Texas Democrats have been fighting an uphill battle against Republicans for years. The state has been firmly red since 2002. But a new Washington-based group, Battleground Texas, wants to invest tens of millions of dollars to turn Texas blue.
Tanene Allison is communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. Her office is adorned with photos of the late governor Ann Richards, a young Bill Clinton in San Antonio, and a portrait of JFK – each representing a period in the glory days of the Democratic Party. Allison just came back from D.C., where she saw President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. While she was there, she met with the organizers of Battleground Texas.
“I think our glory days are what’s coming in the future,” Allison said. “And I think that this is a time that we’ll look back on and say, ‘This is when we turned Texas blue’. And once Texas turns blue it’s almost impossible for a Republican to win the White House -- I mean, this is game changing.”
For about 20 years, the state’s 30-plus electoral votes have gone to Republicans. In that time, there’s been little to no effort from national Democrats to turn the tide in Texas. But as of this week, a Texan is the finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee: Henry Muñoz, a San Antonio businessman.
“I really love the name Battleground Texas, because I think that for so long we have been disheartened and discouraged, and we thought about Texas as kind of an ATM,” Muñoz said.
Democratic candidates at the national level would touch ground in the Lone Star State to collect money, then turn around and leave. Muñoz says there were no votes to win here.
Both Muñoz and Allison point to the population growth of Latinos as one of the reasons that they believe Texas could turn blue. But the immediate effect could be different.
Sylvia Manzano at Latino Decisions, a Washington think tank, says before going blue, she envisions a “pink” Texas where the red is gradually diluted over time, turning “purple” as it becomes infused with blue.
“Because right now, Texas is bright red, which suggests that there are still a lot of Republicans who are staying home because it’s not competitive, right?” Manzano said. “So we can actually have more Republicans turn out when more Latinos, or more African-Americans or more Democrats, right? So the idea that there’s this blue inevitability, I think, is not a sure thing -- that the pink and purple possibilities are very real.”
What’s also real is that “green” often produces votes. Battleground Texas reportedly wants to infuse tens of millions of dollars. The group is made up of strategists who worked on President Obama’s re-election campaign. They know how to win blue elections. It’s unclear whether they know how to win blue elections in a red state.
But Paul Burka, senior executive editor at Texas Monthly, says that if Democrats pause and learn from star Republican strategists like Karl Rove, then, Battleground Texas may be onto something.
“When Karl was coming up as a political consultant as a Republican, people would ask him, ‘Why aren’t the Republicans winning?’” Burka said. “And Karl said, ‘It’s not an event, it’s a process.”
The 2012 presidential election was more than three months ago. But the fight for Battleground Texas is barely under way.