On BGTX, Wendy Davis, and the future

This has been a pretty busy Christmas break, as far as blog-worthy news has gone, so in order to preserve the small illusion that I’m taking a breather and recharging my batteries, I’m just going to give three quick thoughts on this Observer postmortem of the 2014 election and Battleground Texas, which you really should read.

1. I can’t tell you how stunned and disillusioned I am to read that their strategy for 2014 was a swing voter/crossover strategy, and not the base-building one that it sure sounded like they were going to do, and which was screamingly obvious we needed. I mean, even the most cursory review of election data for the past few cycles should have made this clear. The only semi-optimistic thing I can say about this is that I hope it proves, once and for all and beyond any semblance of a doubt, that nothing else matters in Democratic campaigning until we get our base turnout up. We had a huge leap forward from 2004 to 2008, then regressed a bit in 2012, but at least we made progress in Presidential years. Non-Presidential years have been a flat-lined albatross since 2002. I thought BGTX had figured this ridiculously easy insight out and was working on a plan to combat it. I can only hope they’ve figured it out now.

2. Much of the story is about friction between BGTX and the local and state Democratic parties and other organizations. I can’t speak to any of that – I get why the folks that were here first felt steamrolled, and I get why BGTX thought they could do things better – but I will say this: The story notes that in Travis County, there was a formal agreement between BGTX and the locals to work together. Well, if there was one honest success story in terms of performance in Texas in 2014, it was in Travis County. Here’s some data I’d collected for a post that I may or may not ever get around to finishing, about off-year turnout patterns in the five biggest urban counties:

County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 330,801 272,032 423,275 334,098 358,425 299,255 Dallas 218,496 198,499 196,103 209,001 179,014 206,546 Bexar 133,733 124,129 161,443 131,397 156,144 134,876 Tarrant 195,384 125,416 208,976 123,200 213,812 138,944 Travis 93,524 110,026 95,431 127,803 91,372 155,335 County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 17.64% 14.50% 22.05% 17.42% 17.53% 14.64% Dallas 18.08% 16.43% 17.13% 18.25% 14.83% 17.11% Bexar 15.14% 14.05% 17.88% 14.55% 16.27% 14.06% Tarrant 22.42% 14.39% 22.30% 13.15% 21.37% 13.89% Travis 17.18% 20.22% 15.80% 21.16% 14.00% 23.81%

The numbers in question are (for the top chart) the average vote totals for judicial candidates (*) in each year and for each party (I skipped 2006 because it was such an atypical down year for Republicans), and (for the bottom chart) the percentage of registered voters that each of those totals represents. As you can see, the only county with consistent growth, in terms of total numbers and share of registered voters, is Travis County. The Dallas County miracle is largely the result of the bottoming out of the Republican vote there; the Dem vote has grown somewhat, but not that much, and it backslid from 2010. Harris and Bexar are stuck in the mud, while Tarrant is still catching up to 2002. Whatever happened elsewhere in the state and with the Wendy Davis campaign, what happened in Travis County worked. We should learn from that.

(*) – These totals are from contested races only, for which there are a limited supply in Travis and Tarrant. I used statewide and circuit appeals court races in those counties in addition to the rare contested local judicial election; in Harris and Dallas I used district court races, and in Bexar I used district and county court races.

3. If I see any indication that BGTX plans to direct Texas volunteer effort and/or contributions to other states in 2016, I’m going to be very seriously pissed off. That’s not what we were promised, it’s not what anyone signed up for, and it’s not what we deserve. I don’t want to ever have to discuss this again.

As far as the story about Wendy Davis contemplating her political future, which I have not gotten around to reading yet but which Campos has, I see no reason why she can’t run again, whether it’s for SD10 in 2018 (she’d have as good a shot at it as anyone) or statewide again. Remember when we were all calling Rick Perry “Governor 39%”? Everyone had forgotten about that by the time 2010 rolled around. The public has a very short memory. As for Davis, if she has learned the lessons that should have been learned before this year, she might be a much stronger candidate next time out. Bottom line, she was a really good State Senator who won two tough races and served her district very well, and she’s only 51. I see no reason why she can’t have a second act.

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5 Responses to On BGTX, Wendy Davis, and the future

  1. I just want Davis to go away. She willingly bought in to the crossover strategy because it fit her previous political background.


  2. Jeb says:

    We need to be careful to not overstate Battleground’s contributions in Travis County. Battleground signed an agreement with the Travis County Dems because the local party was operating from a position of strength based on its organization and proven record of successes. The broader complaints of lack of coordination were also true in Travis, and I have yet to see or hear any analysis suggesting that Battleground succeeded in increasing local turnout here.

  3. Carl Whitmarsh says:

    I made a New Year’s resolution to try and not be negative, BUT, I have been surprised at you throughout Charles at how at times you have been an apologist for BGTX. It is a for profit organziation election by election…There is no growth of the party envisioned – why would they want that – it would set up competition they don’t want. It was a snake oil pyramid that unfortunately some made bunches off of and unfortunately thousands of volunteers were misled.

    This is Harris County, just like their is a Bexar, a Tarrant, a Dallas COunty..all with its unique assets. None of us are Travis COunty..they are rightly uniquely unique and have a whle different breed of folk involved – for good or bad. But it becomes ludicrous when you hold up Travis and say whatever works there should work other places – or even can.

    It is going to take a concerted effort over a period of time doing just exactly what Billie Carr, Ronnie Dugger, Mrs. Frankie Randolph, Henry B Gonzalez and others did 60 years ago when they wrested control of party machinery from the SHivercrats…You have to do it one voter at a time, one precinct at a time….intense personal contact with discussion of what is important to the folk. Add in the technology not available 60 years ago and spend resources wisely – and it can be done. But waiting for this white knight to ride in and say he/she has the answer and all will be right in the world i pure unadultered b.s.

    Figures and facts don’t lie and I think the Observer is as close to the truth of the matter as has been gotten to. I only wish more people who know and would not speak would be willing to tell their story and then this nightmare would end sooner. Lot’s of folk have seen the rear of the snake oil salesman or the shade tree preacher as they were ridden out of town. I only hope we can add the leadership of BGTX to that real soon.

  4. asmith says:

    I know there was a ton of friction between BGTX and the Dallas County DP, especially when it came to VAN access and sharing of data. I know some active precinct chairs were ticked when they found out the BGTX was recruiting block captains without their input.

    I felt that our numbers could have been better as well. There were a couple of organizations duplicating efforts when it came to GOTV. But we beat the GOP in mail in ballots this year which hasn’t happened in a long time. I agree that the GOP voters are moving to Collin, Denton, Rockwall or dying out, but they still have a decent base in North and NW Dallas, and other affluent areas of old suburbs.

    I think we can win HD113 in 2016 with a good candidate, and HD 105 and 107 with some rematches.

  5. Mary a Bell Lockhart says:

    It wasn’t really about BGTX vs Texas Democrats. It was a failure to turn out our base. The biggest problem is no media reaching out to our base where they are. We keep expecting them to come to us. Also, remember that the recession of 2008 hit hardest at our base. When people are economically depressed they tend to get politically depressed as well-worried about the day to day survival, moving around, disassociated from following the news and taking action politically. And too many Democrats ran as Republican lite and didn’t run on the Party’s platform which was a good one.

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