The last Democratic presidential nominee to seriously campaign in Texas in a general election was a Clinton. But it's been nearly two decades since President Bill Clinton stormed through Fort Worth's Sundance Square for a late-September campaign rally.
His wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, finds a totally different Texas as she embarks on her own presidential run — a Republican-dominated state relegated to the backwater of Democratic campaign blitzes.
National Democrats aren't deluding themselves into thinking they have a real chance here in 2016, and Republicans are not concerned about losing the state to Clinton or anyone else. “We think we’re positioned really well, although we’re not taking anything for granted,” said Texas GOP Executive Director Beth Cubriel.“We will remain the dominant party.”
Even still, Texas is likely to play a significant role in the Democratic front-runner’s presidential bid, and Clinton could return the favor. Texas Democrats say the Clintons' strong connection to the state — which dates back to the couple's work on George McGovern's unsuccessful 1972 presidential campaign — could spur top-dollar donations and provide better political coattails for down-ballot candidates than past Democratic standard-bearers.
Here's a look at why Clinton needs Texas, and why Texas Democrats need her back:
1. Clinton needs the money.
Despite its red reputation, Texas is not just for Republican donors. In a state as large and wealthy as Texas, there are still plenty of politically engaged donors who invest in national Democratic causes.
Case in point: President Obama raised over $15 million from Texas donors in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In that campaign, more than 30 Texas bundlers each raised at least $100,000 for the president’s re-election.
If anything, the money chase here is an outlet for Democratic activism for a party with grim political prospects. Holding sway over the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court — whose justices are appointed by the president — is a particular motivator.
“Texas Democrats want to keep the White House, and there’s so many different reasons for that,” said Dallas Democratic fundraiser Cappy McGarr. “The Supreme Court is one of them."
Democratic fundraising is a statewide effort here, but it's centered in major metropolitan areas. Top Texas donors and fundraisers to Democrats include Houstonians Steve and Amber Mostyn, Kirk Rudy of Austin, Marc Stanley of Dallas and Henry Muñoz of San Antonio. Clinton and her team will likely be making the case to these Democrats in the coming months.
"It’s so early in the cycle," said Michael Li, a Democratic bundler in Texas. "She’s clearly the front-runner, but these are people that expect the case to be made to them. They don’t randomly jump in."
2. She could resuscitate Texas' Democratic farm teams.
Beyond the presidency, Democrats are betting on gains in the U.S. House in 2016. They've got nowhere to go, they say, but up.
And the notion of a Clinton atop the ticket is a recruitment pitch Democrats are making to would-be congressional challengers across the country.
Democrats hope that in the long term, having Clintons back in the White House could nurse the party infrastructure in red states like Texas. The Clintons are known for their willingness to help loyalists, even at the lowest levels of public office. The hope? Their engagement will build Democratic state parties in hostile territory in order to better position the party for future rounds of redistricting.
"The possibility that we won't regress is certainly attractive," said Democratic consultant Jason Stanford.
3. Clinton's a safe bet to boost Hispanic turnout.
Much of Clinton's Texas appeal is among a particular demographic: Hispanics. In her 2008 Texas presidential primary against Obama, she outpaced him by a 2-to-1 margin among Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center. Her narrow primary victory here was a highlight of a mostly disappointing presidential bid.
That seat, Texas’s 23rd District, is 61 percent Hispanic – and is considered a swing district. Beyond pure demographics, a Clinton win alone could benefit Gallego. In presidential election years, the winner of the 23rd District was a candidate from the same party as the presidential victor.
Another race with a small semblance of promise for Democrats is in the 27th Congressional District. Former Democratic state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. is mulling a campaign against Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, who's facing legal troubles. That district is 44 percent Hispanic, but is a far more difficult climb for Democrats.
4. Castro times two
Texas Democrats are well aware that San Antonio’s twin politicians, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, are potential vice presidential ticket picks. They're young, ambitious, Hispanic and seen as rising stars who could widen Clinton's appeal.
“A Castro on the ticket would have a huge impact,” said Stanford, who has worked for both Castro brothers in the past. "People who are talking about a Julián ticket aren’t just playing fantasy baseball. This is a real idea."
McGarr even floated the notion that having either Castro brother as a vice presidential nominee could put the state in play for Democrats — a highly debatable notion.
“Every state, of course, is in play, depending on who’s on the ticket,” he said. “If there’s a Texan on the ticket, if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination ... I can think of at least two great Texans who should be on the ticket.”
Disclosure: Kirk Rudy is a donor to The Texas Tribune. Steve and Amber Mostyn were major donors to the Tribune in 2010. Cappy McGarr was a donor in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.