Skip navigation.
The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

A Historic Shift

Every story you may have heard about the Texas Democratic Primary focused on the events of the day itself – the massive turnout and overflowing caucus rooms - or the period following the primary, in which results were tabulated, haggled over, checked, and rechecked. But the story you haven't heard is how the immense turnout will affect the general election and, by extension, Texas' political future. The potential for the primary turnout to stretch meaningfully across decades is immense, but those changes will be the result of infrastructural capability and grassroots political organization.

The potential meaning of the turnout is a demand on Democrats statewide. The high turnout and increased interest produced a valuable political commodity: information. This information includes the names and addresses of every primary voter and even more detailed information - phone numbers, email, and presidential candidate preference - of all 1 million people that caucused once the polls closed on March 4.

In addition, the presidential campaigns built primary efforts structured towards capturing the contact information of as many supporters as possible. The campaigns engaged these people, many of whom had never voted in primaries or even general elections before, and trained them to phonebank, blockwalk, and mobilize as precinct captains. The Texas Democratic Party has also been capturing the attention of grassroots veterans and the newly inspired activists, communicating regularly and engaging in training sessions across the state.

This resulted in a corps of volunteers that reached an enormous magnitude in a short time. Once the primary is over and the nominee is decided, these volunteers will be identified and available for mobilization for the general election.

"Ten years ago, a lot of this would have been lost," says Bill Brannon, Field Director for the Democratic National Committee and the Texas Democratic Party, "but these days we have the tools and the technology to handle it. It gives you a greater group to draw on, a hugely expanded voter base. It is a major starting point that increases your ability to raise money and increase organization, but it is a starting point, not a finishing point."

Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Hector Nieto agrees. "Increased turnout will have effects up and down the ballot. All these brand new voters are identified and the TDP will make sure we communicate with them before the November elections."

When Nieto says they are 'identified', he is referring to a very specific aspect of the information collected during a primary. When a candidate runs for office, one of the main questions the candidate must answer concerns the voters in the district - are they conservative or liberal, are they Democrats or Republicans? The candidate is charged with figuring out who lives in the district and why they vote the way they do.

A resource that candidate can draw on is the list of primary voters provided by the state and county governments. This list contains information not only on who voted in previous general elections, but also who voted in previous primary elections and which party primary they voted in. This information is organized and made available to activists and organizations all over Texas via the Texas Democratic Party’s Voter Activation Network.

Thus a Democratic candidate can examine primary voter history and determine household targets for persuasive contact (mixed voting histories), voters that the candidate can mobilize on Election Day (consistent Democratic primary voting), or households the candidate may want to avoid entirely (voters that have voted in every Republican primary since Eisenhower).

Democratic organizer Glen Maxey asserts that the cost for electing Democrats has been decreased by the turnout. "Typically, the costs for a Democratic candidate in a general election are informed by the fact that the candidate must identify a huge group of general election voters with no primary history. In the course of an election, a candidate may send four or five pieces of mail to a household that has no primary history."

But the dynamic has shifted thanks to the presidential campaigns. "Now the unidentified pool is manageable enough and the number of volunteers that were trained by presidential campaigns is so large, a candidate can have live human beings in these neighborhoods to identify that smaller pool of voters. And we've never had a pool of volunteers so large," Maxey says. "We have an opportunity to take this sea of precinct convention volunteers and engage them as party volunteers."

In the past, statewide candidates have had to pay volunteers to phonebank and blockwalk once the region’s regular Democratic volunteers were exhausted. Now the pool of volunteers is greatly expanded, potentially cutting down on the field and outreach costs of campaigns.

Democratic candidates and the Texas Democratic Party both stand to benefit from the primary. "When you have turnout of that magnitude, it enhances all your other efforts - fund raising, general election targeting. We have not had a base this good to work from after a primary in many years," says Matt Angle, Democratic strategist and director of the Lone Star Project.

Perception is important. In past election cycles I spoke with people who would regularly tell me that they were "closet Democrats" who feared a backlash from friends, neighbors, and customers if they were openly Democratic. Now they are enthusiastically canvassing their neighborhoods.

"People that may have only been willing to quietly vote for Democrats come November are now willing to go out in public with signs and vote in the primary," said Angle. "The peer re-enforcement in Dallas and Harris Counties and some of these other counties - people seeing other people in their neighborhoods vote Democratic - allowed people to finally articulate why they are Democrats. People in Dallas County were gratified to find out there were other Democrats in their neighborhood."

The Texas Democratic Party and grassroots activists have spent the last several years building the infrastructure that enabled this primary to be a success. The presidential campaigns gained from that infrastructure and have now helped Texas Democrats catch the proverbial lightning in a bottle. The prevalent opinion seems to be that Texas Democrats are prepared to make the most of it, in this election cycle and in the future.

(Originally published by Quorum Report. Reproduced with permission.)

Convention Deadlock

In years past when there was a deadlock between 2 candidates at a political convention, the delegates sometimes turned to a "Dark Horse". I believe the last time this happened was at the Republican convention of 1940, when Wendell Willkie became the candidate. Could it happen at the Democratic Convention in Denver? I believe John Edwards still has some delegates pledged to him and never released. Perhaps we should take another look. Think of it! A White Male from the South!

I just can't fathom it

But we're in that year of the unfathomable, so who knows.

Syndicate content