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How Long Will Democrats Wait for Collin County to Turn Blue?

As the 2020 ballots rolled in many eyes were on Collin County. For years now, the prediction has been that Collin County, one of Texas’s most Republican counties, might be on the verge of turning blue.
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Collin County voting precincts courtesy of Elections Office

As the 2020 ballots rolled in many eyes were on Collin County. For years now, the prediction has been that Collin County, one of Texas’s most Republican counties, might be on the verge of turning blue. 

Political experts have singled out Collin County as a quintessential red county in Texas. It’s made up of rural towns and suburbs, and for years has been predominantly white. In an Oct. 6 New York Times Op-Ed, David Wasserman called Collin County one of several “bellwether counties” that could help flip all of Texas blue. 

As Texas Monthly cheekily pointed out, political experts have been expecting a Blue Wave for almost 20 years. (They published a list of quotes predicting the wave, including one from Barack Obama’s Latino outreach official, Cuauhtémoc Figuero. “I don’t know if it’s four years or eight years off, but down the road, Texas will be a presidential battleground,” Figuero said. In 2008. )

On the ground in Collin County, the view is sometimes a little different.

Still, every election year rises with new hope and ambition from local Democrats. Before the election, John Shanks, executive director of the Collin County Democrat Party, called the county a battleground. “In 2018, [we were] less than 22,000 votes from flipping the entire county blue. That is a big change,” he told Local Profile in March.

Across the country, 2020 saw the greatest voter turnout ever, and Collin County was no exception. Almost 487,000 voters came out in force, with a historic turnout of 75.2 percent. But despite claims that 2020 was the year of the Blue Wave, Collin County voted for Trump 51.38 percent vs. for Biden at 46.8 percent. The margin of difference was again around 22,000 votes. 

Down the ballot, Republicans swept up public offices. Republican U.S. Rep. Van Taylor defeated Democratic candidate Lulu Seikaly, winning a second term representing the 3rd Congressional District, which covers much of Collin County. Republicans also won all nine of Collin County’s district court judge races on the ballot, and Commissioners Susan Fletcher and Darrell Hale, both Republican incumbents, defeated their Democrat challengers.

As far as Texas House races go, Republican incumbents Matt Shaheen of Plano and Jeff Leach of Allen both won their races.

“There ain’t no ‘Blue Wave’ in Collin County,” Shaheen, who won with 49 percent over his opponent, triumphantly told his supporters at an election night event.

Neal Katz, Executive Director of the Collin County Republican party, credits the win to the work his committee put in to keep Collin County red. 

“No questions, we had a huge turnout, 75.2 percent vs. 68.5 percent in 2016,” he says. Early voting accounted for 93 percent of total votes cast in Collin County. While population growth has contributed—in four years, 100,000 more voters came to Collin County—he says they certainly saw an increase in engagement.

“We’d have 15-20 people coming in at a time asking for signs, for information, for cards, wondering how to volunteer.” In years past, he says they have never sold more than about 8,000 yard signs. This year, Republicans bought 12,000. “People were pumped on both sides of the issue.” 

Unlike Sheehan, Katz acknowledges that the Blue Wave is still a valid issue because of the changing demographics of Collin County.

Collin County is currently more diverse than ever. "Collin County is 16 percent Asian, 15 Hispanic, and 10 percent Black," Katz says. People of many different incomes and opinions, backgrounds, faiths, and educations are moving in, bring new ideas and political weight. Even voters who move from California are not all Democrats. Katz estimates that about half are likely Republican.

By the time Election Day rolled around, 93 percent of votes in Collin County were already cast. Everyone already knew—and likely has known for months--who they will vote for. Or at least, people knew who they wouldn’t vote for. While the race was close, the scale did not tip Democratic.

“Right now we are perplexed,” says Collin County Democratic Party County Chair, Mike Rawlins. “We don’t understand what happened.” 

As he sees it, the absence of a Blue Wave in Collin County was a reflection of what happened in Texas, and in the country as a whole: the votes were much closer than anticipated. “There wasn’t a Blue Wave that carried Democrats into the senate, or a Blue Wave in Texas,” he says. “It was disappointing for us.”

Part of the problem, he says, is that with the end of straight party voting, both parties had to work much harder at ensuring voters actually vote all the way down the ballots. He credits the Republican party with skilled microtargeting and unified messaging. Republicans have a top down approach, ensuring everyone is on the same message, where as Democrats work from the bottom up, more of a grassroots effort that lets individual candidates chose platforms that matter to them. The end result is much less coherent than the Republican candidates’ unified message. 

“I would say that we’re disappointed in the result, we’re looking at what we can do better, and confident that we’re still on a path to take the county,” Rawlins says. It takes time to change culture.

When Rawlins dropped by a polling location on Election Day, he noticed organized Republican poll greeters, about half a dozen, ready to inspire voters. But there was also, he recalls, a “big middle aged white guy strutting around the parking lot carrying a big American flag, shouting that if you want to be American you have to vote Republican.

“That reflects a deep partisan divide to the extent where you’re demonizing people you disagree with politically. No one on his side was calling him out on that. It’s troubling.”

Still, he adds, the Blue Wave in Collin County is still coming. In 1998 when Robert Morrow ran for governor against George W. Bush for his second term, Bush won by 70 points. That’s 85 percent Republican. Here we are 20 years later, and Beto O’Rourke was six points behind Ted Cruz in Collin County. Biden is only four points behind Trump.

So are Democrats ready to give up on a Blue Wave in Collin County?

“Hell no,” Rawlins says. “I had acquaintances after 2016 who wanted to curl up in a fetal position. But my attitude is that you can’t get far enough away from the problems. If you think the U.S.A., is sick, so is everywhere else. I want to stay here and fight. This is something I can fix.”