Three steps: How the Dems plan to make Texas a battleground state by 2016

Christopher Bedford Former Editor in Chief, The Daily Caller News Foundation
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On Tuesday morning, the Democrats launched an independent group called Battleground Texas, which is capable of making the Lone Star state a battleground by 2016 and a lean-Democrat state by 2024, effectively breaking the back of the national GOP and blocking a Republican path to the White House.

Yes — that Texas: The state that has not elected a single statewide Democratic official in 10 years, with Republicans going 100-0; the state that has had an entirely Republican government since 2002, with current super majorities in the legislature; and the state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

History aside, if neither party lifts a finger to change current trends, the demographic changes taking place in Texas will — by themselves — seal it as blue by around 2040. The Democrats, however, plan to lift more than a finger; and if they play their cards right, they could speed the process up by 25 years, putting Texas in play much sooner.

Sound far-fetched? It isn’t. And although that timeline is going to be difficult for the Democrats, they have the right path — and the right people — to pull this coup off in three steps. But first, some background.


Today, Hispanics make up 41 percent of Texas’ citizenry, while whites make up 43 percent. The white electorate’s plurality, however, will not last — because the Hispanic population’s birth rates are higher, the Hispanic population is still growing through immigration, and the Hispanic population is younger (with a large population not yet at voting age). If legal Hispanic immigration stays consistent with 2000-2010 levels, Texas could be a plurality Hispanic state by 2017, and a majority Hispanic state by 2036.

Both parties know that Hispanics are not a monolithic group, and they are not all Democrats. Though nationally they lean toward the Democrats (67 percent in 2008, 71 percent in 2012), in Texas, Democrats hold less sway (63 in 2008, and unknown in 2012 because there weren’t any exit polls).

Indeed, the Texas GOP is a different animal from the national party, and it wins Hispanic support in larger numbers than the national party, making it more difficult for Texas Democrats to make inroads. Gov. Rick Perry’s 2010 re-election, for example, won 39 percent of Hispanics, and Real Clear Politics reports that in 2012, “the Texas GOP increased the number of Hispanic elected officials from 58 to 78.” (RELATED: Gallup report: GOP unlikely to gain much traction with Latinos)

These statistics, plus Texas GOP policies that include a softer stance on immigration than neighboring Republicans, have led some on the right to dismiss the prospect of a blue Texas. “The Texas Republican Party is different and far stronger than its counterparts in other states,” Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist wrote in a Jan. 31 column entitled “Dems shouldn’t mess with Texas.”

But the Dems are very capable of messing with Texas through three steps. And that’s just what they’re fixing to do, starting with voter registration.

1) Voter registration

While there are about 9.5 million Hispanics in Texas, compared with 11.5 million whites, Hispanics only accounted for about 20 percent of the Texans who voted in 2008 and 2010. One of the two reasons? Voter registration.

In 2008, 54 percent of Texan Hispanics were registered, while white and black registration held even at 74 percent. And in 2010, Hispanics were registered at just 53 percent, while whites and blacks were at 67 and 62 percent, respectively. Over all, Texas is home to 1.5 million unregistered Hispanic-Americans, 500,000 unregistered African-Americans and 200,000 unregistered Asian-Americans — all populations the Democrats intend to target.

2) Voter participation

But the fight to win a voter doesn’t end with voter registration — the next step is voter participation. A party can register all the people it wants, but if they don’t show up on Election Day, it doesn’t make a difference.

Hispanics lag behind in this aspect, too: In 2008, 70 percent of registered Hispanic voters turned out, while whites and blacks were tied at 88 percent. In 2010, only 43 percent of Hispanics turned out, compared with 65 percent of registered whites and 62 percent of registered blacks.

The Hispanics are underperforming as far as voter participation is concerned. Democrats know that this leaves a lot of room for improvement — a lot of room for outreach.

3) Voting blue

Now comes the harder part, at least as far as a 2016 timeline is concerned, because shifting public opinion is harder than registering voters or increasing turnouts. But the bottom line is this: If the Democrats accomplish their first two goals, and get Texan Hispanics in line with national Hispanic party affiliation, they could put Texas in play in 2016. And while swinging public opinion is difficult, it certainly isn’t impossible — particularly giving the Democrats’ demonstrated ability to micro-target potential voters with data-driven messaging. (BEDFORD: How Romney’s consultants lost the election as soon as it began)

In 2008, 35 percent of Texan Hispanics voted for the GOP. No exit polls were taken in Texas in 2012, but the national Hispanic GOP vote was only 27 percent — four points lower than the national Hispanic GOP vote in 2008. So, going off of limited data, and giving the GOP the benefit of the doubt, the Democrats would need to swing Texan Hispanic voters their way by between four and eight points.

And while Republicans like Mr. Norquist and Texas Gov. Rick Perry say that the Democrat’s goal is a pipe dream because of the Texas GOP’s differences from the national GOP, they would be well served by studying the case of former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who, despite a roundly liberal record on abortion and other social issues, was painted as part of a national, socially conservative machine by 2012 Democrats. Then-candidate Elizabeth Warren didn’t focus attacks on Mr. Brown for his quotes regarding abortion, for example — she instead ran ads attacking former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s quotes on abortion.

In the next Texas election, Texas Republicans should not expect to be spared attack ads highlighting Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s harsher immigration policies.

By making races national when convenient, both parties have discovered a winning strategy — and one that can overwhelm a single state’s party apparatus.

