More than three months after Republicans shellacked Democrats at the polls, Battleground Texas – the group aiming to turn bright-red Texas into some shade of blue – is staying optimistic.
“I’m very hopeful about the future, despite what some of the press critics and others say,” Jeremy Bird, the group’s senior adviser and the former national field director for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, said Saturday. “There is a lot to learn about things we did incredibly well and things we didn't do well."
Bird spoke to more than 100 volunteers at Battleground Texas' "Neighborhood Team Summit,” a daylong training and organizing event at Travis High School in Austin, where the group hashed out its plans for 2015 and beyond.
This year's focus is three-pronged: developing leaders by holding regular training sessions; getting involved in local races, be they for school board or city council; and registering new voters in a state where few people turnout for elections.
“If everybody in Texas voted today, Democrats would win,” Bird said.
The group’s leaders did not mince words about how Democrats performed last November.
“We got the shit kicked out of us,” said Jenn Brown, the executive director.
No statewide Democrat came close to toppling a Republican opponent. That included former sate Sen. Wendy Davis, who entered the governor's race with more national visibility than any Texas Democrat in recent memory. With Battleground Texas as her field operation, Davis earned a smaller percentage of the vote — and fewer votes total — than former Houston Mayor Bill White, the party’s gubernatorial nominee in 2010.
Battleground Texas leaders said they are considering what worked and what didn’t following the election, but at the one session of Saturday’s event open to the press, they spoke mostly of what they considered accomplishments.
The group helped recruit more than 33,000 Democratic volunteers and register more than 97,000 Texans to vote – both more than expected, Brown said — and built a sophisticated digital program that could bring in more voters.
“Regardless of the outcome of the election, amazing, amazing things happened on a scale that I never could have dreamed possible,” she said. Still, nearly 300,000 fewer Texans cast ballots in 2014 compared to 2010.
On Saturday, the group's members did not identify any specific missteps from last election cycle. But they acknowledged the gargantuan difficulties of shaking up Texas' political status quo, saying they weren't helped by redistricting and state restrictions on voter drives. Battleground Texas emphasized the long-term nature of its goal – its initial pitch before it got seriously involved in the Davis campaign.
“We are going to change this state, and it is going to take time,” said Daniel Lucio, a field director. “Nobody said this was going to be easy.”