This is a repost from the original Operation Think Swing Texas, published on July 21st, 2012.
As Emily Cadik noted in a recent Burnt Orange Report article, Texas doesn’t vote. For the 2010 mid-term elections, the state of Texas had voter turnout of 36.1 percent… dead last in the nation. 2008 was better at 56.1 percent (as is expected for a Presidential election), but that still only ranked at 45th out of 50 in the US.
This isn’t exclusively a “big state” problem. Voter turnout in California is soaring, while New York in 2010 was one of the states lower than Texas. All three states also had Gubernatorial elections at the same time.
This also isn’t exclusively a “red state” problem. Some reliably Conservative states like Mississippi have consistently higher turnout than Texas, though it’s still below the national average.
Voter turnout is a Texas problem. Our voters are disengaged, and misinformed. As long as state campaigns and interest groups practice “uncertainty politics” it will continue to be this way. Besides voter apathy, Texans are plagued by signs that misdirect people to false voting locations, and incorrect times and dates of where to vote. And yes the current legal brawl over voter suppression makes the confusion this year higher than ever.
But just imagine if those voters were more informed and more engaged? Texas would easily be a swing state the likes of which the US hasn’t seen. As Nathan Pippenger states in his recent article from The New Republic, Texas isn’t on the radar as a swing state. But Democrats, with all of their challenges can make this happen in 2012. Here’s my plan of how to turn Texas into a swing state.
Texas is huge, but when it comes to elections, it’s not as big as you think. 8 million Texans voted in the 2008 election, representing all 254 of the state’s counties. But as of the 2010 census, over half of all Texans live in just 13 of these counties, concentrated around the major urban areas. 12 of the 13 were “in play” for Democrats in 2008.
2008 also saw a huge sea change in the state. Some counties went so heavily for Obama that they can now be considered “reliably Democrat-leaning”… El Paso, Travis (Austin), Dallas, Webb, Hidalgo and Cameron… along with other portions of the Rio Grande Valley. Let’s consider these counties as Tier 1 targets for Texas Democrats. Gains made in the 2008 election should be kept and defended. We should be making sure democratic candidates are well-represented in the local media markets, signs and volunteers. It’s critical that these counties remain in the blue category not only for 2012, but to strengthen current networking for future elections.
Tier 2 we’ll consider these “swing” counties. These flipped to vote for Obama by a smaller margin such as Harris (Houston), Jefferson (Beaumont) or Bexar (San Antonio). But you can also consider other counties that held for McCain, but by a rapidly decreasing margin… Hays, Fort Bend, Williamson and Nueces (Corpus Christi). Texas Democrats should work hard to keep Harris county in the blue and try to flip Hays, Williamson or Fort Bend. If one of those were to flip in 2012, it would mark the first time a substantial suburban county went blue. The impact of this could not be understated because it would show that Texas follows the same model as any other swing state… The cities become heavily Democratic, rural areas lean Republican, and the election battle is fought and won in the suburban counties.
So now we’ve taken the vast 254, and narrowed it down to just 13 counties. These also happen to be the state’s most populous areas. If Texas Democrats ever win all 13 of these counties, we are swing state, and possibly a BLUE state.
–Turnout, turnout, turnout.
This is the really super hard part, but it can be done. The one thing we also know from 2008…
Democrats people like to vote early. If voters are well informed of the early and absentee voting practices of each county, they’ll be more likely to vote, and Democrats will have higher turnout. Here’s where the confusion and misinformation part becomes crucial. Certain political forces are hard at work in the state to make sure that lies persist about voting practices. Democrats should be waging all-scale war on these phonies, and getting into neighborhoods to correct and inform. If we push and publicize early voting, it gives people more options and better ability to get to the poles. Keep in mind that early voting is a relatively recent practice… elderly citizens may not understand what it is. They see the one election day, and think that’s the only time they can vote. We have to change this.
If we can maximize voter turnout in the 13 target counties, Democrats will win the state.
Since this was written over 2 years ago, there has been some very exciting news in the state of Texas… a lot of which has gone completely under the radar of state and national media outlets. Though thankfully a few, like Richard Parker of the New York Times have finally started to catch on. Here’s a rundown of the updates, and what you need to be looking out for on November 4th.
1. Wendy Davis, Leticia Van de Putte and other strong candidates! When the above was written, I never could have imagined a Democratic ticket as strong as the one running now. The state has really seen and heard the candidates through televised debates and an incredibly packed campaign schedule. Republicans have been caught on the defensive for most of this election cycle having to adjust to the consistent message being put out by Democrats.
2. Geography matters. Along with the counties mentioned above, Wendy Davis’ candidacy for Governor brings another huge X Factor that could work to the favor of Democrats for now, and in future. Davis is from Tarrant County, which has the unique distinction of being the largest remaining urban county in Texas (some could argue in the United States) that still votes solidly Republican. Among all the people of Texas, Tarrant County residents are the ones that know Wendy Davis best, and they are the ones that have sent her to office twice. Having Davis at the top of the ticket moves Tarrant from a “safe Republican” county to one that is in play for Democrats to win this year. Combine that with evidence that groups like the Tarrant County arm of Battleground Texas has been working like mad in the area, and it’s quite possible to even see Democrats winning the GOP stronghold. A win in Tarrant County changes everything. Be sure to watch for this on election night.
With the state’s largest urban centers “reliably blue”, and Tarrant County now in play, Texas Democrats have more pathways to victory than any time in the last 20 years. Can they flip Tarrant and win any of the suburban counties this year??
3. Battleground Texas, the Texas Democratic Party and County Democrats are hard at work. Amazing as it seems, this very disparate collection of organizations has not only managed to work together, but have done a great job at utilizing each groups skill set for positive results. Many predicted that Texas Democrats were far too weak to sustain the organizing and engagement efforts you find in states like Florida. What has resulted is an effort larger than anyone could have predicted even one year ago. Voter registration has seen a substantial increase in the state’s largest counties, setting the stage for voter participation levels not seen since 2008. Groups like Mi Familia Vota (a non-partisan organization) have reached out to groups and neighborhoods long ignored in previous election cycles. All of these things are converging right now in the Lone Star State.
To sum up, much of what was discussed in the original post is starting to come true. If these plans are realized, it will prove a big surprise to most across the country. But for Texas Leftist, it’ll be more like a Dream no longer Deferred.
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