Almost 120,000 people voted early in the Democratic primary in Dallas County. This is an astounding number. It’s more people than voted overall in many of the recent city elections, and it’s about half the total that voted early in the 2000 presidential election, which was just a bit historic.

But that’s not the only interesting snippet from the early voting numbers. More than 31,000 voted early in the Republican primary, which is no small total either. That’s almost half the overall turnout in the first round of the mayoral elections last spring. Plus, since early voting is one quarter to one-third of the total turnout, we could have 100,000 people vote in the GOP primary in Dallas County.

And I still can’t figure out which race brought them to the polls.

Still, it is the Democratic numbers that have attracted so much attention. No less a personage than Carolyn Barta at Dallas Blog has noticed, wringing her hands over the Democratic turnout at the normally Republican Fretz Park early voting location. As noted here last week when I wrote about the Democratic turnout at Fretz Park (as well as other Republican outposts), George Bush beat John Kerry 2 to 1 in 2004 in many parts of North Dallas.

You can read whatever you like into this turnout: Proof that Dallas County has officially turned Democratic, that many GOP types are voting in the Democratic primary either for or against Hillary (I’ve heard it both ways), or that it’s just an election with a lot of interest. After all, we don’t often see a black man and a woman as the two leading candidates for a major party’s nomination for president.

Perhaps the best analysis came in the Houston Chronicle, which looked at similar numbers in the Houston area. Their expert said that much of the turnout can be traced to voters who were Republicans, or Democrats who normally didn’t vote in primaries, but both of whom wanted to vote in the Democratic presidential primary.

The expert also noted that these new voters should benefit Barack Obama, save for this fact: 69 percent of the early vote was cast by people older than 40, and 41 percent of the votes were from older women. Obama’s target demographic is younger than 40.

Traditionally, early voting favors establishment candidates and issues. Which would seem to indicate that Hillary will benefit from all this turnout. But, as the above link says, maybe not. How else to explain an election where early Democrats outvoted early Republicans at Fretz Park by more than 2 to 1?

One other note: My phone rang off the hook all weekend, with both recorded pleas to vote for someone and a couple of real people asking me to support their candidate. I hung up on the recorded calls, as I always do, and I told the real people that one of the things that makes the U.S. so great is that I don’t have to tell anyone who I’m going to vote for.