Texas Democrats plot path to flipping state in 2020

The state party has high hopes and ambitious goals in a new document outlining their path to turning the state blue.

Texas Democratic Convention at the Alamodome on June 17, 2016.

The Texas Democratic Party is pulling back the curtain on its 2020 strategy ahead of the Houston presidential debate, releasing a plan to flip the state that targets 2.6 million potential Democratic voters who are not registered yet and commits to deploying over 1,000 organizers by the end of the election cycle.

The 10-page proposal, shared first with The Texas Tribune, primarily focuses on dramatically expanding the Democratic vote in Texas while building a massive coordinated campaign. Both are ambitious undertakings for a party that has long been out of power — no Democrat has won statewide since 1994 — but has seen its prospects brighten over the last two election cycles, especially in 2018.

"At the Texas Democratic Party, we know that to win we must build a state party infrastructure larger than anyone has ever seen," the party's deputy executive director, Cliff Walker, says in a statement accompanying the plan. "Change is coming to Texas — a new wave of activists and progressive candidates demand it."

The party is set to unveil the plan Monday as national attention begins to hone in on Texas ahead of the debate Thursday in Houston, the third of the 2020 Democratic primary. Party officials have hailed the debate's location as the latest evidence of their 2020 mantra — that Texas has become the "biggest battleground state in the country."

The document reflects the party's growing optimism after Beto O'Rourke's closer-than-expected loss to Ted Cruz in 2018 and all the down-ballot gains that came with it: two U.S. House seats, two Texas Senate seats and 12 state House seats. This year has only given them more hope as a parade of Texas GOP congressmen announce their retirements, three out of five of them so far in competitive districts.

The plan broadly seeks to register as many as possible of the 2.6 million Texans it says are not registered to vote but would vote Democratic if registered. There are another 2.4 million voters from minority communities who are registered to vote but did not cast a ballot in 2018 and "are primed to be mobilized in a presidential year," according to the plan.

To close those gaps, the party offers four possible paths based on its data analysis: increasing turnout in communities of color (over 400,000 new votes), increasing turnout in urban, reliably blue counties (at least 225,000 new votes), registering voters in the politically changing suburbs (over 130,000 new votes) and reaching out to conservative rural voters (more than 100,000 new votes).

The party plans to tackle those opportunities by doing things like sending more vote-by-mail applications in 2020 than ever before — more than 1.5 million. But most important will be a statewide coordinated campaign that can support over 1,500 Democratic nominees throughout the ballot in 2020, by the party's count. Key to that campaign would be the 1,000 organizers, a big ramp-up from the party's current staffing levels. They would be paid through the coordinated campaign.

The plan also puts an emphasis on protecting voting rights from GOP efforts that make it more difficult to cast a ballot. The party will launch a year-round hotline on Jan. 1, 2020, to deal with such issues, in addition to other new and ongoing efforts.

Texas Republicans have also been gearing up for 2020, anxious to learn their lessons from the last election cycle. Earlier this year, the state GOP launched its Volunteer Engagement Project, an initiative to revitalize "nuts-and-bolts" party functions such as registering voters and turning them out. Meanwhile, a new super PAC that has already raised close to $10 million is aiming to sign up hundreds of thousands of new Republican voters.

"While Texas Democrats have just announced their plan to turn Texas blue, we have been employing our plan to keep Texas Red for months," Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey said in a statement, touting an "unprecedented investment in all aspects of voter registration, mobilization, and turnout."