Texas is finally receiving its moment in the national sun.
For all the sweat and money that Texas Democrats and their allies have poured into the state over the years, a big missing ingredient has been national interest in Texas.
Sure, as Bill Clinton said, “There's no state in the country that votes less like its demographics than Texas.”
But with cities the size of states (Harris County by itself would be the 15th largest state) and with multiple media markets, Texas was always too big, too expensive, and too hard compared with the other pressing priorities of national donors.
As a result, Texas for 30 years has languished near the bottom in voter turnout – finishing dead last in 2010. While one poll by LatinoDecisions estimates that nearly 60% of Hispanic voters in Colorado were contacted about the 2012 election, the same poll found that only about 25% of Texas Hispanics were.
But the good news is that the signs are that Texas' days as a perpetual bridesmaid are coming to an end.
One of the most promising signs came today in the announcement that former Obama for America national field director Jeremy Bird with support from national Democratic and progressive donors is launching Battleground Texas, a new organization that Bird told POLITICO “will make Texas a battleground state by treating it as one.”
According to POLITICO:
“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.
True to the Obama campaign's model in swing states, Bird said:
“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.”
And the good news is these efforts dovetail nicely into substantial work already being done in the state with low-propensity voters by partisan organizations as well as non-partisan groups like the Texas Organizing Project, Mi Familia Vota, and Texans Together. Those efforts also are expected to increase in coming years.
While Texas may be big, the lessons of places like Colorado and New Mexico is that big change is possible over several cycles (and sooner than you think). But engaging non-regular voters means starting earlier and year-around civic engagement. And it also means more research and polling to understand the complex and incredibly diverse population of Texas. All that's expensive. But with national funder interest, the resources needed to do that kind of work may finally be available in Texas.
It's not hard to see why national interest has started to shift to Texas. By many estimates Hispanic provided the decisive margin of victory to President Obama in Colorado, Nevada, and Florida – each states where President Obama lost the Anglo vote.
In Texas, by contrast, there are some 2.3 million registered and eligible African-Americans and Hispanics in just the state's 11 largest counties who are considered unlikely voters. Of those, only 782,580 (34%) voted in 2008. And in 2010? Only 68,883 voted. That's less than 3% turnout and a fall off of almost 714,000 in a state that Bill White lost by 631,086 votes.
And it's important to stress that while talk about Texas usually and inevitably focuses on Hispanics, more than 60% registered voters in Dallas and Harris counties are considered unlikely voters under common models.
That's opportunity galore.
And from a national perspective as one national donor said in Washington recently when calling for a “moon-landing commitment to Texas”: Texas is checkmate.
And with prolific San Antonio fundraiser Henry Muñoz taking over as finance chair for the Democratic National Committee, a deepening of ties of Texas with national sources of money will only increase.
That's only further good news for Texas progressives.