HOUSTON – Early voting started in Texas Feb. 19, and votes in the Democratic primaries here in Harris County have already surpassed the total votes in all of the early voting period in 2004, according to Beverly Kaufman, Harris County Clerk.

By Feb. 23, 38,214 people had voted in the Democratic primary, whereas a total of 35,381 voted in the entire early voting period in 2004, including Democrats and Republicans. So far, 12,783 Republicans have voted early this year, which means that three times as many Democrats have voted early as Republicans.

Harris County is the third largest county in the country with a total population of 3,886,207 and 1,826,231 registered voters, according to Kaufman. Houston is the adopted home of President George H.W. Bush and has been considered a Republican stronghold.

Meanwhile campaigning in Houston has been strong, with both Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton holding major campaign rallies here. Almost everywhere you go, people are talking about the election and their excitement over the possibility of change from the politics of fear and hatred of the ultra-right as espoused by Bush and McCain.

Clinton held a last minute rally on Feb. 23 at the IBEW hall and drew more than 600 people. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), whose district includes the African American majority third ward of Houston, introduced her.

On Tuesday night, Feb. 19, Obama held a rally at the Toyota center in downtown Houston drawing 19,000. This occurred on the night of his victory in Wisconsin. He told his audience, “I opposed the war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009!,” and the crowd reacted joyously.

He quipped, “No matter what, the name George W. Bush will not be on the ballot. I love Texas, but I want y’all to take him back.” The crowd erupted with cheers.