Turning Texas Into a Battleground State

You might not be familiar with the name Jeremy Bird because he’s not someone that seeks out opportunities to be in the spotlight. But he played a critical role in both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, staring off as a field director in South Carolina during the 2008 primary and winding up as the National Field Director in 2012. When people talk about the community organizing that infused Obama’s win in 2008, that was the work of Bird – who based a lot of it on what he learned from Marshall Ganz while taking his classes at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

After the 2012 campaign Bird founded an organization called Battleground Texas where he has taken that same community organizing approach to accomplish this goal:

Battleground Texas is focused on expanding the electorate by registering more voters – and, as importantly, mobilizing those Texans who are already registered but who have not been engaged in the democratic process. And we’re using the data-driven, people-focused approach that has helped win grassroots campaigns around the country.

That kind of work takes time. We’re talking years, not months. Here’s why:

…potential voters are far more likely to respond to persuasion by their friends and neighbors than to campaign operatives or volunteers parachuting in at the last minute. By opening thousands of field offices in communities across the country, sometimes over a year out, Bird and Co. ensured that the Obama campaign forged deep ties to voters and volunteers that paid off on election day.

“It’s voters talking to voters—and that’s how we’re going to win,” Aquiles Damiron, Battleground’s training director and another Obama campaign veteran, told the group during a presentation Saturday.

(If you’d like to learn more about how Ganz and Bird put together a winning formula for community organizing in a presidential campaign, you can watch these videos of them talking about their efforts in the 2008 election.)

In Texas, that job was made a lot more difficult not only because of restrictive voter ID laws, but because the Republican Governor and legislators decided to pass the country’s most restrictive laws with regards to voter registration.

Non-Texans are barred from registering voters; anyone registering voters must undergo training through the county; no one can register voters in counties other than the county where they were appointed; and all voter registration applications must be personally delivered, rather than mailed.

“It’s very intentionally designed to make sure that fewer people are registered,” said Brown. “There’s no other reason why you would have a process like that.”

That is why this was such a big story a few weeks ago:

Texas has a record-breaking 15 million people registered to vote ahead of the November election, the Secretary of State’s office announced Thursday…

In 2012, Texas registered 13,646,226 voters or 75 percent of the voting-age population. In 2008, the number was 13,575,062 or 77 percent of the voting-age population, according to the news release. This year’s figure amounts to 78 percent of the voting-age population and more than 1.3 million additional registered voters from four years ago, according to the news release.

Why would someone like Jeremy Bird take his skills in community organizing to the very red state of Texas? It’s because he saw early on what Simon Rosenberg described in an article titled, “The GOP Should Be Worried About Texas.”

Today, at slightly more than 28 percent, Texas has the second highest share of eligible voters who are Hispanic of any state in the nation, and is the only state with a sizable Hispanic population that isn’t blue or purple. And its share of Hispanic voters is far higher than many of the states that have already drifted towards the Democrats, and even higher than deep-blue California…

But another demographic trend that is bringing dramatic change to American politics should also concern Republicans about the future of Texas – the rise of the millennials…

Texas has a lot of millennials. By the 2018 election, Texas will have the fourth highest percentage of millennials of any state in the country, and a higher percentage than any large or medium sized state.

Here is some hard evidence on why the growing millennial population in Texas matters:

What Rosenberg doesn’t mention is that this presidential election might be giving the movement to turn Texas blue a big jump start. That’s because it is adding another group that will be significant…suburban white women.

This is the potential soft point for Trump’s campaign: suburban Republican women.

Carol Reed knows this all too well. She’s been a Republican political consultant in Texas for more than three decades. She helped build the Texas Republican Party from a collection that could caucus in a phone booth to the powerhouse it is today.

Reed says what’s happening to the GOP nationally is happening in Texas, too.

“He has turned off women all over America,” Reed says, “and it really doesn’t matter whether you are an R or a D. We’re no different when it comes to that kind of thing. So, the soccer mom today, while she cares more about economic stuff, there comes a point where there’s a bridge too far, and I’m seeing already in North Dallas a couple of the ‘nasty woman’ T-shirts.”

Wow! When you start seeing “nasty woman” t-shirts in North Dallas, you know the GOP is in trouble. That’s why, for the Republican Party’s long-term prospects, it will be crucial to see whether or not that is a one-time phenomenon related to their presidential nominee or if the divide persists.

Finally, it is important to know why Texas is so critical to the fortunes of the GOP. On a presidential level, the state has the second largest number of electoral votes – coming in 2nd to California. Given that the states that are tied for third include New York (which is solidly blue) and Florida (which is trending blue), the electoral votes of just those four states would total 151 together. Either party that locked those in would have a pretty clear path to the White House.

Beyond that, Rosenberg summarizes the importance of Texas.

It is the only big state left in the country that Republicans regularly win at the presidential level. It produced the only two Republican presidents since Reagan, and has produced many more important national Republicans, such as Tom DeLay, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and John Cornyn. It exports hundreds of millions of dollars to GOP organizations and candidates across the country. And perhaps most importantly, there are more Republicans in Congress from Texas than any other state, and many of them are in positions of leadership. Losing Texas, or even having it become competitive, would be a significant blow to the national GOP.

Jeremy Bird wasn’t the only one to see the prospects of Texas turning blue after the 2012 election.

Sitting down across from me, [Jeb Bush] assumes his role as party Cassandra, warning of the day when the Republicans’ failure to tap an exploding Hispanic population will cripple its chances at reclaiming power—starting in Texas, the family seat of the House of Bush.

“It’s a math question,” he tells me. “Four years from now, Texas is going to be a so-called blue state. Imagine Texas as a blue state, how hard it would be to carry the presidency or gain control of the Senate.”

Right now FiveThirtyEight gives Trump an 87% chance of winning Texas with a 6.5 point lead in the polls. As a point of reference, Mitt Romney won the state by 16 points. With 1.3 million newly registered voters and a surge in early voting, it will be fascinating to watch the results come in on November 8th.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .