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Texas Party Chairs Battle Over Flipping State Blue

GOP Party Chair James Dickey (left) and Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa (right).
Courtesy of respective party chair websites
GOP Party Chair James Dickey (left) and Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa (right).

In past elections, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa remembers how hard it was to find candidates who wanted to run for office. 

“In the old days, I'd be on the phone trying to get somebody to run for some rep slot and I usually got no’s from people,” said Hinojosa, who emphasized the upcoming 2020 election is a different story. “We'll be having primaries and runoffs in almost every seat that we're trying to flip right now in Texas legislature. The same thing is with congressional things.”

Hinojosa said this is a sign of the new enthusiasm that is cranking up the Democratic Party. 

The chairman of the Texas Republican Party, James Dickey, acknowledges the enthusiasm but said he’s not worried. Nonetheless, he’s telling Texas Republicans to be on red alert.

“Because that's the appropriate attitude I want people to have. I get asked frequently, is there a chance Texas could flip? And the answer of course is it could if Republicans take too much for granted, take voters for granted and don't do the work necessary to spread our message and make our case.”

Dickey said the “Blue Wave” of the 2018 midterm elections taught Texas Republicans a lesson. He’s raising more money than ever before and hiring more fulltime workers. Last election, the Texas GOP had eight full-timers. In 2020, they will have 150.

“One of the unique things that the party can do is recruiting volunteers by the tens of thousands from all over the city and recruit and persuade and activate voters that have not previously been reached,” Dickey said.

But the Texas Republican Party is running against some headwinds. President Donald Trump remains popular with the base of the Republican Party but is repelling many swing voters in the suburbs, which is where the Texas GOP saw its support crack in 2018. Dickey rejects that analysis.

“All of the polling that shows the president has a challenge in Texas have fundamental flaws in their construct,“ said Dickey.

But Hinojosa embraces it.

“What we're seeing is a lot of people —particularly in the suburbs — who have historically voted for Republicans because that was the only game in town, are now seeing the alternative in the Democratic Party,” Hinojosa said. “And the alternative is much more in line with the way they believe.”

Hinojosa said the Republican Party is going to try to win elections by making it harder for Democrats to vote. He points to a new law that ends mobile early voting, which the Democratic Party is suing for overturn.

“Rather than having a democracy where you increase people's opportunity to participate, they want to decrease people's opportunity and make it very difficult to allow people to vote,” he said.

But Hinojosa said the ending of early mobile voting is actually likely to boomerang on Republicans and make it harder for voters in ruby red rural counties to cast an early ballot. Dickey disagrees.

“I'm confident that this change will make it so the voters have much more reliability and dependability for their voting locations and that will in fact result in higher rates of voting,” said Dickey.

One thing the two chairmen agree on is about former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. The El Paso Democrat claim close to unseating Senator Ted Cruz in 2018 and then flamed out in his presidential run.  

Both Dickey and Hinojosa said they don’t know if O’Rourke is going to jump into the Democratic primary for Senate and both said it won’t make a difference if he does.

Dickey said O’Rourke shifted so far left running for President that he’s out of bounds for Texas.

"He is the worst kind of panderer and ultra extremist leftist,” said Dickey. “And that means that regardless of what he does, it will not be a significant factor."

Hinojosa said the Senate Primary is doing fine right now without O’Rourke.

"I think we got something like 12 candidates right now running for the Senate — a great set of candidates — I think any one of which if they become the nominee can beat [Republican Senator John] Cornyn," said Hinojosa.

If O’Rourke does decide to toss his hat in the race, he has until Dec. 9 — that’s the deadline for candidates to file.

David Martin Davies can be reached at DMDavies@TPR.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi.