In a matter of days, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis has become a household name, and is being lauded for her courageous stance against the entrenched Republican Party of Texas in its war on women. Accompanied by thousands of Texas activists who were emboldened by her filibuster, Senator Davis has become the face of what some are calling an uprising in Texas. The media blitz that has followed the long night of filibustering has fanned a spark, and today the Texas Democratic Party is on fire. But you know all this already. The question is, what do we do with this energy and how can we channel it into the ballot boxes all across my home state?
Senator Davis is the best situated person in the state to become the Texans’ Democratic standard bearer and put a stop to the Republican dominance at the top of the 2014 ticket. As the Democratic candidate for governor, Senator Davis could draw strong support from the state’s key untapped constituencies such as women, young voters, Blacks, Mexican Americans, and Asians. By inspiring and engaging what we call the Texas New Majority, Senator Davis could become Governor Davis in 2014. Here is how.
RUN A SERIOUS GOTV PROGRAM THAT TARGETS VOTERS OF COLOR AND URBAN WHITES
Last month when PAC+ released findings from its poll on Texas Mexican Americans registered to vote, I was joined by Senator Davis and Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (“TMF”) at our press conference in Austin. In her remarks that morning, Senator Davis shared her own 2012 victory as a real life example of my assertion that by engaging Voters of Color and disengaged progressive Whites, especially those found in the major Texas cities, Democratic and progressive candidates can create electoral victories. Specifically, Senator Davis noted that in her State Senate District (SD10) her campaign’s active inclusion of voters of color, previously not considered worthy of engagement, resulted in her outperforming President Obama in SD10. That’s right. Senator Davis, champion of women’s health care and pink sneaker wearing feminist champion, won more votes (51%) than President Obama did (45.4%) within her District.
Statewide, President Obama won only 41% of the vote. Many have attributed his above average performance in SD10 to the impressive turnout effort of the Davis for Senate campaign that focused on Voters of Color and progressive Whites, especially White women.
It’s important to note that Davis’s district, SD10, is encompassed completely within Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth, one of the state’s larger cities. Tarrant County has been referred to as a bellwether county for the state of Texas. As recently as September, 2012, Nate Silver noted that Non-Hispanic Whites still constitute a slim majority in Tarrant County, which he asserts helps make it a statewide bellwether. He goes on to state that “Tarrant County exactly matched the statewide vote in 2008, and was just 1 percentage point more Republican in both 2004 and 2000.”
With respect to the applicability or generalizability of Senator Davis’ 2012 campaign with Tarrant County, it may actually be less of a lift for her to win statewide from a demographic perspective. This is because more of Tarrant County’s voters are White and fewer are Latino than the rest of the state and you know how much Latinos are growing as a share of the electorate and how much they support Democratic candidates in Texas. Tarrant County’s SD10 citizen voting age population is majority White (53%), 18% Black, 25% Latino, and 5% Asian or other races. Not surprisingly, the population of people who actually cast ballots in 2012 is even more White, with Whites comprising 68%, Blacks 21%, Hispanics 9%, and Asians and other races 3% of the total votes cast. Compare this to the state overall, where Whites comprise 60% of the electorate, Blacks 16%, and Latinos 22%, and you see why if she can win in Tarrant, she could win statewide under more favorable demographic conditions. Of course, it’s more appropriate to compare SD10’s share of actual voters by race to the statewide numbers. We don’t have 2012 exit poll numbers available, but here are the numbers from 2008, which provide us with a conservative point of comparison. As you can see in the table below, statewide, Texas has fewer White voters casting ballots and significantly more Latinos.
If Senator Davis can win even in a district with less favorable demographics than the state overall, this means that she has a serious chance to be the first Democratic governor in two decades. Twenty years have passed since Ann Richards governed the great State of Texas, and it appears that another daughter of Texas is poised to end the Republican’s reign.
RUNNING DAVIS STATEWIDE
Here is one scenario under which Senator Davis could turn Texas Blue in 2014.
• If each race or ethnic group comprises the same share of the electorate as they did in the last midterm election that also coincided with the governor’s race (2010), and
• If each race or ethnic group statewide voted for the Democratic candidate (Wendy Davis) at the same rate that her constituents voted for her in 2012, then
Wendy Davis would win 49.2% of the vote, just shy of a victory.
How would she push this number safely into the 50%+ range?
First, we should keep in mind that the Latino population growth is happening whether we do anything to take advantage of it or not. That means that all things being equal, we can assume some small, but not politically insignificant at such close margins, increase in the Latino share of the vote merely due to Latino population growth relative to the growth of the other races (Latinos grew from 15% of the voters in 2006 to 17% in 2010, for example).
Beyond just waiting for nature to take its course, we could invest heavily in Latino voters in the five regions of the state that hold the majority of the eligible Latino voters: San Antonio, Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, Houston, and Dallas/Fort Worth. By increasing the share of total voters to the levels seen during general elections instead of midterm elections, Wendy Davis would win with 50.3% of the vote. If we also convinced more Mexican Americans to vote their interest and choose Democrat Wendy Davis over Republican Rick Perry (who refuses to accept federal funds to provide your nephew with health care coverage) or Republican Greg Abbott (who is forcing you to show ID at the polls, disproportionately excluding Mexican Americans from voting) by just 2 percentage points, she’d win with 50.7% of the vote. Groups with deep experience within the Texas Mexican American community such as Texas Organizing Project (TOP), PresentePAC+, or the blossoming Southwest Workers Union of San Antonio would be well situated to take their existing programs in the Mexican American communities to scale.
