2014 was a terrible election year for Democrats almost all across the country. But in few places was the disappointment so strong as Texas, where the excitement and promise of the Wendy Davis’ stand against GOP extremism was paired with cautious optimism about the potential for Battleground Texas to revolutionize Texas politics and begin the, path of flipping Texas from red to blue. Davis lost by a 20-point margin and Battleground Texas’ efforts largely fizzled. While Democrats continue to make slow inroads in most of the rest of the country where Asian and Hispanic/Latino immigrant populations are rising, Texas remains a seemingly impossible nut to crack.
Longtime Texas campaign manager Mary Beth Rogers’ compelling new book Turning Texas Blue explores what went wrong in 2014, why Texas seems to resist the demographic pull of other areas, and what Democrats and progressives might be able to do to change the equation.
Ms. Rogers starts with an examination of the failure of the Wendy Davis campaign and Battleground Texas, making a convincing case that enthusiasm and tactical field efforts masked a failure to implement effective strategic messaging tailored to Texas’ specific culture, and relied on mistaken calculations about the impact of Hispanic voters. Davis and managers were easily marginalized as a single-issue campaign out of touch with Texans, and Republicans have spent decades appealing to conservative-leaning Hispanics, both traditional Catholics and the new bloc of evangelical protestants. These realities mean that flipping Texas will be far more difficult than many have anticipated.
The book also provides a useful primer for non-Texans of the state’s political history, providing insights into how Texas became what it is today. It’s a story that resembles much of the rest of the American South, but with an especially aggressive and independent flavor that unique to the Lone Star state. It’s another reminder that, as frustrating as modern politics can be, we’re still only a few decades separated from some of the worst forms of racism and discrimination enshrined into law–sadly aided and abetted by a dixiecratic Democratic Party that made a devil’s bargain to provide socialism to the people as long as those people were white.
Finally and most importantly, Rogers provides a useful road map for how Democrats can help beleaguered Texans reclaim their state from the far right and usher in a politics that can fulfill the untapped potential of the state’s cultural and economic diversity. While the list is understandably light on granular specifics, the general prescriptions are on point–and strongly resemble the sorts of solutions that worked to help turn California into a deep blue state after years suffering under the yoke of Pete Wilson. Among the highlights: strategic messaging needs to be developed that is unique to the state’s special character, rather than enforced on high from the DNC or DCCC; deep, long-term field outreach to the state’s underserved and underappreciated Hispanic population is still sorely needed; economic populism must be brought to bear that can help limit losses among financially challenged white voters; and Texas money needs to be kept in Texas to help turn the state around rather than funnel out nationally to more traditional swing states and districts.
The promise of change that Battleground Texas and the Wendy Davis campaign sought to bring to Texas can still be realized within the next decade. But as it did in California, it can’t be accomplished in a flash. It will take years of dedicated, slogging effort by candidates and by the state and local Democratic parties. But it is possible–and doing so will cement the need for Republicans to completely reorient their message if they hope to capture the White House again.