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Rep. Castro, Jeremy Bird on How Latino Voters Can Turn Texas Blue

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joaquin castroSince the 2012 election, a key political topic has been the Latino vote and how the GOP’s inability to court it could doom them in future elections.  Texas is a crucial factor in this calculation, as a longtime red state that saw a 38% growth in eligible Latino voters between 2000-2010 and whose electorate is now almost one-third Latino.  By the next presidential election, roughly 900,000 Texas Latinos are expected to enter the electorate; by 2020, between 45 and 48% of the state’s population could be Latino.  That makes it more a question of when, not if, Texas will turn blue—an event that would mean that “the Republican Party would cease to exist.  We would become like the Whig Party,” according to Texas’ new freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R).

Today, the Center for American Progress held a panel to discuss Texas’ gradual tilt left, with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX), former National Field Director of Obama for America Jeremy Bird, Washington Director of PowerPac.org Julie Martinez Ortega, and Senior Fellow at CAP Action Fund Ruy Texeira.  The group discussed what Texas’ natural demographics meant for the state, and what organizers could do to help move the state left.

Rep. Castro, the twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who gave the keynote address at last year’s Democratic National Convention, noted that one reason he is hopeful that Texas will turn blue is because “Republicans in Texas have gone off the rails.”  He called Sen. Ted Cruz “badly out of step and out of touch” with Texas, saying that the Senator’s Tea Party roots means that what he believes and represents is not in sync with a state that is now almost 50% minority.

Castro also called for a better Democratic infrastructure to be built in Texas, so that the Party could identify future leaders at the city council and county election level, and use that groundwork to build a pipeline up to statewide office.  He decried the practice of letting county elections go uncontested just because a county was 50 or 60% Republican—“no county is 100% Republican,” he said.  “We’ve got to build up and out.”

Jeremy Bird of Obama for America agreed, noting the large gap between eligible minority voters and actual voters.  Texas has one of the lowest voting rates in the nation, and if Texas Latinos voted at the same rate as Latinos in California, Arizona, and many other states, Texas would already be a swing state.  But there remain 1.5 million unregistered Latinos in Texas, and only 25% of them in the last election reported being contacted by a campaign, compared to 65% of Latino voters in Colorado reporting their contact with a campaign.

“Too many campaigns are not reaching out to Latino voters,” Bird said.  “We’re leaving votes on the table.”

Part of the problem is Texas’ longtime status as a solid red state, which has left the Democratic Party there out of practice with the hard-charging kind of campaigns that it takes to turn such a huge state blue.  As Rep. Castro noted, too many down-ballot local races are ignored, meaning that candidates are not groomed to eventually run for higher positions.  And as Jeremy Bird said, grassroots voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts must grow more fierce and more urgent.

“To make Texas a battleground state,” he said, “you need to treat it like a battleground state.”

Ultimately, as Rep. Castro said, what happens in Texas has national implications, in more ways than one.  Calling Texas “a national brain trust” for Republicans, he noted that the last Republican president—George W. Bush—came from Texas, and many of his staff members, advisors, and donors have since moved back.  Because Texas is not yet battleground, these Republican organizers (like Karl Rove) have had the luxury of looking outward and working to turn the rest of American more Republican.  But in eight to twelve years, Castro predicted, these Texas Republicans will have to start watching their own state, and eventually serve as the GOP’s last line of defense, for a state quickly turning blue.