Texas Republicans are pumped and ready to fight now that Democrats have launched a new initiative to turn their state into a electoral battleground in the next presidential election.
Democratic strategists filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission on Jan. 11 to form a “general-purpose” political action committee called “Battleground Texas.’
A few days later, a top campaign adviser for President Obama traveled to Austin for a sit-down with local party leaders about the independent group and its mission of mobilizing historically liberal voters – Hispanics, African-Americans and pro-choice women – and to reach out to swing groups such as the state’s rapidly growing Asian-American population.
“With its diversity and size, Texas should always be a battleground state where local elections are vigorously contested and anyone who wants to be our commander in chief has to compete and show they reflect Texas values,” Jeremy Bird, who led the incumbent’s national field operations, told Politico.
But Gov. Rick Perry isn’t too worried about the threat from Democrats. He’s absolutely sure of his party’s ability to defend its turf, spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told Newsmax.
“They can bring it on. We are well aware of the D's wishes to have more of a presence in Texas, and it's no surprise they'd want to share the credit of Texas' success story, but they will be hard-pressed to make much progress with the proven success conservative policies have had in our state,” Frazier wrote in an email.
Perry and his Republicans feel they have the edge on the issues most important to Texans. In office since 2000, Perry has tightened border security, stood up against federal energy policies and has created jobs by attracting businesses with low tax rates. He’s also pushing a new plan to give Texans back their tax money when it’s left unspent by designated state agencies.
“Ironically, the very reason Texas is the economic powerhouse it's been is because of conservatives' successful efforts to minimize liberal influence in our state,” Frazier said. “There's a reason why red states are faring better in this lousy national economy.
Texas went to GOP presidential nominee John McCain in 2008, a loss that Obama hoped to avenge in his second bid. His re-election staffers dutifully sat up offices in Dallas, Houston, Austin and El Paso, knowing two certainties: All polls showed their candidate trailing — most by double digits – and challenger Mitt Romney had no plans for a state organization.
On election night, Obama lost the Lone Star State’s 38 electoral votes by 16 points, but his campaign put in place a network of campaign volunteers and donors that Battleground Texas plans to build on.
The Democrats — their resolve, their fund-raising, their positioning for the future — have the attention of state Republican Chairman Steve Munisteri.
“Obama knew he wasn’t going to win Texas but putting in so much time and effort… they had the correct long-term view,” he told Newsmax.
Munisteri has been an outspoken critic of the Republican National Party for not reaching out to minority communities and young voters – a key strategy of the Texas GOP. He repeatedly warns Republican operatives in Washington that the threat is real – and they need a plan to counter it.
“There is only one party fighting the battle and we had better wake up,” said Munisteri, a Houston lawyer who has devoted four decades to GOP politics. “The Democrats are doing what we should have been doing nationally.”
As an example, Munisteri cited California, where Democrats now have a supermajority in the state Legislature and no Republican holds statewide office. The slide has been steady since the early 1990s, when the Golden State saw its non-Hispanic white population fall below 50 percent.
“The Democrats have been trying to bring it back for a generation or two,” he told Newsmax. “Our party has had a very myopic view.”
Texas, too, is a majority-minority state. In the 2010 Census, less than 45 percent of residents considered themselves as white and 38 percent checked the Hispanic box. The remaining 17 percent identified themselves mostly as African Americans and Asians.
“In politics, it’s all about trying to achieve electoral victories…and the electorate is not static,” Munisteri said.
“More people are moving here every day. We always have a changing dynamic,” he added. “We simply must do a better job of attracting minority voters.”
Other Texas Republicans agree with Munisteri about the non-white voting blocs, but are far more confident of their party fending off the Democratic challenge.
“I think that it’s possible – but not likely,” state Rep. Charlie Howard of Sugar Land said of Texas turning blue. “They would like to do that and they are working hard to do that.”
When Howard settled in Texas 40 years ago, Democrats held the governorship and controlled both houses of the state legislature. Today, Republicans hold every statewide office and make up the majority of the House and Senate.
The reason, Howard, told Newsmax, is simple: the GOP espouses the conservative principles that most Texans share and has been effective at implementing them. He recited a list of examples, including tort reform, abortion restrictions and the right-to-work law.
In his district, Howard, 70, points out that he always had a Democratic opponent but never lost more than a third of the vote because his constituents – a third of them Asian – supported his conventional positions.
“We live in a great state and there's a reason for that — because under Republican leadership we've made great strides,” said Howard, who officially retires Thursday after 18 years in office.
The GOP's grip on Texas hasn't always been so strong, a fact that Munisteri wanted to make clear.
“It’s a myth that Texas has been a solidly red state for a long time,” Munisteri told Newsmax. “The truth of the matter is that until the 2008 election, Democrats had more office holders than Republicans.
“I’ve always treated it as a competitive state,” he said. “You can’t relax for a minute.”
Already, Munisteri said, the Democrats have poured lots of cash into the state through the Lone Star Project, a Washington-based PAC founded in 2005, and Battleground Texas is expected to raise tens of millions of dollars for its decades-long drive, insiders told Politico.
“People understand that it’s going to take a lot of focused resources and a deliberate effort to define the Republican leadership in Texas for what it is, which is failed,” Lone Star founder Matt Engle told Politico. “The demographics are coming into place and Republicans have created an opportunity … But it’s also doing the hard work and raising the money that it takes.”
With no funding from the national party, Munisteri said, the Texas GOP is pushing ahead with its efforts to attract new voters – a full-time outreach director; its 15 youth chapters; its recruitment of minority candidates; and its partnership with political groups of key constituencies, such as Hispanic Republicans of Texas.
Perry is pledging to do everything he can to the GOP stay dominant.
“He understands we cannot rest on our laurels and hope to continue succeeding. We need to remain nimble, innovative and aggressive…to hold the line on spending, keep taxes low, and maintain a climate where job creators know they can come, “Frazier wrote Newsmax.
“As long as Republicans… keep a steady focus on communicating why conservative policies are the best route to opportunity and prosperity, we will win the argument.”
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