This is the second part of two posts analyzing the Texas panhandle, a rock-hard Republican stronghold. It will focus upon two quite unique counties.
Two counties are labeled in the above map: Cottle County and King County. This is the case because the two are the sites of several unique and quite inexplicable voting patterns. One example: although the counties are located beside each other, their two patterns can be characterized as polar opposites.
Demographically, however, Cottle and King could not be more similar. Both are extremely thinly populated (King County contains less than 500 hundred residents) and fairly poor. These places literally define the saying “in the middle of nowhere.” In 2008, both Cottle and King were similarly favorable to Republicans: Cottle gave Senator John McCain 72.20% of the vote, while King – well, I’ll get to King in a moment.
Things weren’t always this way, however. For a long, long time Cottle County constituted a bastion of Democratic strength in the middle of nowhere. This was all the more remarkable given its deep-red neighbors compared to the sheer stubborn determination of one Cottle County to vote Democratic. In election after election, as Democrat after Democrat was broken in Texas (and sometimes the nation as well), this little county reliably ended up in the blue county. Most remarkably, the county voted (by a margin numbering less than one percent) for Senator George McGovern, a Democratic candidate so weak that not a single county voted Democratic in 20 states that year. Mr. McGovern was adept at losting Democratic strongholds, many in far more liberal territory than the Texas panhandle – and yet Cottle County still went blue in 1972. In fact, when Cottle County voted for Governor George W. Bush in 2000, this constituted its first time ever voting Republican.
If Cottle County epitomized Democratic strength, King County represents the pillar of modern-day Republicanism. In 2008, it constituted the single most Republican county in the nation; 92.64% cast the ballot for Senator John McCain, 4.91% for President Barack Obama. CNN even ran story about King County’s love affair with Republicans, which mainly seems based upon evangelical faith and traditional small-town conservatism.
In and of itself this is not so strange; the puzzling part comes when one looks to the 2008 Democratic primary. A total of 27 people named one Barack Obama as their choice – yet on November 4th only 8 did so. This means that at least 19 people were motivated enough to endorse Mr. Obama in March and then changed their minds or sat out the election. More cynically, one might read this as a calculated endorsement designed to wreak havoc upon the opposing party – but then why vote for Mr. Obama, when supporting Senator Hillary Clinton would prolong Democratic suffering?
The Panhandle and the Future of Texas Politics
Today, the voters in the Texas panhandle are quite hostile to liberalism in general. They may have supported Democrats in the past, but they will most likely not do so in the forseeable future (and if the Demcoratic Party changes enough to naturally appeal to small-town conservatives in the Texas panhandle, it probably ought to change its name to “Republican.”)
The Texas panhandle may be interesting for analysis, but the future of both parties does not lie there. In total, only two percent of the state’s population resides in the panhandle. Rather, the heart of Texas lies about the great metropolitan areas surrounding its cities – Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. There Democrats are rising, but Republicans still are dominant – the opposite situation from half-a-century ago.