus, just to watch the whole thing go down -- he didn't care much about who won. "I'm not as emotional as a lot of people, because I feel that the Democratic Party is putting on this wonderful kabuki theater to keep attention on them. And it's working."

On primary day, Joe got to the polls at 6 AM and stayed until 10 that evening.

In Texas, Democrats get to vote twice -- first they vote in the primary, then after polls close party members came back to caucus. The caucus determines about one-third of the state's delegates, and it was intended to mobilize the party faithful. It did that, but it was also overcrowded and unmanageable.

Texans are now debating whether or not the caucus is necessary, and there are some who say it favors wealthier Texans with more time on their hands. "The votes went for Hillary and the caucus went for Obama. So the philosophical question is still on the table, and in a big way," England says. "I think that's great. Forget about football, let's talk about politics and figure this country out."

Joe spent about 16 hours at the polls, and by the time the caucus rolled around he was ready for real change. "I was really ready for a frosty pint at that point."

Hector Nieto is still waiting for his frosty pint. The Texas Democratic Party spokesman worked the primary until 4:30 in the morning, but his day was only just beginning. "I ran home, showered real quick and was back in the office, because I had interviews to do," he says.

Nieto manages to stay on message, and for good reason: Texas hasn't elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, but Tuesday's numbers were promising. "Close to three million," he says. "That shows that Texas Democrats can be competitive at a state level."

"It will be important to relax and just take in what happened this last few days," Nieto says. "Texans made history this past week. Whatever else happens, I just hope I can get some sleep."

More stories from our Election 2008 series

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