Obama campaign veterans launch effort to turn Lone Star State blue

February 26, 2013

Several veterans from President Obama’s campaign have formed a group dedicated to raising money and registering voters to help turn Texas more competitive for Democrats in statewide and national elections.

The effort announced Tuesday, called “Battleground Texas,” comes three months after

Mitt Romney, shown campaigning in Midland, Tex., in August, won the state over President Obama by percent. (The Washington Post/Melina Mara)
Mitt Romney, shownin Midland, Tex., in August, won 57 percent of the state's vote in November. (The Washington Post/Melina Mara)

Obama lost the Lone Star State to Republican Mitt Romney by nearly 16 points – 57 percent to 41 percent. The last time a Democrat won a statewide race in Texas was in 1990, when Ann Richards was elected governor.

Jeremy Bird, a Democratic strategist who served as Obama’s former national field organizer in 2012, said Texas’s large and growing minority population – an estimated 56 percent of residents are black, Asian, Hispanic or American Indian – makes it ripe for Democratic gains. The problem for the party, he said, was that many of these potential voters are either not registered or have chosen not to participate.

“We will make Texas a battleground by treating it like one, expanding the electorate by registering more voters, and mobilize Texans already registered who have yet to be engaged in the Democratic process,” said Bird, a senior adviser to Battleground Texas.

Jenn Brown, who was the Obama campaign’s Ohio field director, is the organization's executive director, based in Austin. She and Bird said they will draw on lessons from the Obama campaign, including data mining, voting analytics and person-to-person engagement, to expand voter rolls. They said they also have spoken with Democratic donors about fundraising and hope to raise several million dollars in the next few years.

Texas Republicans said they respect the Obama team’s effort, but they appeared confident about the GOP’s position in the state. State GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri said Republicans have seen a surge in their own support in Texas even as Obama has won the past two presidential elections nationwide. Romney won by a larger percentage over Obama in Texas than Sen. John McCain did in 2009, Munisteri said, and Republicans hold 802 more elected offices across the state than they did five years ago.

“Despite the demographic changes, we’re doing exceedingly well,” he said.

Munisteri noted other high-profile efforts to turn Texas blue over the past two decades, including the Lone Star Project founded by Democratic operative Matt Angle in 2005.

Bird acknowledged those earlier Democratic efforts but said the demographic changes since 2005 have made the Battleground Texas project more urgent and timely. He predicted that his group probably will not have significant influence in the 2014 election cycle but pledged to stay the course for 2016 and beyond.

“We’ve got to have a long-term approach. It’s a long fight,” he said. “We’ve got to put the infrastructure in place and show donors and grass-roots supporters we’re moving the ball down the field.”

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Aaron Blake · February 26, 2013