Texas Democrats unveil plan to flip the state from red to blue in 2020

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(Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

The Democratic Party of Texas is laying out its plans to end decades of Republican dominance in the state, touting a substantial voter registration and turnout effort to create a blue wave of elected officials in 2020. It released its planning document Monday morning, the same week as Houston’s Democratic presidential debates. 

The party set a goal of registering 2.6 million Texans to vote, boosting turnout in suburban areas and putting 1,000 field organizers on the ground.

“We will win the White House, take out John Cornyn, expand our Texas congressional delegation, break the supermajority in the Texas Senate, flip the Texas House, and elect hundreds of local Democrats across the state,” wrote Texas Democratic Party deputy executive director Cliff Walker.

In addition to focusing on signing up unregistered voters and increasing turnout in growingly diverse as well as reliably Democratic areas, the plan also includes a focus on voter protection. A year-round hotline will be put in place to report any cases of voting suppression, and Texas Democrats have teamed with Democratic lawyers to be ready to fight those cases. 

A crux of the plan is the state party’s voter registration effort, which it hopes to achieve through state-coordinated campaigns with counties, a big increase in staffing and a direct mail effort including 1.5 million mail applications. In its analysis of the 2.6 million unregistered Texans, compiled from records from the Texas secretary of state, Texas Democrats identified a number of young, diverse populations in fluid metro areas.

“Five of America’s 25 fastest growing cities are in Texas,” Walker wrote in the plan. “These five cities are expected to drive more than 500,000 people into Texas over the next two years, up to 300,000 registered voters. We know many of these people are coming from liberal cities throughout the country.”

Many of these suburban areas voted for Democrat Beto O’Rourke when he ran for Senate in 2018. O’Rourke came within three percentage points of beating incumbent GOP Senator Ted Cruz in a state where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race since 1994.

The Republican Party of Texas said O’Rourke’s success with engaging voters has motivated them to launch their own voter registration and engagement efforts. A super PAC dedicated to registering Republicans, Engage Texas, has also raised close to $10 million dollars. 

Texas’ voting registration numbers increased by more than 694,000 between the 2016 presidential race to and the 2018 midterm elections, according to the Texas secretary of state.

“There’s a lot of excitement around Beto, we want to make sure we come to 2020 with as much enthusiasm as he got,” said Republican Party of Texas spokesman Sam Pohl. “We want to make sure we can counter that. I still firmly believe there’s more Republicans in Texas than Democrats.” 

In addition to state party groups, 2018’s momentum has inspired national Democratic campaign arms to start their own work on flipping Texas.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has six target districts in the state as well as a field office in Austin, and several Democrats have jumped into the race to defeat GOP Senator John Cornyn, who is running for reelection in 2020.

Some of his Democratic challengers include military veteran M.J. Hegar, who lost a 2018 U.S. House race, Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards, and State Senator Royce West, and Cristina Ramirez, who is the executive director of Jolt, a Texas-based Latino voter engagement organization.

The Houston Chronicle in August asked O’Rourke to end his campaign for president and commit to serving Texas, but O’Rourke said he would not run for Senate again.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hasn’t endorsed any of the Texas Democrats but is running some ads on his vote to repeal the health care law as a part of a small five-figure buy targeting Republicans in Senate battlegrounds.

In a statement to CBS News, DSCC spokesperson Stewart Boss said, “Texas is an emerging battleground state, voters will see Cornyn’s toxic record for what it is, and we’re working to help ensure Texans elect a senator who will fight for them.”

Republicans currently hold 23 of the 36 House seats in the state. After winning by single digits in all his elections, Representative Will Hurd was facing an extremely competitive 2020 reelection before announcing his retirement in August. Four other lawmakers, Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway and most recently Bill Flores, have also signaled they would not run again.

Even before this string of five GOP House retirements from Texas, the DCCC was looking at six more potential pickups in Texas after flipping two seats blue in 2018 with Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Collin Allred. 

A DCCC aide based in Texas said despite the fact that the state has been conservative for years now, Democrats are encouraged about their prospects in 2020 by the change in control of the House in 2018 and by the spate of recent Texas retirements. 

“Clearly Republicans are worried because there’s a reason why so many of their members are retiring. We feel like Democrats can make great progress across the state in districts by investing early, having an on the ground presence, and speaking to voters about the issues that matter to them,” the aide said. “That’s why we’re investing early to give ourselves the best chance of success.” 

According to a Democratic National Committee spokesperson, the DNC has also increased its investments in the Texas Democratic Party by 33 percent compared to this time in 2015 when Democrats were gearing up for the 2016 election. The additional resources help support a variety of general election infrastructure efforts.

In 2018, the committee ramped up its investment in order to lay the groundwork for 2020 in Texas. One example includes purchasing 9.2 million new cell phone numbers for campaigns up and down the ballot to reach and engage new voters.

Texas hasn’t supported a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter ran in 1976. Despite the decades-long Republican dominance in the state, Texas Democrats are confident that their plan will help set up an infrastructure for the eventual nominee and the down-ballot candidates.

“There will be no state-level coordinated campaign effort of the same size and complexity in the country,” vowed Walker. 

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