Democrats Advance Effort to Turn Texas Blue

PHOTO: First Lady Michelle Obama talks with San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro (C) and his brother Joaquín Castro during day two of the Democratic National Convention on September 5, 2012.

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A Democratic group is officially launching its effort to transform the Republican bastion of Texas into a battleground state, but its staff are warning that process could take years to accomplish.

Two veterans of President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign are heading down to Texas to head up the new group, named Battleground Texas: former national field director Jeremy Bird and ex-Ohio field director Jenn Brown. The strategists said their group would apply the successful tactics of Obama's presidential campaign, such as microtargeting and digital outreach, to mobilize minorities and young voters in Texas. That's because these are fast-growing segments of the population who could be more inclined to vote for Democrats.

But whether that effort succeeds could depend on how much money the group can raise and what type of candidates the Democratic Party, which hasn't won a Texas statewide election since 1994, can produce. Bird said that Battleground Texas hopes to raise "several million dollars over the next several years" to fund its organizing strategy, but would not offer a specific fundraising goal or date when he anticipates Democrats could become competitive at the statewide level.

"It's going to take significant resources and investment given the size of the state," Bird said on a conference call with reporters. "Republicans have won the last 100 statewide elections. We are not oblivious to the difficulty here. But we can't wait for something to happen. We have to make it happen."

Democrats have long coveted Texas and its 38 electoral votes. Texas has backed every GOP presidential nominee since 1980, giving the party a dependable foundation of support in presidential campaigns.

But despite the party's past failures, Democratic activists now believe that the state's rapidly-shifting demographics could give them a shot at making the state competitive. Latinos now make up 38 percent of Texas' total population and accounted for 65 percent of the state's total population growth between 2000 and 2010, according to Census data. Texas is already a majority-minority state, and a state comptroller report says that Latinos alone could outnumber non-Latino whites by 2020.

Battleground Texas' success or failure could rest on whether it can mobilize those voters, who have traditionally been far outnumbered by non-Latino whites at the ballot box.

"Our country is changing, Texas is changing," Bird said. "This new America should be engaged in the democratic process and can make a dramatic impact when they are."

Bird said that the group would actively court donors from inside and outside Texas to fund its efforts. Those efforts will include the use of data analysis in addition to in-person and digital outreach to identify people from these groups who are eligible to vote, but have traditionally not done so. Latinos favored President Obama 70-29 percent in Texas over Mitt Romney, according to an election eve poll by political opinion research firm Latino Decisions. But that survey estimated the share of the Latino vote at 26 percent, well below their total share of the population.

"This is not just about demographics. Demographics are going to play an important role. But it's about getting people to participating in American democracy," said San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro (D), whom many political observers view as a potential future candidate for statewide office.

Some Republicans in Texas have acknowledged that Democrats could pose a threat to the GOP, but most have scoffed at the effort.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry told The Wall Street Journal that a competitive Texas "is the biggest pipedream" he has ever heard. "The University of Texas will change its colors to maroon and white before Texas goes purple, much less blue," he said.

While demographic data shows that Texas is a state in transition, other signs indicate that it could take years to make that evident at the ballot box. A significant chunk of the Latino population in Texas and nationwide is below the age of 18 and remains ineligible to vote. Many others have an immigration status that bars them from voting.

In the meantime, Bird said that his group would begin to focus boosting turnout in municipal, congressional, and state legislative races in the next election cycle to begin to prove to donors and volunteers that success is possible.

"When the time is right, we will become competitive statewide," he said.

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