Democrats Launch Plan to Turn Texas Blue

Alexander Burns, Politico, January 24, 2013

National Democrats are taking steps to create a large-scale independent group aimed at turning traditionally conservative Texas into a prime electoral battleground, crafting a new initiative to identify and mobilize progressive voters in the rapidly-changing state, strategists familiar with the plans told POLITICO.

The organization, dubbed “Battleground Texas,” plans to engage the state’s rapidly growing Latino population, as well as African-American voters and other Democratic-leaning constituencies that have been underrepresented at the ballot box in recent cycles. Two sources said the contemplated budget would run into the tens of millions of dollars over several years—a project Democrats hope has enough heft to help turn what has long been an electoral pipe dream into reality.

At the center of the effort is Jeremy Bird, formerly the national field director for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, who was in Austin last week to confer with local Democrats about the project.

In a statement to POLITICO, Bird said the group would be “a grass-roots organization that will make Texas a battleground state by treating it like one.”

“With its diversity and size, Texas should always be a battleground state where local elections are vigorously contested and anyone who wants to be our commander in chief has to compete and show they reflect Texas values. Yet for far too long, the state’s political leaders, both in Austin and in Washington, D.C., have failed to stand for Texans,” said Bird, who recently founded a consulting firm, 270 Strategies. “Over the next several years, Battleground Texas will focus on expanding the electorate by registering more voters—and as importantly, by mobilizing Texans who are already registered voters but who have not been engaged in the democratic process.”

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Democrats have eyed Texas longingly for years, watching as the Republican bastion has transformed into a majority-minority state. The 2010 census found that 38 percent of Texans identified themselves as Latino or Hispanic; just under 45 percent were non-Hispanic whites.

But the Democratic infrastructure in Texas has decayed over two decades of GOP ascendancy. Congressional and legislative redistricting has undercut the party’s efforts to rebuild there. Republicans control every statewide office, and Obama lost to Mitt Romney in the state by 16 points in November. No exit poll was taken in Texas last November, but Latinos have typically made up a smaller share of the electorate than the overall population.

Still, Democrats buoyed by the breadth of their 2012 victories are looking to Texas as a political holy grail: a prize so spectacular that it might just be worth a big, sustained investment of money and energy. {snip}

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Democratic Houston Mayor Annise Parker said her party couldn’t afford to wait passively for population change to turn Texas blue. Instead, they should dig in for a longer, harder campaign to make it a swing state.

“We have been waiting in Texas for a very long time for the Latino vote to come into its own and turn the tide. But many of us have decided that we can’t wait for that. We have to do the old-fashioned work of going out and talking to Texans,” said Parker, who didn’t rule out a statewide campaign “when I am done [being] mayor.”

“Do I think we’re going to turn Texas in two years? Probably not. Do I think we can turn Texas in four years? Absolutely, because I think the Republican Party in Texas is going to drive itself off a cliff,” Parker said. “You hear Republicans with rhetoric, literally talking about the jack-booted thugs coming and taking guns out of people’s homes, going door to door. You have legislators who will file, once again, virulently anti-immigrant legislation in the state House.”

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