By Jessica Huseman
As Democrats come off a second-straight presidential victory, the party has a whopper of a prize in its sight: Texas.
Could Texas switch to a cool shade of blue? A state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1976, and that LBJ famously signed away (along with the rest of the South) with the Civil Rights Act?
It’s what the folks behind “Battleground Texas” are trying to make happen.
The group is run by Jeremy Bird, a former field director for the Obama campaign who recently founded the consulting firm 270 Strategies (get it?). In a statement to Politico, he expressed his confidence that Texas could be a massive swing state in the near future:
“With its diversity and size, Texas should always be a battleground state where local elections are vigorously contested and anyone who wants to be our commander-in-chief has to compete and show they reflect Texas values. … 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.”
Electoral vote-thirsty Dems have long eyed Texas, which has grown more diverse every year. The 2010 Census indicated that 38 percent of Texans identified as Hispanic (compared to only 16 percent nationally), an ethnic group that has historically voted heavily Democratic. Latinos have also suffered from intense voter apathy, leaving those who get excited by high Hispanic voter registration disappointed by lack of turnout. Perhaps this is the group that hasn’t been “engaged in the democratic process” Bird is hoping to attract.
In any case, Texas Republicans are getting rather nervous. Newly-elected Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recently went on a little bit of a rant on the subject:
“In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat. If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party.”
While dramatic, Cruz has a point. Without a similarly sized state moving from blue to red, a switch for Texas and its 38 electoral votes would make it virtually impossible for Republicans to win the White House.
Others in the GOP aren’t as nervous. Republican strategist Dave Carney told Dallas’ PBS affiliate that he believes initiatives to turn Texas blue — like Battleground Texas — will only help the Republican Party.
“The more money they spend on [Battleground Texas], the better it is for Texas and the taxpayers of Texas, because it will basically lead to continued conservative dominance of the state. There’s a reason voters are low-propensity voters. They don’t vote. It’s their message that hurts [Democrats]. It’s their inability to articulate a message that the vast majority of Texas voters agree with.”
The numbers seem to support Carney’s theory. According to the Texas Observer, if Latinos turned out to vote like in other states, Texas would have already swung. No Democrat has won a statewide race since 1994, an abysmal 0-for-91. The state’s Latinos just don’t turn out in other heavily Hispanic states like California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.
Says the Observer: “Texas has about the same percentage of Latinos as California. If they had turned out at the same rates as [whites] in 2008, 1.2 million more Latinos would have voted, according to Census figures. McCain beat Obama in Texas by 951,000 votes.”
“There is an unfortunate habit in a lot of political writing on this subject to treat demographic projections as deterministic. We talk about voting as though it’s an inevitable part of people’s lives, and they only have to be persuaded to vote the way we want. But there’s nothing inherent to Latinos about voting Democrat, or about voting at all. In the real world, ‘voting’ isn’t a thing that just happens. It isn’t a ‘demographic express’ you can hop on. Real people either decide to take off work, find their way to the polls, stand in line and vote, or they don’t. That’s a decision with costs and consequences — costs that fall most heavily on those in the lowest strata of society.”
So perhaps, for all of it’s funding and manpower, Battleground Texas may not make much of an impact. If the group can’t make it easier to vote, will they have that much of an impact on people who choose not to?
Assumptions that Texas will inevitably turn blue also balance on the idea that Republicans will continue their ardent stance on immigration, despite strong calls for them to become more lenient. If the GOP does bend on immigration, many — like Marco Rubio, the beloved Cuban senator from Florida — believe that many Latinos would switch to the Republican party because of their traditionally conservative social values. A stretch, perhaps, given the huge divergence between Latinos and the Republican Party on economic issues, but perhaps just as big of an assumption as Texas fading blue.
So while there is definitely reason for Democrats to be optimistic, the switch isn’t as easy as many believe. Players like Battleground Texas will also have to advocate for easier voting in Texas (which isn’t a safe bet in a state that passed a voter ID law) and bet on the Republican Party staying as exclusive as it currently is.