The Lone Star State has served Republicans loyally as one of the most consistently conservative states in America for years. It’s been over twenty-four years since the state has had a Democratic governor, Republicans outnumber Democrats almost 2:1 in both the State Senate and House of Representatives, and it’s been thirty-eight years since the state elected a Democrat for the presidency. Yet Texans are beginning to feel a change in the tide, as the state’s demographics begin to shift in favor of the Democratic Party. Early signs that Texas may well become a battleground, or a “purple” state, have the Democrats giddy. Groups such as ‘Battleground Texas’ have begun campaigns to draw out support for Wendy Davis, the star Democratic candidate for governor, as well as to draw up longer term plans to paint the state blue.
On the more immediate horizon is the upcoming gubernatorial race Texas will be hosting this coming November. After fourteen years as governor of America’s second largest state both geographically and in population, Governor Rick Perry has stated he will not seek re-election this fall. After Perry’s historically long stint as governor, Texans generally agree that it is time for someone new to take office in Austin this fall. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott overwhelmingly took the Republican Primary with 91.5% of the vote. Abbott’s website spews the kind of buzzword-dogma conservative politicians seem to salivate over. He pledges to “End Obamacare”, “Defend Traditional Values”, “Protect the 2nd Amendment”, and “Rein in the EPA”.
This list of key conservative policy points may hit home for “heartland” Republicans in rural and northern Texas, but the state’s demographics have already begun to shift away from the more traditional Bible-belt conservatives. As Texas’ economy continues to grow and to attract more jobs the population will likely continue to see increases in immigrant communities. Hispanics make up the largest minority group in Texas, and their population figures are increasing by the month. Immigrants to Texas, particularly Spanish-speakers, tend to vote Democrat. Over the last several election cycles, congressional districts nearer to the Mexican border have begun to consistently vote for the Democratic candidate. In San Antonio, the Democratic Mayor Julian Castro has also gained national media attention, particularly for his keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
The potential future of Texan politics has forced Republicans to begin changing their message. While Greg Abbott’s campaign may be focusing on family values and 2nd Amendment rights – issues important to many Texans – the GOP’s more astute members of the state government have begun to focus on issues that also draw in minority support, such as immigration reform. The Texas Republican party has finally realized that one of their trump cards is the economy, an issue on which they actually have evidence of Texas’ success and is highly important for voters all across the state. Republicans are under Triactol no direct threat in Texas, and will not be for some time, but if they have far-enough sight into the future, they would do best to focus less on divisive issues like abortion and gun control, and more on the growth of the state economy and what that means for Texans.
Looking well into the future and planning for the long-term is not something many American politicians are particularly adept at nowadays. With such frequent elections, politicians tend to focus on their next campaign cycle, thus emphasizing policies with results that will pay off in time to get them re-elected. In spite of this, Democratic campaign groups and grassroots organizations are taking a longer-term view of the state of affairs in Texas in attempting to turn the state purple, or possibly even blue. The most visible of these groups is Battleground Texas, a grassroots organization with the mission of turning every election in Texas into a truly contested one. Battleground Texas has noted that real change will take time, but they encourage Texans “from El Paso to Beaumont” to stand up and fight for a change which many voters want to see.
While groups like Battleground Texas have their primary sights set on a future in which Texas is a contested state like Florida or Ohio, they have been coordinating with Democratic Party campaign groups on elections that are happening today. In the upcoming gubernatorial race, the Democratic candidate is none other than Wendy Davis, the state senator and former city councilmember from Fort Worth – who last year garnered national fame for her 11-hour filibuster against wide-sweeping abortion legislation. The bill eventually passed the state legislature, but Davis had already made a name for herself, and large PACs like EMILY’s List (a PAC that support pro-choice women across the country) have backed her campaign.
The ramifications of a purple Texas would ripple across the country. Pick up a paper in Dallas or Austin and you may read about how if Texas were a battleground state it would mean the end of the Republican presidency. This may be a little overdramatic, as American political parties have adjusted their constituencies before, as well as the fact that any potential change in Texas’ party allegiance is still a long way off. However, if Republicans in Texas, as in other parts of the country, continue to ignore the changes happening around them – for example last month’s federal court decision striking down the state’s ban on gay marriage – then their support may continue to slip. While early polls suggest an easy victory for Greg Abbott, Wendy Davis’ campaign for governor will be important in shaping how liberal Texans can mobilize and engage with their conservative peers, and it may just be the beginning of further change for the state of bluebonnets and the Alamo.