Will Texas Turn Blue?

April 21, 2013 in Analysis & Editorial

Texas as a Blue StateRepublicans Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. John Cornyn, and Sen. Ted Cruz are the current royalty of Texas politics. They are well liked in rural Texas, less so in the urban areas and quite confusing to voters of other states who view them with a skeptical eye. Perry, Cornyn and Cruz announced they’d be appearing together at the statehouse in Austin to explain why accepting tens of millions of federal dollars to expand the state’s Medicaid program is a terrible idea. They are viewed as extremists and unschooled in the ways of national politics. They represent a base of voters thought to be old fashioned at best and uninformed at worst. They are called incendiary by some and patriotic by others.

Royalty factors notwithstanding, the political map may be changing drastically in the lone star state.

Mayor Julián Castro is a rising star in the state of Texas. He is the mayor of San Antonio and brother of newly elected Texas Rep. Joaquín Castro. He is a Stanford undergraduate and Harvard Law graduate.  Some say he is the future of Texas. Some say he is the future of America. Both are Democrats and both symbolize expectations that Texas may be shifting from red to blue on the electoral map.

Castro has attracted a lot of attention and acclaim. He is considered a handsome, well-educated, charismatic, young politician with a compelling history and an aura of hope, change and promise. He represents what some call the new America. His road to office may be more difficult, however. Statewide races in Texas for Democrats are historical burial grounds.

Castro delivered the keynote address in Charlotte, N.C. at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The déjà vu is that eight years earlier, a young congressman from Illinois had delivered a similar speech and had captured a place in the national psyche. This propelled him into the presidency and ultimately a second term. Can lightning strike twice?

What is there about new blue politicians that makes Texas such an enticing target for money, consultants and hope? It has been almost 20 years since Texas elected a Democrat statewide and time, according to Castro, to set the record straight.

The idea that Texas could turn blue is no longer an arbitrary concept in a dreamers mind. There are good reasons why money and talent are flocking there. In Texas today Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians already outnumber Caucasians. However, in the last presidential election, Texas was the only minority dominated state in America that didn’t vote for Obama. Texas as a whole leans 10 percent more Republican than Democratic. Turnout is the reason. Hispanics currently make up 38 percent of the population yet cast only 22 percent of the ballots in 2012.

That disparity is both appalling and encouraging. As participation rates go, it is low. But the potential for Democrats, whom Hispanic voters tend to prefer by margins of two–one or more, is the thing of which dreams are made. Mark Jones, the chairman of the political-science department at RiceUniversity in Houston, shows that if Texas Hispanics had voted in 2008 at the same level as California, John McCain’s margin of victory in the state’s Presidential vote would have been halved from 12 to 6 percent. More importantly, by 2030 Hispanics will make up a larger share of the electorate (43 percent) than Caucasians (39 percent).

Now enter Battleground Texas, an outfit designed to help Democrats capitalize on the state’s new demographics. Progressives have wanted to make inroads into Texas but have lacked the money to do so. This has changed. The people behind Battleground Texas believe they not only will have the money, but the talent to achieve this ambitious goal. They are the same people who got Obama elected twice. Jeremy Bird directed Obama’s national field operation in 2012. Jenn Brown, in Austin, was in charge of Ohio last November. Top Democratic donor Steve Mostyn has already pledged to round up $10 million in initial funding.

Bird told Newsweek, “Part of the reason we won Florida by 50,000 votes in 2012 is that we had organizers on the ground for six years who were running a 21st-century grassroots campaign with data, with digital, with smart analytics, with field. We need that kind of long-term vision in Texas.”