DALLAS – A string of local political scandals and an unpopular Democratic president may be the factors Dallas County Republicans were looking for to change their political fortunes. Since 2004, Democrats have dominated on election day in Dallas, seizing most of the major political offices on the city, county and federal level. As the political winds shift, however, Republicans are hopeful they can reclaim those losses.
Embarrassed by the Democratic surge of recent years, the Dallas County Republican party refocused their efforts and brought in new blood. County party chairman Jonathan Neerman, who took over 2008, built grassroots efforts and began an outreach to voters. While those efforts paid off, Neerman admits the party got a recharge from an unlikely source.
“The biggest factor was that for the first time in eight years, there wasn’t a Republican in the White House,” Neerman said. “Independents voted for Obama but didn’t get what they expected. Now, they are beginning to run away in droves.”
Many of those independents have joined the Tea Party movement, which is highly active in Dallas and often backs Republicans.
Jason Villaba, chairman of the Dallas branch of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, believes the Obama backlash has energized local Republicans.
“Obama has done more to benefit Republicans than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter. There is dissatisfaction with Obama and his policies,” Villaba said. “His health care plan was not received as he had hoped… they pushed it through against the will of the American people.”
Obama is so unpopular in Texas (65 percent disapprove, according to Rasmussen Reports on Monday, Aug. 23), even the Democratic candidate for governor wouldn’t appear with him when the president visited Texas in early August. Neerman is critical of Obama’s actions on the Dallas leg of the visit, when the president made no public appearances but appeared at a $10,000-per person private fundraiser.
“It was a slap in the face to local Democrats,” Neerman said. “He essentially came into town and drained the ATM. He raised money to be spent on candidates outside of Texas.”
On the local level, political scandals involving Democrats has given Neerman and the GOP plenty of political ammunition for November.
“There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the city and county government,” he said. “Folks are upset over the actions of the sheriff, county constables, and the district attorney.”
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez has faced a number of controversies while in office. In one instance, two of her top donors turned out to be convicted felons, and in another, a deputy on her “quality assurance” staff turned out to be an illegal alien.
District Attorney Calvin Watkins has been criticized over his reluctance to investigate charges of illegal kickbacks among Democratic Dallas County constables. Neerman believes Watkins’ actions will turn voters to his Republican challenger, Danny Clancy. Clancy has served as an assistant district attorney and criminal court judge in Dallas.
“Danny will restore credibility to the office,” Neerman said. “He wants to be district attorney. His spent his career building to this point. This office is not a political stepping stone for him.”
The road won’t be easy for Republicans; Democrats still make up a large bloc of Dallas voters. Even in the face of mounting criticism, Sheriff Valdez was re-elected in 2008. Local Democrats, including County Commissioner John Wiley Price and State Sen. Royce West, lead a coalition of south Dallas voters who can get out the vote.
Villaba is cautious that if Republicans are successful in Dallas in November, they must prove themselves worthy of the trust the public has given them. “When we (Republicans) were in charge, we made mistakes. This time, we need to listen to the will of the people. We need to shrink spending and promote smaller government.”