The Harris County Democratic Party's Toast to a Blue Year 2014 boasted a packed crowd of supporters, an all-star roster of local, state, and federal representatives, and two of the most exciting names in Texas politics: Senators Leticia Van de Putte and Wendy Davis. The event drew so much interest that the venue had to be moved to accommodate the crowd of 300-plus Democrats attending the fundraiser for the county party.
Of course, the names Davis and Van de Putte lent a large part to the draw, but the work of the Harris County Democratic Party to engage activists and supporters throughout 2013 and into this year played a key role. Harris County, which President Obama won by 971 votes in 2012, will be integral to statewide turnout initiatives in 2014. As Lane Lewis, HCDP Chairman, pointed out: “One out of every four votes, meaning 25% of all votes in the state of Texas, will come from Harris County.” For Lewis, this is why HCDP is “essential” to statewide success in the gubernatorial election.
More on the importance of turning out voters in Harris County for a statewide win and the efforts of the local party below the jump.Harris County leans blue, but the margins are close. For a statewide win the county party will have to push the envelope on straight ticket voters – which is key to their strategic plans for 2014.
In 2012, HCDP ran a coordinated campaign aimed at encouraging Democrats in Harris County to turn out and vote a straight Democratic ticket. In that election, over 2,800 more straight ticket votes were cast by Democrats than Republicans in the county. Of course, Chairman Lewis acknowledges that in gubernatorial years it can be harder to turn voters out. But he has a strategy when explaining the importance of voting in state and local elections. For Lewis, its all about proximity. “The closer that desk is to your house, the more impact they're going to have on your life,” he explains. “Last I checked, the Governor's, Lieutenant Governor's and District Attorneys' desks are a whole lot closer than the White House.”
One concern expressed by local Democrats heading into 2013 was the tendency of the HCDP to lay low during off years. Lewis, who is beginning his third year as chairman for the county party, wanted to make sure that 2013 was different. Along with working on community projects and encouraging participation in the municipal elections through mail ballot and voter education initiatives, HCDP worked throughout the year to improve their resources and prepare for 2014. As a result, Lewis says, “We have better data, and better information at our fingertips.” The HCDP also worked to become more accessible to local voters by launching a new website to provide better social media interaction. “Our ability to interact with our constituents has grown exponentially,” Lewis explained.
What's more, HCDP has seen great success in their fundraising efforts. “In an off year its traditionally more difficult to raise money, but I can tell you we met or exceeded our goals,” Lewis said. “We had the most successful JRR Dinner (an annual fundraiser held by the county party), and we did that during a municipal year. The interest in the party has increased exponentially.” Some of this is due to the momentum that came out of the filibuster over the summer, when HCDP provided transportation for those who were interested in heading to Austin to join the protests against the omnibus abortion legislation.
Harris County isn't only important because of its size. The diverse population represents identity groups that tend to swing Democrat – if they can be organized to get to the polls. There are more Hispanic voters in Harris County than in Colorado and Nevada combined, and with a Republican primary relying on racist and xenophobic ideas about immigration policy the difference in statewide candidates couldn't be more clear.
The HCDP has funding, momentum, and strategic planning on their side as they head into 2014. Their success in turning out straight ticket Democrats in November is key to the goals of turning Texas blue statewide. If the excitement and energy at the Toast to a Blue Year is any indication, they are on the right track to do just that.