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Results Are In For Nation's First Contests In 2018 Election Cycle

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The results are in from the nation's first primary of 2018, and Texas Democrats feel like they have the momentum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAN BRIDGES: This is the time. This is our moment. We're going to take Texas back.

MARTIN: That is the voice of Jan Bridges. She's been a Democratic precinct chair in Dallas for decades, and I met her at this bar in Dallas where Democrats had gathered last night to watch returns come in. And while her party did get record turnout in the election, the question now is whether it's going to be enough to turn Texas purple or, even, quite frankly, just less red. I'm going to bring in Ben Philpott now. He's a senior editor at member station KUT in Austin. Hey, Ben.

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: Hello.

MARTIN: So turnout was high, right? Republicans and Democrats had a lot of turnout. But Democrats really enjoyed a big bump here, saw solid numbers especially in early voting. What could that mean, if anything, come November?

PHILPOTT: Well, I think, you know, yeah, they doubled their numbers from the last midterm primary in 2014. And I think that can absolutely mean more enthusiasm among activists and volunteers, which means you have more people knocking on doors and more people making phone calls. That enthusiasm could turn into more donations to candidates, which will help to put more TV ads on the air. But it's still a big hill to climb here in Texas.

MARTIN: I want to ask you about this particular race in the Democratic primary. This was to challenge Congressman John Culberson. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the DCCC, the national Democrats, waded into this race by attacking one of the candidates, a progressive called Laura Moser. They called her a Washington insider. It was pretty extraordinary, frankly, for them to weigh-in this way. Our team caught up with Moser over the weekend, and she said that the plan backfired, that it just made the DCCC look like they were the meddling Washington insiders. Let's listen.

LAURA MOSER: One thing that was clearly not gotten was that Texans, we do not like people in our business. Don't tell us what to do, Washington.

MARTIN: Did the National Democratic Party make a mistake here?

PHILPOTT: Well, you know, I think over the last couple of years and last couple of elections, we've really seen on both sides Republicans and Democrats kind of push back against a top-down approach to who they should select for their seats. And, yeah, I guess the DCCC just didn't get the message heading into this election. You know, we had so many open seats where Democrats were running, strong multiple candidates. And I think that, you know, the locals, they just wanted to be able to pick their own without that outside influence.

MARTIN: There were six Texas Republican congressmen who chose not to run for re-election, which is pretty interesting, creating all kinds of new opportunities for candidates from both parties, really. What did you see in those races?

PHILPOTT: You saw a lot of pent-up energy and, you know, waiting their turn to have a shot at this congressional district, you know, multiple candidates again from both parties. One of the craziest ones here was a district that starts in Austin and goes down to San Antonio. They had 18 Republicans running in that primary...

MARTIN: Wow.

PHILPOTT: ...Everybody from, you know, city council and county commission people to a State House Representative to, you know, business people, all trying to, you know, finally seeing their opening after 30 years and trying to take it.

MARTIN: Which is really interesting, right? It's not just Democrats who were fired-up. Republicans, too. People are engaged politically in this moment. With the moments remaining, I want to ask you about this race getting a lot of attention nationally - Senator Ted Cruz running for re-election. He won his primary pretty easily. He now faces for the first time a Democrat who's actually competitive. This is a congressman named Beto O'Rourke. Lots of hype about him. But he only got 62 percent of the vote in his primary. What do you make of that?

PHILPOTT: You know, I think he has done a lot over the last six months to increase his name ID across the state, but he's still a Democrat in a deep red state. And I think you see just people still going to the polls and not knowing exactly who was that front-runner and maybe who's been getting the most press.

MARTIN: All right. Ben Philpott of our member station KUT in Austin giving us a breakdown of the results in the Texas primary last night. Hey, Ben, thanks so much.

PHILPOTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.