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Texas Dems want to flip the state. Their strategy is to focus on local races.

 Attendees to the 2022 Texas Democratic Party biennial convention in Dallas greet each other during the first day of the meetup.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Attendees to the 2022 Texas Democratic Party biennial convention in Dallas greet each other during the first day of the meetup.

Texas Democrats have kicked off their biennial convention in Dallas, and the focus of the first day was giving local campaigns resources to win in November.

Throughout most of Thursday, attendees heard from experts on fundraising, election data and field work. The training sessions were led by the National Democratic Training Committee.

Anthony Robinson, the organization's director, told The Texas Newsroom the goal is to build a bench of promising candidates and help Texas Democrats flip the state.

“Texas is really like ground zero, if you will, for just so many attacks on our democracy,” Robinson said.

He pointed to the transphobic rhetoric by Republicans, and the issue of gun control as examples.

Last month, the Republican Party of Texas held its biennial convention in Houston and made headlines after passing a platform that stated “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice,” and opposed “all efforts to validate transgender identity.”

Attendees also booed John Cornyn, who at the time was the lead Republican working on a bipartisan gun agreement in the U.S. Senate.

Robinson said the only way to fight those attitudes is with candidates that can stand for those issues, and win.

“I always say that you run to win,” Robinson said. “If you want to win, you have to train.”

Erica Lawrence, a Montgomery County resident and the president of the Democratic Club of The Woodlands, acknowledges winning takes time. But she believes it’s possible.

“Any forward movement, any moving the needle, is going to be beneficial for us, for our neighbors, for others in the community, for those that live in the margins,” said Lawrence.

She added that Democrats must develop candidates, even in traditionally-Republican areas, by educating people on the importance of local races — including positions on city councils, municipal utility district boards, even school boards.

But Gion Thomas, a Democratic activist from Katy, said that in order to build an impactful bench, the party needs to focus on issues such as universal health care, free college tuition, and climate change — issues that resonate more with young voters.

“We have to start running on things that's going to get young people off the couch, get them acclimated and get them wanting to vote,” Thomas said.

Democratic momentum

Democrats this year are also focused on beating Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Republican is running for his third term against Beto O’Rourke, a well-known Democrat in the state.

Recent polling on the governor’s race has given Democrats hopes.

A survey conducted by the University of Houston released Wednesday shows O’Rourke closing the gap between him and Abbott.

Forty-nine percent of likely voters say they would support Abbott, while 44 percent said they would vote for O’Rourke.

That’s still an uphill battle for O’Rourke. The last time Texas had a Democrat in the governor’s mansion was in 1994.

Add to that the historical trend showing midterm elections tend to benefit the party that’s not in the presidency. This means Republicans could actually make additional gains in November.

But Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, told a group of convention attendees they needed to ignore historical trends — and comments — that this midterm election will be tough for Democrats.

“They want you to believe that, so your emotions and your enthusiasm in this election is pulled down,” Hinojosa said Thursday. “But what we need to remember is this: during the good times, and the bad times, this party in this state has continued to rise.”

Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.