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Some of the Democrats’ biggest regrets about the 2020 Texas election were about the organization. It wasn’t consistent throughout the cycle – and usually isn’t in any cycle. It was supplanted by TV commercials at the end. And that has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, with the backing of the state’s most prominent Democrats, two former congressional candidates are trying to turn those regrets into action.
The contestants, Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel, are launching a new nonprofit called Ground Game Texas that will focus on organizing year round on progressive issues, with the aim of filling what they see as a void. statewide for their party. The group is kicking off with a $ 1 million investment from Register2Vote, a national nonprofit the two are already helping run.
“There are no years of rest and there are no cycles of rest, and people have to stay engaged all year round,” Siegel said in an interview, adding that there are ” sort of a tendency among Democratic activists “to get involved only during presidential election years or high-profile ballot contests like the 2018 US Senate race.” The Republican Party doesn’t do that. They never stop.
Ground Game Texas will organize Texans around issues rather than candidates, with a focus on what Siegel and Oliver call “workers, wages and the grass” – issues such as raising the minimum wage and legalizations of marijuana that do good polls but are not taken into account by Republican policymakers in the state. A February poll from the University of Texas / Texas Tribune found that 60% of registered voters in Texas support legalizing a certain amount of all-purpose marijuana. A similar number in April expressed support for increasing the federal minimum wage.
The group expects to support local voting initiatives, which often involve a lot of fieldwork, such as collecting signatures for petitions to put issues on a ballot. Siegel said he had already had conversations about proposals in 10 cities – places like Mission, Bedford and Elgin. The main ideas there, he said, are the decriminalization of marijuana and the creation of funds for climate jobs.
Ground Game Texas begins at a time when Democrats across the state are looking to capitalize on their party’s mobilization around the last legislative session, which ended late last month after House Democrats staged a walkout that killed the Republicans’ priority election bill. But Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to bring him back in a special session that has yet to be scheduled, and Democrats are working to channel the energy of their troops in the meantime.
On Tuesday, the state’s Democratic Party launched Project Texas, a post-legislative voter registration campaign that aims to register nearly 2 million new voters who would be Democrats. The initiative begins with a pilot phase of $ 1.7 million.
Likewise, the Ground Game Texas launch video urges progressives to fight “the most conservative Texas legislative session in recent history.”
Ground Game Texas is launched with the support of three of Texas’ best-known Democrats: Julián Castro, Wendy Davis and Beto O’Rourke, who said in a statement that the new group “will meet the Texans where they are to listen to. them on the issues that matter most. And it starts with an advisory board that includes Davis; James Talarico of Round Rock and Jasmine Crockett of Dallas; and longtime party pillars such as former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower and AFL-CIO Texas President Rick Levy.
The advisory board also includes Democrats who ran in nationally targeted districts last year and suffered some of the toughest losses, such as Candace Valenzuela, who narrowly lost to U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne. , R-Irving.
Oliver and Siegel both have first-hand experience of the challenges Democrats faced in the last election cycle. They were both surprisingly good when they faced off against the Republican incumbents in 2018 – Oliver against US Rep. Roger Williams from Austin and Siegel against Rep. Michael McCaul from Austin. In 2020, the two ran again, only to lose by larger margins.
In 2020, both garnered support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which named them in its Red to Blue program for up-and-coming challengers. But they remain skeptical about the committee’s priorities.
“[The DCCC] doesn’t really invest in the kind of infrastructure building that Mike and I have done in our countryside, ”Oliver said. “This strategy is so different between the DC strategy and the Texas strategy. … DC strategy doesn’t really work here in Texas, so we want to run all year round.
The DCCC announced Monday that it is including Texas in a nationwide initial seven-figure investment in the organization on the ground, calling it “the first organizational investment of this magnitude and scope in the history of the DCCC ”. The committee said it would target areas of Texas such as Dallas, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley, where Democrats notably underperformed last year.
For 2020 candidates like Siegel and Oliver, there has also been the Democratic shutdown of the in-person campaign due to the pandemic. Siegel said having his “field program on the sidelines starting in March was just a huge loss.”
The freeze on in-person canvassing was cited in a state autopsy by the Democratic Party of the 2020 elections, which said it “was hurting our game on the ground.”
At the top of the list, Joe Biden lost the state by 6 percentage points – the smallest margin of defeat for a Democratic presidential candidate this century, but still disappointing given the party’s ambitions. The party had hoped to win several seats in Congress and topple Texas House, but also failed to meet those goals.
Problem-based organizational prioritization is nothing new to Texas Democrats, although Oliver and Siegel hope they can make it work at the state level in a way that has never happened before. . The Texas Organizing Project, for example, has become a force in program-based campaigns, though its efforts are limited to the state’s three largest metropolitan areas: Harris, Bexar, and Dallas counties.