The Blue Movement: Battleground Texas striving to turn Texas ele - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

The Blue Movement: Battleground Texas striving to turn Texas elections competitive

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TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The November 2013 election has come and gone, but another group of Texans are already working on the November 2014 election - specifically, they're trying to change the way elections are run, and won, across the state.

Battleground Texas formed in February 2013 to turn the tide in Texas elections - to "turn Texas blue."  A group of Obama campaign alumni started Battleground Texas with the thought that if they can turn Texas blue nationally, with its 38 electoral votes, Republicans will struggle to win presidential elections.

"Our goal is to turn Texas into a battleground state, which means it's to be competitive election after election after election," said Battleground Texas Executive Director Jenn Brown.

Brown is a California native who oversaw the Obama campaign's 130 offices in Ohio in 2012. Battleground Texas operates on what's called the "neighborhood team model." So far, there are only about 20 paid staff members, but 10,000 active volunteers have stepped up since February, phone banking fellow Democrats and getting out in their communities to register voters.

"The volunteers are really in charge of making sure they are the ones who are talking to their neighbors about why it matters, they are the ones who are registering their neighbors to vote and are talking about the impact of it in their community and statewide," said Brown.

Battleground Texas has regional directors in every major part of the state to train volunteers. The idea is that those volunteers will train another set of volunteers, who will train another - and the movement could be unlimited.

To win, though, group leaders believe they need another 20,000 active volunteers reaching out to voters.

Right now, the Republican party is firmly in control of Texas elections. In the May 2012 primaries, about 900,000 more Republicans cast ballots than did Democrats.

Texas hasn't always been a solidly red state, though. Back in the 1970s, those margins were reversed. Even as Democrats still outvoted Republicans in the primaries into the mid-1990s, the state was slowly but surely turning red. The last time Texas voted a Democrat into the White House? Jimmy Carter, in 1976. Into the governor's mansion? That would be Ann Richards, in 1990.

State Senator Kevin Eltife knows why.

"Even years ago when the Democrats were in power, they were conservative Democrats," he said. "Texas is by and large a conservative state."

"To be a Democrat in East Texas can be very challenging," said Kilgore resident and Battleground Texas volunteer Vik Verma.

Verma has volunteered nationally for the Democratic Party during the last three presidential elections. Now, he's turned his sights to East Texas, phone banking to encourage fellow Democrats to join the cause.

"It's not just the 2014 election, which is very important, but it's a long-term movement of trying to do in Texas what has already been done in other states," said Verma.

Battleground Texas looks to Virginia and Colorado as examples of success. Both states voted for George Bush by narrow margins in 2000 and 2004 and for Barack Obama, also by narrow margins, in 2008 and 2012.

"One of the things we have seen in the other states across the country is that with investment over a long period of time, getting the new people registered, making sure people know exactly how to vote and where, you really can change elections in a state," Brown said.

But Texas may be a harder sell. Voters have convincingly chosen Republicans at the presidential level over those same four elections. And the group is already having a hard time persuading some Texas voters.

"I'm registering voters today," said one Battleground Texas volunteer at a recent tailgate in Fort Worth before a football game between TCU and the University of Texas. "Are you registered to vote?"

"For Wendy?" one man asked.

"No," said the volunteer. "Just in general."

"You've got a Wendy Davis sticker right there," the man pointed out.

"I do, but I'm registering everyone today," the volunteer said.

"Alright, I'm not registering to vote for her [Davis]," said a second man, before he registered to vote.

We asked Battleground Texas if their efforts might backfire and prove more beneficial to Republicans than Democrats.

"Voter Registration in Texas is non-partisan so you have to register anyone who wants to," Brown said. "Sometimes there's people who are Republicans who want to register to vote and we welcome that, we welcome more people voting."

But Republicans are already warning voters what a blue Texas will look like, in online videos and through groups like Keep Texas Red.

"I tell people this: If the Republicans don't fix things our way with our conservative philosophy, you're not going to like the way the next party fixes them," said Senator Eltife.

Eltife says he sees Battleground Texas as healthy competition, and that while he's not concerned that statewide elections will turn blue anytime soon, the national implications do bother him a great deal.

"If we don't get our act together in Washington as Republicans, it's going to be a long time before we get the presidency back," he said.

Battleground Texas thinks they can win for two reasons. First, Texas is now a minority-majority state, and they believe many of those minorities - particularly Latinos - will vote Democratic.

And in 2012, only 58.6 percent of registered voters and only 43.7 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, and Battleground Texas believes Democrats will win when those numbers rise.

"We know that it is a big task," said Brown. "We know that it will take some time, but we also know there are so many unregistered voters in this state, there are so many people who are already registered, that if they just turn out to vote we can do it."

Their first goal is to elect Wendy Davis as Texas Governor in 2014, but they say their efforts will take them well past 2014, until 2016, 2018, and maybe even 2020.

"What we're working at is continuing to make progress, to a point where, you know, every election in this state at the very least is considered competitive. That's where we need to be," Verma said. "We're still early in the process. We're still in our first year, so we've got a lot of work to do, but it's been really amazing to see. I've never seen more excitement on the Democratic side in my time living here than I do right now."

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