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By W. Gardner Selby January 21, 2014

Historically 'blue' Travis County surrounded by 'red' counties

In a video endorsement of Andy Brown for Travis County judge, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett stressed the Austin lawyer’s past chairmanship of the county’s Democratic Party, adding: "I know he shares our values. He will stand up to the Republicans. We are surrounded by red counties."

Six counties enwrap the capital’s county: Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Blanco, Burnet and Williamson.

Unlike Democratic-blue Travis, are they all Republican-red?

A standard way of gauging whether a state is red or blue, so to speak, is whether the Republican or Democratic nominee won the state in the latest presidential election.

In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried each of Travis County’s contiguous counties, drawing 54 percent to 77 percent of the vote, according to election results posted online by the state. Republican U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz similarly prevailed across the board, drawing 51 percent to 73 percent of each county’s vote. That November, Democrat Barack Obama won 60 percent of Travis County’s vote; Democratic Senate nominee Paul Sadler got 59 percent.

Next, we scrolled presidential election results for the surrounding counties from 1992 through 2008. We largely saw red: The Republican nominee won Blanco, Burnet and Williamson counties all five elections. The nominee carried Hays County in all but 1992 and Bastrop and Caldwell counties from 2000 on.

Separately, we asked the state parties how they would gauge the red or blue qualities of counties. By email, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, Steve Munisteri, said the party draws on a proprietary index for each county, its Optimal Republican Voting Strength or ORVS, which he described as based on a mathematical formula originated years ago. Munisteri said the ORVS draws on particular election results to indicate the percentage of the vote a party nominee would likely get in a general election in the best of circumstances.

Munisteri sent us a chart indicating the ORVS for each of the six counties: Bastrop (56.2 percent); Blanco (72.5 percent); Burnet (74.3 percent); Caldwell (55 percent); Hays (56.2 percent); and Williamson (62.2 percent).

By phone, Munisteri said the fact that Democrats have been elected to offices in some of the counties means the congressman’s claim isn’t entirely so.

Election results for 2012 show local Democrats winning countywide races in two of the Travis-bordering counties, sometimes after they didn’t draw a Republican opponent. In 2010, Democrats won countywide offices in Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays counties.

Let’s paw the details.

Featured Fact-check

In Bastrop County, according to 2012 results, a Republican won for county judge and the Democrats did not have a sheriff nominee. On the flip side, there was no Republican choice for county tax assessor-collector; Democrat Linda Harmon won without opposition. Two years earlier, Republicans won two contested county races, though a Democrat beat a Republican for county clerk, the results indicate.

In Hays County, Republican victors in 2012 for sheriff and county tax assessor-collector ran unopposed, according to results emailed to us by Joyce Cowan, a county elections official. In 2010, Democrat Sherri Tibbe ran unopposed for criminal district attorney as Republican Bert Cobb defeated Democrat Jeff Barton for county judge, according to results.

By telephone, Jon Leonard of the Hays County Democratic Party agreed that the county is red, though he expects Democratic candidates for statewide office to fare well there in November 2014; Obama, he pointed out, lost the county in 2008 by two percentage points.   

In Caldwell County, Democrats Daniel Law and Darla Law defeated Republicans to win 2012 races for sheriff and county tax assessor-collector, respectively, according to results emailed to us by a county official, Joy Morris Pardo. Two years before, victorious Democrats ran unopposed for the offices of criminal district attorney, county clerk, district clerk and county treasurer, though Republican Tom Bonn defeated Democrat Morris Alexander for county judge.

In Burnet County, Democrats had no 2012 nominees for the several county offices, according to county-posted results. Two years earlier, several Republicans nominated for county offices (including county judge) lacked Democratic opponents. In the only red-blue 2010 showdown for county office, Republican Casie Wills handily defeated Democrat Cynthia Chisolm for district clerk.

In Williamson County, according to county-posted results, Democrats had no 2012 nominee for sheriff as the losing Democratic nominee for district attorney garnered 40 percent against Republican Jana Duty. In 2010, Republicans cruised past Democrats for two contested county court-at-law judgeships.

We did not obtain official records of Blanco County election results. But by telephone, Barbara Hudson, who chairs the county’s Democrats, told us that while the party seeks candidates to run countywide, for now, "we don’t even have Democrats who run for local offices."

Our ruling

Doggett said Travis County is "surrounded by red counties."

That’s supported in each of the six counties by the outcome of presidential elections since 2000, though there has been some purpling in that Democrats won a few countywide offices in Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays counties in 2012 and 2010.

Color this statement, with nothing significant askew, as True.

TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

Web pages, "1992 - Current Election History," Texas Secretary of State (accessed Jan. 13, 2014)

Web pages, "Official Results, Nov. 6, 2012 General Election," "Nov. 2, 2010, Elections, Official Report," Bastrop County (accessed Jan. 14, 2014)

Web pages, "Burnet County General Election Cumulative Report Nov. 6, 2012," "Cumulative Report--Official--Burnet County, Texas, Nov. 2, 2010 General Election," Burnet County (accessed Jan. 14, 2014)

Documents showing 2012 and 2010 Caldwell County election results (received by email from Joy Morris Pardo, assistant elections administrator, Caldwell County, Jan. 14, 2014)

Documents showing 2012 and 2010 Hays County elections results (received by email from Joyce Cowan, elections administrator, Hays County, Jan. 14, 2014)

Documents showing 2012 and 2010 election results, Williamson County (accessed Jan. 14, 2014)

Email and telephone interview, Steve Munisteri, chairman, Republican Party of Texas, Austin, Jan. 13-14, 2014

Telephone interview, Jon Leonard, secretary, Hays County Democratic Party, San Marcos, Jan. 16, 2014

Telephone interview, Barbara Hudson, chairperson, Blanco County Democrats, Johnson City, Jan. 15, 2014

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Historically 'blue' Travis County surrounded by 'red' counties

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