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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

On the Purpling of Texas

Richard Parker’s NYT op-ed, “Lone Star Blues” takes a sober look at prospects for Texas becoming a Democratic state. It would be a game-changer for presidential politics. But, as Parker points out, Dems must overcome formidable obstacles, including:

…The Hispanic vote is not monolithically Democratic, nationally or in Texas. In 2004, 40 percent of Texas Hispanics backed George W. Bush for re-election. In 2010, Rick Perry got almost 40 percent of the Hispanic vote statewide, and nearly half in South Texas, the purported base for Democratic growth.
Then there is the problem of Democratic infrastructure: there hasn’t been one for years. In 1995, Ron Kirk forged a coalition of Hispanics and African-Americans to become the first black mayor of Dallas, but he could not do the same statewide; he lost a Senate race to John Cornyn in 2002.
That same year, the millionaire oilman Tony Sanchez, a Democrat running for governor, had money, a Mexican heritage and an ability to appeal to Mexican-American voters. For it, he still lost 35 percent of the Hispanic vote to Mr. Perry, who claimed the governor’s mansion.
But the biggest problem is voter participation. Only about half of eligible Hispanic voters show up nationwide; this edged up slightly in 2012 to 53 percent. In Texas, just 4.1 million Hispanics are registered to vote, and only about half of them make it to the voting booth.

President Obama received 41.38 percent of the popular vote in Texas last November, compared to Mitt Romney’s 57.17 percent. In addition, Latinos are 37.6 percent of Texans, and African Americans are 11.8 percent of state residents. Latinos and African Americans accounted for over 60 percent of births in Texas in 2010.
The challenge for Dems is clear, as Parker explains:

… It may be that the demographic wave makes all this beside the point, and that increasing turnout among Hispanics just a little might make a big difference…
But that requires ground troops, voter education and turnout efforts over a multicycle campaign. It also requires that Democrats stop assuming they’re going to lose. “If we start treating this as a purple state,” said Matt Glazer of the activist group Progress Texas, “we would be one that much sooner.”
…Aside from get-out-the-vote efforts and pro-immigrant posturing, the Democrats need to develop a better understanding of Texas Hispanics as more than just immigrants. Their No. 1 issue: jobs. Polling and focus groups by the University of Texas political scientist Daron Shaw suggest that economic themes — including education and entrepreneurship — may draw Hispanics to vote in greater numbers…

As Parker concludes, “It has been 36 years since the Democrats last captured Texas in a presidential election. It could well happen again. But to make it happen, they have to look beyond demographics and start focusing on the hard, long road of party building first.”
It can be argued that North Carolina, where Obama got 48.35 percent of the vote and Romney got 50.39 percent (Obama’s narrowest loss), or even Georgia, which gave Obama 45.48 percent of the statewide vote, are better bets for allocating Democratic resources for party-building.
But Texas has 38 electoral votes, compared to North Carolina’s 15 ev’s and Georgia’s 16. Only California has more electoral votes, And the Texas Republican Party has had a pretty easy ride in presidential elections in recent years, owing to limp turnout of Latino voters as much as anything else. That luck can’t last much longer, especially if the state Democratic party gets its act together, and does more to register and educate Hispanic voters, recruit and train more Latino candidates and do a better job of branding the GOP as the party of immigrant-bashing.

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