Will Texas become a two-party state?

April 5, 2013 1:57:24 PM PDT
Today's Wall Street Journal has a front page story by Neil King, Jr., "Deep in the Heart of Texas, Republicans Fight the Blues." Since I have been addressing this subject from time to time, the story is quite timely.

The WSJ story notes that Republicans have won all of Texas' 29 statewide offices since 1994, the longest period of single-party dominance in the country, while Rick Perry is the longest serving GOP governor in the country, and Mitt Romney handily dispatched President Obama in the Lone Star State by a 57% to 41% margin. But, as Mr. King notes,

    Republicans here are suddenly looking over their shoulder, worried that the Demographic shifts and a big push by Democrats to capitalize could soon turn the state into the ultimate battleground between the two parties.

One of the most important background players in President Obama's 2012 campaign has launched a broad effort to pull the state into the Democratic column.

The new Democratic initiative is Battleground Texas, headed by Jeremy Bird, who ran the 2012 Obama campaign in the crucial state of Ohio. Now he has relocated to Austin, and is currently on a 14 city tour, rolling out his latest campaign plan. Mr. Bird will be in Houston tomorrow (Saturday) updating the locals on what is afoot in a session at a local labor headquarters on the North Loop from 3 ? 5pm. I'll try to catch what he has to say.

To state the obvious, when you've gone zero for 200 in statewide races over the last twenty years, there are some huge hurdles facing Mr. Bird and company. Let me touch on three today.

(1) Can the money be raised to support this effort? Aside from a small group of wealthy trial lawyers, campaign funding for Democrats has dried up since days when Ann Richards and Bob Bullock were in power in Austin, and the prospects of securing in-state funding for the BT effort are not promising. Which means this deal will not go anywhere without a huge out-of-state investment the likes of which we have not seen before in American politics. But we are in a new day nationally, if not here in Texas.

Barack Obama was just reelected after a billion dollar campaign, and the President is apparently going to continue partisan fundraising efforts despite having run his last campaign. If Mr. Obama puts his shoulder to the wheel, maybe the money will be there for this Texas initiative. And in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, it might be easier to get super-rich donors to invest in speculative ventures like Battleground Texas.

So, on the money front, maybe the money will be there, maybe not.

(2) After 20 years in the political wilderness, Texas Democrats are going to have to find a strong message that resonates with current and future voters ? a task they have clearly failed at to this point. There are reasons so few of the state's minorities, who make up more than 50 percent of adult population of Texas, bother register and, if registered, go the polls. Voting is mostly a habit. Texas Anglos have it, as do some African Americans, but the great majority of Hispanic Texans do not. Can a key be found to open this door of apathy and bring non-voters into the electorate? Experience in states like California in the 1990s suggest it can be done, but the record also suggests such change requires a number of favorable factors which may not now exist in Texas, like a dumb majority party.

(3) The hockey star Wayne Gretzky liked to point out if you don't shoot, you don't score. In elective politics, the equivalent of shooting is getting quality candidates to run. That poses a huge problem for Democrats in Texas, whose statewide bench makes the 2013 Astros look pretty good. Even with a message, you have to have messengers, and the minority party has struggled mightily in that area. Can Battleground Texas help overcome this deficiency? Again, the jury is out.

We'll revisit these topics next week, after I hear what Mr. Bird has to say Saturday.
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