Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is trailing GOP rival Greg Abbott in the final weeks of the race. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

 

 

Has the much-talked-about effort to put a blue tint on the nation's biggest red state been a bust?

At a minimum, Battleground Texas -- the data-driven operation founded by Obama campaign veterans -- appears to have some trouble with numbers.

It suffered an embarrassment on Friday after it circulated a chest-thumping memo claiming that early-vote totals in the Lone Star State showed turnout running 36 percent ahead of the same period during the last governor's race four years ago.

In the memo, Battleground Texas senior adviser Jeremy Bird, who was national field director of President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, wrote:  "The early vote numbers this year are very encouraging for [gubernatorial nominee] Wendy Davis and the Democratic ticket – and all signs point to this being a fight to the finish."

Recent polls show Davis trailing by double digits -- doing more poorly than 2010 nominee Bill White, who did not have the benefit of Battleground Texas' revved-up grassroots operation or the tens of millions of dollars that have gone into this year's Democratic effort in Texas.

Hours later, the organization had to remove that memo from its website, after it became clear that Battleground Texas was using inaccurately low tallies from 2010. Spokeswoman Lynda Tran said by email that its initial estimates were "inadvertently based on incomplete data."

Meanwhile, the campaign of GOP gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott came up with a different conclusion: Early voting, which began Oct. 20 and ended Friday,  drew fewer ballots than it did in 2010.

"We have compiled the final turnout totals from 13 of the top 15 counties, and they show turnout more than 2% lower than in 2010. In the two counties for which we do not have totals from Friday, turnout as of Thursday was significantly lower than it was on the corresponding day of early voting in 2010," Ross Hunt, who does data analysis for Abbott's campaign, emailed.

"But these overall numbers are deceptive: In fact, many Republican-leaning counties are up relative to 2010 numbers, and many Democratic-leaning counties are way down," added Hunt, a partner with Murphy Nasica Associates..

By the Abbott campaign's tallies, voting in Democratic urban areas is down -- 9 percent in El Paso, 1 percent in Dallas, more than 15 percent in the Houston area. Meanwhile, Hunt said, turnout is bigger in the Dallas-Fort Worth-area suburbs where Republicans have traditionally been strong -- including in Denton, up by 21 percent; Collin County, by 16 percent, and Tarrant County, by 24 percent.

Battleground Texas was launched with much fanfare last year as a multi-year effort to make Democrats more competitive in a state that Obama lost by nearly 16 points in 2012. No Democrat has won statewide office there in the past two decades. However, Latinos are expected to become the largest demographic group in the state within the next six years.

“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,” Bird said at the time.

Some believed that Davis, a state senator who became a national celebrity when she filibustered an anti-abortion bill last year, could accelerate that process. But even as she's brought in a flood of campaign contributions from around the country, she has not lived up to the high expectations that many in her party had for her.

As her prospects have faded, Republicans in the state have increasingly treated Battleground Texas as though it were the greater threat. In a recent speech to a group of GOP women in San Antonio, Texas land commissioner candidate George P. Bush implored them to get out the vote to "send a direct message to Battleground Texas that they are not going to mess with Texas."

The group raised $3 million in 2013, and about $6.6 million so far this year, the bulk of which went into a fund shared with the Davis campaign. By the end of the year, it expects to have spent all of it.

One question now: If Davis performs as badly on Tuesday as polls suggest she will, are national Democrats going to lose interest in the state and in endeavors to change its politics?

On Saturday, Battleground Texas produced a new analysis. It did not claim that turnout was up, but said that "the electorate for early vote is more diverse than it was in 2010, with African American and Hispanic voters comprising a larger proportion of early voters than four years ago. And that's encouraging for Wendy Davis and Democrats."

The increases it estimated were marginal: African-American voters made up 11.7 percent of the early-vote electorate, which is 1.1 percent more than in 2010; Latinos' share was 2.1 percent larger, reaching 14.6 percent.

Hunt contended in an interview that even those estimates were being made "on the basis of a guess," particularly in the case of African-Americans, who are not easily identifiable by their surnames. Texas records do not specify voters' races, he said.

"Even if more Hispanic voters are voting, I do not think that this is necessarily a good thing for Wendy Davis," he added. "In this low-turnout environment, it could simply mean that more of the Democrats who are voting are the same Hispanic Democrats who voted against Wendy Davis in droves earlier this year in the Democratic primary."