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Texas Dems announce largest-ever voter drive in 2020 flip effort

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Angela Orr Heath,Myla Senn
Democratic Party Precinct Chairs Angela Orr Heath, right, and Myla Senn prepare to walk a neighborhood during for a voter registration drive in Garland, Texas, on Jan. 18, 2020.   -   Copyright  LM Otero AP
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WASHINGTON — The Texas Democratic Party announced Monday that it is launching the largest voter registration campaign in its history, building up a team of organizers to try to bring millions of new voters into the party ahead of the November election.

Texas Democrats say they have identified nearly 2.6 million people who would vote Democratic if they were registered. The state party says they are using money from the Democratic National Committee to launch an organizing team focused on registering minorities in rural and suburban areas, groups that have often been underrepresented in Texas' electorate.

"We know what works in one part of Texas is not necessarily going to work in another part of Texas," said Olivia Stitilis, who was recently hired as the state party's organizing director, highlighting her plan to tailor outreach strategies to different communities of could-be voters.

Stitilis said part of the party's outreach strategy will focus on making sure volunteers become more ingrained in different communitiesthroughout Texas — from Asian Americans in the growing suburbs to Latinos in the Rio Grande Valley — and will try to ensure that Texas Democrats are "building relationships with community gatekeepers" who can help drive up registration and boost turn out at the polls.

The state party said it had never started outreach to this many voters this early in an election cycle. The DNC's investment — more than triple what it gave the state in 2016 — allowed them to jump-start their efforts.

"It's basically night and day," state party spokesperson Abhi Rahman said of the DNC's investment. "This is the first time in history that the Texas Democrats are running an organization at this scale."

In February, the DNC announced it was adding Texas to its list of battleground states it's targeting in2020, making the the state's Democrats eligible for multimillion dollar investments from the party.

Democratic Party Precinct Chairs Angela Orr Heath, right, and Myla Senn prepare to walk a neighborhood during for a voter registration drive in Garland, Texas, on Jan. 18, 2020.
Democratic Party Precinct Chairs Angela Orr Heath, right, and Myla Senn prepare to walk a neighborhood during for a voter registration drive in Garland, Texas, on Jan. 18, 2020.LM Otero

"The DNC is making historic, early investments to build strong, multiple pathways for our eventual nominee to win in November and support Democrats at every level of the ballot," DNC Chair Tom Perez said in announcing the placement of Texas on the list.

Part of the DNC's program is aimed at increasing the number of possible pathways to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Democrats, who have long dreamed of turning delegate-rich Texas blue, argue that the state's rapidly growing and diversifying electorate could make 2020 the year for that to happen.

"If you win Texas, Donald Trump can't win the election," said Rahman. "The year that is changing is now — it's 2020. This is the year that demographics finally meets destiny."

Texas has 38 Electoral College votes, second only to California. Hillary Clinton lost Texas to Donald Trump by roughly 800,00 votes, or about 9 percent of the total votes cast in the state, in 2016. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, meanwhile, came within 3 percentage points of unseating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections.

But despite their ambitious goals, Texas Democrats have a steep hill to climb to flip the state blue in 2020.

The party has slowly chipped away at the Republican's grasp on the state over the past few years, but Texas is still fairly red. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Texas as "likely Republican" in the 2020 general election.

And while the DNC's money will allow Texas Democrats to have a robust operation in the state, the Republican National Committee and Trump's reelection campaign pulled in nearly half a billion dollars in 2019 and will be prepared to counteract any ground Democrats hope to gain.