Black voters have long been the backbone of the Democratic Party in Texas, whether the party has wanted to admit it or not. They perform extremely well and can always be counted on to not only turn out but to choose the Democratic candidate. In 2010 they comprised 13% of the voters in Texas, but they comprised 16% in 2012. If we could get them to turn out just 2 points higher for the 2014 midterms than they did in 2010, this would increase Wendy Davis’ share of the vote to 52%. In 2012, the NAACP added more than 400,000 voters to the rolls across the country (100,000 in Florida alone), and that kind of effort in Texas could make a huge difference.
The White vote has been an albatross around Democrats’ necks in Texas for years. While there is much to be done to reverse this trend, a Davis victory cannot require a wholesale revamping of the state’s White electorate. What it would require though, is a significant increase in the White vote share that goes to the Democratic candidate. There are a few reasons to think that this is not impossible.
First, one need only look at polling data from November, 2012 of the seven most populated counties in Texas to understand that urban Whites do not behave like their non-urban counterparts when it comes to voting for Democrats. We know that in 2008, President Obama won only 26% of the White vote in Texas. But among the Whites in the Texas urban centers, he won 34% of their votes in 2012. While President Obama’s performance dropped precipitously among Whites nationwide, he managed to hold if not increase his standing, with these White Texan urban dwellers.
At present, there is no serious program in place to engage these voters or to corral them into the voting booths on election day. A serious and targeted, yet not unwieldy GOTV effort here could have a tremendously positive impact on a Davis gubernatorial race. Such an effort would buttress Davis’ natural appeal to these populations in much the same way that her campaign did within SD10 and possibly even allow her to come closer to Ann Richard’s margin with White voters (40%) than she already has in her own Senate district. If we assume a one point increase among White voters beyond Davis’ share she’s garnered in her home district, this would increase her share of the votes to 52.6%. A group with experience organizing swing White voters in places like Iowa and Ohio such as Battleground Texas could be well suited to this work.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
The Candidate. Beyond just assessing the numbers, one must consider the qualitative difference between Wendy Davis and the most recent Democratic nominee for governor, Bill White. Davis is significantly more charismatic, and she is a believer in the importance of engaging Voters of Color, both of which would increase her ability to turn out voters and pick off independents and even some Republican women. She’s won under difficult conditions and has demonstrated the intelligence and tenacity required to prevail in a hard fight.
Fundraising. In light of her meteoric rise to the national stage this week, Davis’ fundraising capacity is significantly higher than that of Bill White, who self-financed much of his campaign, ultimately raising approximately $26 million to Perry’s $39 million. It is not inconceivable that Davis could come close to raising money nationally at a rate similar to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who raised $42 million for her Senate race last year. It’s worth noting that Texas is the Wild West when it comes to campaign finance laws, and there are no limits on the increments of funds she could raise. This would equip her with funds in the range of winning statewide candidates in Texas.
The word on the street is that Texas AG Greg Abbott plans to challenge Perry if he doesn’t step aside. Such a battle would drain the Republicans of significant funds, while Davis spends her time fundraising for the general election (although Perry may in fact decide to opt out). It would also mean that they would likely spend the primary period trying to out-conservative one another. Our recent polling showed that Abbot has very low name recognition among Latino registered voters and it is likely that the same is true among voters of all races throughout the state. If Abbott is the nominee, he will have to spend heavily to introduce himself to Texans, at least to the same degree as Davis, if not more so.
Timing. Last, and perhaps most importantly, Davis has the benefit of timing. If she can ride the Texan Democratic Party “uprising” that is cresting at this particular moment in time, which she has become the face of, she could conceivably turn out many, many more Democratic voters who have been sitting out election after election for two decades.
What could possibly make us even more optimistic about Wendy Davis’ chances? Adding a strong and inspiring Mexican American candidate to her statewide ticket. We already know that George P. Bush will be running for Texas Land Commissioner in 2014. Why let him walk into that office without a fight? And who better to counter the suave, silver spoon raised, Spanish speaking Bush than a sincere, former high school football player from a working class San Antonio neighborhood, Spanish speaking Trey Martinez Fischer “TMF”? After four terms in the Texas State House and having chaired the Mexican American Legislative Caucus during its legal and political battle to protect and promote voting rights for Tejanos, TMF is poised to take his fighting stance all the way to statewide office by drawing distinctions between Little George and himself. His political philosophy and style complement that of Senator Davis; They each manage to maintain the scrappy fighter elements that they used to transcend their humble and challenging beginnings yet have packaged themselves as seriously sophisticated legislators. Adding TMF to the ticket allows for even more possibilities to increase the Wendy Davis margin and to position a social justice champion Latino for the governor’s office post-Davis.
I’ll be sharing more in the days ahead about a Davis run for governor and how Davis- TMF statewide ticket could turbo charge the Texas Democrats. Stay tuned for more and feel free to share your thoughts with me in the meantime.