Waco watch parties draw political crowd

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer and Meredith Pratt | Staff Writer, Video by Sarah Gill | Broadcast Reporter and April Oddo | LTVN Intern

The major political parties of McLennan County gathered Tuesday eager to discover which candidates would win their respective nominations.

As polls closed around the country, Democrats and Republicans found their respective election night watch parties. Members of the McLennan County Democratic Party met at the Klassy Glass Wine Bar, while McLennan County Republicans gathered at their offices around town.

The Democratic race for the presidential nomination came down to a showdown between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden which was still too close to call at midnight. In a dynamic primary race which saw Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar drop out in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, Erin Shank, an election judge and precinct chair, said her choice came at the last minute.

“Well you know I’m a very strong Democrat and it really took me until the last minute to kind of figure out who to vote for, but today I did vote for Joe Biden,” Shank said. “I think he is the candidate that is most qualified to beat Trump and I think we need someone after the damage that Trump has done to us, especially in foreign policy, to bring us back into respect internationally.”

Brad Holland, the unopposed nominee for McLennan Republican Party Chairman, said it was a “pretty competitive race” for the Democratic nomination and that he hopes Trump “takes nothing for granted and puts everything into this race.”

David Jaramillo, one of three Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives in Texas’ 17th district, joined other Democrats at the watch party. Though he declined to voice his support for any presidential candidate, Jaramillo said he was committed to backing the party’s nominee come November.

“I thought everybody brought something to the table that was really beneficial for everybody,” Jaramillo said. “I’m going to back the nominee … [Until then] I will see what happens.”

As of midnight, Jaramillo trailed Democratic frontrunner Rick Kennedy, but a runoff was not out of the question as Kennedy hovered around 50% of the vote. Jaramillo said he was proud of the campaign he had run, and hoped to get another chance at winning the nomination.

“It’s to be expected a little bit. Rick has about three years on me. I have about five months [of political experience],” Jaramillo said. “We have run a very great campaign. We’ve gone out to talk to as many people as we can, we got some really good endorsements… It’s looking like at the end of the night it might become a runoff.”

Texas’ 17th District, which encompasses both Baylor University and Texas A&M University, has a vacant seat now that Republican Congressman Bill Flores is retiring. Flores has publicly endorsed Renee Swann to take his place after he retires.

Late Tuesday night Swann trailed behind Pete Sessions, the frontrunner of the 11 Republican candidates, who also hosted a watch party at his Waco office.

If no candidate reaches 50%, a runoff will take place May 26 to determine who will secure the nomination.

Sessions said that he understands that for college students “it’s hard to know who local candidates are.”

Because of this, Sessions has met with Baylor’s Young Republicans organization and has also campaigned outside of the Ferrell Center before and after basketball games.

As results trickled in across Texas throughout the night, the Democratic Senate race found itself in runoff territory. Frontrunner M.J. Hegar failed to secure a majority of the votes ahead of an array of challengers. Chris Qualls, Jaramillo’s deputy campaign manager and a registered Independent, said he was a fan of multiple candidates in the Senate race.

“Personally, I’m a big fan of M.J. Hegar. I think that she’s done what’s necessary to prove to me that she could handle that race and handle that seat,” Qualls said. “But again, Ms. [Cristina Tzintzún] Ramirez also is an impressive candidate.”

Incumbent Sen. John Cornyn easily secured the Republican nomination.

In large races like the presidential and Senate primaries, hundreds of thousands of votes were cast, but totals are far smaller in local elections. Celebrating his 9,927 votes at the McLennan Republican Party’s office, Holland said that while “getting students to vote is always a challenge,” they have the potential to make a difference in local elections.

“Some of these races tonight are being decided by less than a hundred votes,” Holland said. “We don’t want to take anything for granted on the local level.”