HOUSTON — Deep in the intellectual and financial heart of Texas, voters are turning out in record numbers in early voting here. According to Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a Republican, the numbers are up 106 percent over 2004, as of the sixth day of in-person early voting. Early voting will continue until Oct. 31 in Texas.

A Zogby poll indicates most Democrats are ahead by at least 7 percentage points in local and national races in Harris County, the Houston Chronicle reports. This includes the presidential contest and congressional races. One Republican judge who received a great deal of positive publicity during Hurricane Ike may prevail over his Democratic opponent.

If the trends continue, this will represent the first “transitional election in Harris County since 1994,” when Republicans swept Democratic candidates from their jobs “as the Republican revolution led by then-U.S. Rep Newt Gingrich captured the U.S. Congress” according to the Chronicle analysis.

Of course, this is remarkable in the fourth largest city in the country given the strong ties between Houston and the Bush family. President George H. W. Bush calls Houston his home and has his Gulf Coast home nestled in the heart of one of the wealthiest, most privileged sections in the city. Houston has been considered safe territory for the right wing for the past 14 years.

Yet Houston also has a very progressive and proactive central labor council. The Harris County AFL-CIO has been actively pushing its “labor neighbor” program throughout the county to support labor-friendly candidates. The program has union members working very hard to contact fellow union families to educate them about candidates and encourage them to vote. The Sheet Metal Workers, Communications Workers and Machinists have been very visible in these efforts.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was dealt a rough blow during Hurricane Ike when the roof of one of their main union halls was blown off. The building next door, housing the Harris County Democratic headquarters, suffered similar damage and had to be relocated temporarily. One union member quipped that repairing the building would be low on the list of FEMA priorities. However, IBEW has been very active in the elections as well.

The Houston Chronicle, a very conservative newspaper, endorsed Barack Obama for president. Obama is the first Democrat to be endorsed by the Chronicle since it backed native son Lyndon Johnson in 1964. This year the Chronicle has endorsed several progressive candidates in local races as well.

phill1917 @ comcast.net