Local party chairs optimistic about 2018
Jan. 18, 2018 at 12:06 a.m.
The Republican and Democratic party chiefs for Gregg County are seeing opportunity in the 2018 election cycle and beyond.
They even agree on a couple of things.
"I know Tracy Vincent and have great respect for him. We worked together on this countywide voting thing," Democratic Gregg County Chairman James Cogar said last week of his Republican counterpart, who likewise applauded Cogar's help in implementing Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy's plan allowing county residents to cast election day ballots at any county poll.
The two pretty much part ways after that — sort of.
One said he sees a local party revving on all eight cylinders and a full ballot of candidates buoyed by a Republican White House and Congress.
The other sees an emerging coalition of Democratic organizations, mostly new ones, and a best-in-several-cycles ballot — also buoyed by a Republican White House and Congress.
"Well, we had help in 2016," Cogar said. "I mean (President Donald) Trump. That was the biggest boon to the Democratic cause, nationally and here in East Texas. But it's not just that. It started with (Gov. Greg) Abbott and (Lt. Gov. Dan) Patrick and their shenanigans, and (GOP Attorney General Ken) Paxton. So people were beginning to pay attention long before Trump, here in Texas."
He said voter ire over issues such as telling people where to go to the bathroom, a failed GOP priority of last year's state Legislature, is giving renewal to the party that hasn't won statewide since 1994 — and lost its grip on Gregg County beginning in 1980.
Cogar even counts U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert among his unlikely allies. He cites the 6,000 signatures on petitions from Gohmert's district, urging the Republican to back the DREAM Act for immigrants who arrived illegally while children, that were delivered last week to Gohmert as proof all is not rosy in Republican East Texas.
"All sorts of new organizations are popping up," Cogar added. "The Democratic Women of East Texas, Justice for Our Neighbors. In fact, that (Justice petition) was one of the ones that popped up.
"We're getting financial donations, which is a lot. I've got 50 percent of my (21) precinct chairs filled, instead of four when I was first elected in 2014, and soon we'll have a full (county) executive committee."
The Republican side
Vincent, who took his party's county reins last year, said his task is to foster — and broaden —the GOP supremacy that's held sway here for decades.
"And I don't see that changing," he said, noting fresh party inroads into the county's one Democratic precinct. "We've got more people running in Pct. 4 than we have had in a long time. And they're good candidates."
Vincent said he's checked the first boxes he had in mind when he took the oath of office a year ago.
"I wanted to have good quality candidates running for office," he said. "I got that. And I wanted to have countywide voting, and I got that. That's what I'm working on now is we've got to get a unified message out there that you need to go vote.
"I'm getting volunteers involved. ... We've got an extremely strong Young Republicans group, and we've got a strong Republican Women of Gregg County that's very active."
Vincent also has a heated race between incumbent District Attorney Carl Dorrough and challenger Tom Watson, adding interest to the GOP ticket for the March 6 primary.
"That race is going to bring a lot of attention and bring a lot of people out to vote," he said. "Because they are both running good campaigns."
Vincent sees strength trickling down from the top and foresees no Trump backlash at local polls in this election cycle.
"Everybody knows that Trump won the election," he said. "Trump is Trump is Trump. But we all point our toes in the same direction and try to move forward."
Fanning the embers
Cogar still said he sees the president as the Democrats' new best buddy.
"That just made smoldering embers into a blazing — 'I've got to do something' — fire," he said of the 2016 election. "What I've seen is people getting more involved, either with candidates or with the party."
Cogar said he is aware of the divide in his party, which can blame at least some of the presidential outcome on the division between Hillary Clinton's supporters and the mostly younger party voters who embraced Bernie Sanders during last year's primary.
He said that divide resembled one that emerged during the "debacle in 2008" when the party split between nominees Clinton and Barack Obama.
"Yes, there is a divided Democratic Party," Cogar said. "I'm not happy about it. I worry about it."
He said he knows younger party members believe their voices are not heard. The way to win party ears, he said, is to do more than talking — think about those unfilled precinct chairs.
"My answer to that (complaint) is maybe you're shouting in the wrong direction and too loud for anybody to understand what you're saying, instead of getting involved and elected to a position to have some influence," he said. "I'm trying to get them to come in and talk and sit down and be a precinct chair and find out how things really are and how you change things at the grassroots level."
Vincent reports no similar divides in the local GOP, but he was aware of Cogar's challenge.
"I hear about that," he said. "But I don't hear anything bad other than there's basically two points on the Democrat side. ... We're extremely excited. For Northeast Texas, we're as strong as we've ever been."
Watch your rear flank, Cogar says to the majority party, here come the Ds.
"We've seen more Democratic challengers on the ballot this time than since I moved here (in 1991)," he said. "I think that's the sign people have had enough, is to get involved. And what better way to get involved than to run for office?"