Vlytics, a Republican data and analytics firm run by veterans of national and statewide campaigns, made no bones about the Democrat’s chances. “We’ve run a model on the Texas demographics; we know that the Democrats have too,” Vlytics partner Brian Stobie told The Daily Caller. “We know, and the Democrats know, that if they achieve these three goals, they can turn Texas purple, or even blue, in as little as four years. What is unclear is if the GOP knows this.”

But who is capable of pulling just this scenario off? Enter: Battleground Texas and its senior adviser, Jeremy Bird.

Battleground Texas

Last month, Politico reported that Mr. Bird — President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign national field director — was in Austin, Texas to meet with local Democrats on Battleground Texas, “a large-scale independent group aimed at turning traditionally conservative Texas into a prime electoral battleground.”

In his early 30s, Mr. Bird is a current and future star of the Democratic Party’s awesomely effective campaign machine. As Mr. Obama’s field director, he revolutionized the effectiveness of the traditional field model, registering, among a great many others, 361,000 left-leaning voters in Florida, 156,000 left-leaning voters in Colorado and 96,000 left-leaning voters in Nevada. Not bad, considering Mr. Obama’s candidacy was no longer an historic first.

And as a reward for his 2012 successes, the former director is practically able to name his job. Mr. Bird chose Texas, and if he spends any significant time there, it is because he really thinks he can win. Indeed, if anybody can win in Texas, it’s him.

“Bird wouldn’t play in Texas on a hope,” Vlytics partner Scott Tranter told TheDC. “He can pick his next job; choose his next salary. If he’s moving to Texas, it’s because he thinks he can win — and he’s proven that he can.”

Over his three presidential campaigns, Mr. Bird has been responsible for millions of door knocks and tens of millions of phone calls that didn’t simply target Democrats — they targeted Republican and undecided Americans that Mr. Obama’s data operation knew were likely to respond favorably.

“Our approach — using smart data, people-to-people organizing, and digital strategies and analytics — can win even the toughest of campaigns,” Mr. Bird said on a Tuesday conference call with reporters, “and we know it will work in Texas too.”

Indeed, Mr. Bird is at the cutting edge of the technological prowess that helped the Democrats so effectively defeat the Republicans in 2008 and 2012. The Wall Street Journal described his approach as “one part data and one part emotional connection. He keeps close track of which states are making their targets each day, but also preaches the value of relationships — between the campaign and its volunteers, and between volunteers and voters.” (BEDFORD: Why ORCA is innocent, and no one wants to talk about it)

But not only that: His data-proven successes make it highly likely that left-leaning donors will give him the budget he wants. Politico reports that “two sources said the contemplated budget would run into the tens of millions of dollars over several years.”

And those donors, of course, won’t just hail from Texas: Funds will come “from outside Texas as well,” Mr. Bird told reporters on Tuesday. “I think what you’ll see is people in New York and California and Alabama and other places realizing that this is a local fight with national implications as well.”

But even if Democrats don’t make the strides they plan to make as fast as they hope to make them, they can be sure that the Republican Party will be forced to fight back against their efforts. And that fight will cost the GOP crucial resources.

“On the whole, Republicans want to nail Texas down enough so that they not only win it, they also don’t have to spend any money there,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told TheDC. “They need the cash in too many other places.”

What it means for the GOP

Losing Texas to the Democrats would be difficult — if not impossible — for the modern Republican Party to surpass. Although the Reagan coalition, and its short-lived continuation in President George H.W. Bush’s first campaign, was capable of winning without Texas, the 2000 and 2004 wins by President George W. Bush — the only Republican presidential wins of the last two decades — would have been impossible without the Lone Star state.

Though he was skeptical of Texas going purple as soon as 2016, Dr. Sabato told TheDC, “The loss of Texas would present an enormous challenge to the GOP. Republicans aren’t going to win lots of other big states (New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, etc.), so it’s tough to see an easy path to victory. If there is one, the party would have to sweep the Midwest swing states (Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio) and possibly convert Pennsylvania. Florida would have to be won too.”

Meanwhile, while Republicans are busy licking their wounds and counting their dead, Mr. Obama has focused on turning his re-election machine into a continued-Democratic-majority machine, and his two campaigns have shown that his people have the money, organization and know-how to make this long-sought political fantasy a reality. (BEDFORD: The tyranny of the GOP’s political consultants)

“So what this is, is really a long-term effort to do what we did in a place like Florida,” Mr. Bird told MSNBC on Tuesday, “which is we had staff on the ground for six years — organizers working those neighborhoods — expanding the electorate through voter registration, turning out voters who hadn’t voted before in local elections, and then get them to turn out in the presidential.”

“When you start getting numbers like that — hundreds of thousands of new people coming to the polls… that’s how you actually change the electorate.”

“We learned in Ohio and across the country that grassroots organizing, grounded in real data, builds movements that win,” Battleground Texas Executive Director Jenn Brown said during a Tuesday conference call introducing Battleground Texas to the media.

“It’s what won in Virginia, Florida, Colorado, all of the battleground states, and it is what will  help us win in Texas,” Ms. Brown, a former 2012 campaign Ohio field director, continued. “We know what to do, we know that out methods work, and I am excited to take what I’ve learned and bring it into the Lone Star state.”

“Our data shows that Democrats will see at least two-point gains over the next eight years through demographic change alone,” Mr. Bird added. “And that’s if we do absolutely nothing.”

Texas is a big state, and the Democrats want to play too. If the Republicans want to maintain any realistic path to the White House, they need to understand that Texas isn’t big enough for the two of them.

On Feb. 24, Mr. Bird retweeted a Huffington Post article in which Mr. Perry said that Texas going blue “is the biggest pipe dream I have ever heard.”

Mr. Bird added two words: “Love this.”

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