'A little homework' needed as early vote begins

It might be tough to believe, but it's already that time of year. Early voting begins today and there is a lot on the ballots.

There are dozens of races with hundreds of candidates vying to get into the general election this fall.

But as the polls open and you step into that booth, it can be overwhelming with so many contests and so many names.

WHERE TO VOTE: Check HarrisVotes.org for Early Voting Locations and Schedules

The big races include those for Texas governor with a host of Democrats running to face Greg Abbott. There is a U.S. Senate race, Congressional contests with a handful of candidates on both sides, and other statewide or regional seats.

"We've got several really contentious races," said Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson. "And one of the more interesting ones is with (Texas District 2 Congressman) Ted Poe retiring from Congress. We now have nine Republicans vying for that seat."

"We are really excited here in the Democratic Party," said Harris County Democratic Party Chair Lillie Schechter. "We have the largest number of Democratic candidates going through a primary that I believe we've ever had before. And the momentum is awesome."

On both sides, it seems there are both moderates, and there are those either more progressive or more conservative. That gives voters a distinctive choice even in a primary.

"Primaries require more homework by voters, because you can't just vote using the partisan label like you do in November," said Baker Institute Fellow in Political Science, Mark Jones. "Because everyone is a member of the same party. So you really have to do your homework. Look to see who supports these candidates, what they say on their websites and their Facebook pages, and really make a decision to study a little bit. "

One of the races getting national attention is Texas' 7th Congressional District. Republican John Culberson is the incumbent. He faces the winner of a Democrat field featuring seven candidates vying for their party's nomination. And as voters head to the polls starting Tuesday, four of them seem to have some traction.
"For the first time this decade, Democrats are optimistic they're going to be able to flip somewhere between one and four Republican-held seats," said Jones. "Four of the candidates in (Congressional District) 7 have already raised more money than every Democratic challenger across the state, if you exclude CD 23 back in 2016. "

It's not just that race, though. The race between likely nominees Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke will get a lot of attention nationally. Both local parties are well aware of the challenges ahead.

"The Democrats are focusing on some Congressional seats here and nationwide, and we're going to be doing the same. And we're not going to be giving up any ground, let's put it that way," said Simpson.

"I think it's amazing that we have so many good candidates working and talking to Democrats in that area," said Schechter. "That has not happened in a very long time."

Early voting begins Tuesday, Feb. 20. You have until Friday, Feb. 23 to order a mail-in ballot. Early voting ends Friday, March 2, and Election Day is March 6.

WHERE TO VOTE: Check HarrisVotes.org for Early Voting Locations and Schedules

In the likely event of run-offs in some of the crowded races, you'll go to the polls again on May 22.
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