GRAND PRAIRIE — Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders helped rally Texas Democrats on Thursday as the party seeks to show a unified front against President Donald Trump.

The rally in this Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, part of a nationwide unity tour, also came as new leadership takes over the Democratic National Committee, which went through a shakeup during the 2016 presidential race. Two months ago, the committee elected Tom Perez, the former U.S. labor secretary, to be its chair after a razor-thin race against the Sanders-supported Keith Ellison. 

Neither Ellison nor Perez was on hand Thursday — the DNC instead sent vice chairman Michael Blake — but Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, took the opportunity to urge Democrats to be bolder on both policy and politics.

“We must fight to ensure that the Democratic Party becomes a 50-state party, that we do not turn our backs in any area of the country," Sanders said, scoffing at people who claim red states like Texas are out of reach for Democrats. "When you’ve got people working longer hours for lower wages, when you’ve got right-wing governors attempting to throw people off of health insurance and tax breaks for billionaires, don’t tell me we cannot win in each and every state of this country, including in the great state of Texas."

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Texas Democrats are energized after the 2016 presidential election gave the state its closest race in two decades — Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, by 9 percentage points here. Three traditionally conservative congressional districts in Texas also went for Clinton, giving Democrats potential new pick-up opportunities in 2018.

"Mark my words: 2018 will be the best midterm of our lives, but it won't be easy," said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. "We cannot take on the Trump agenda divided. Too much is at stake." 

There was otherwise little talk of Texas' role in the future of the party. Blake, a member of the New York State Assembly, urged Texas Democrats to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott in 2018, though it is the 2018 U.S. Senate race — in which Republican Ted Cruz is up for re-election — that has so far drawn the most interest. 

Texas Republicans are deeply skeptical the state's Democrats will make inroads in 2018, even after the narrower-than-usual presidential race in the state. Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler said in a statement Thursday that Texas Democrats' embrace of Sanders, a self-identified socialist, “will only push them further towards irrelevancy in our conservative state."

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