Collin County is a Republican stronghold. It’s also the kind of place that Democrats need to make gains in order to be competitive. That’s a tough thing to do when there’s little hope for winning the county or taking a legislative seat based in the county. But the needle needs to be moved, and the Democrats there seem to get that, which is good to hear.
“There is a completely different dynamic this time,” said Shawn Stevens, chairman of the Democratic Party of Collin County.
So far, most of the work has been organizing and preparing for next fall. In October, Battleground Texas, a statewide organization devoted to turning Texas into a swing state, hosted house parties to train volunteers.
In November, local party leaders hosted what they described as an unusually energetic crowd at their annual Ann Richards Dinner. And lately, a group has been meeting weekly at the Plano strip mall that houses the county party’s office to call other potential volunteers for 2014.
The hope is to have a large group of supporters ready for the fall who can make personal connections with as many voters as possible. And this time around they will probably have outside help, a rarity for Collin County.
There’s a reason there was a lack of energy in the party in the past. For years, Democrats have failed to even be competitive with the local GOP.
In 2010, Republican Gov. Rick Perry won Collin County with 64 percent of the vote, compared with 33 percent for Democratic former Houston Mayor Bill White. In 2012, more than 133,000 people voted straight-ticket Republican. Only 61,000 voted solely for the Democrats.
It will be next to impossible to turn that around in one election. But one reason for the current effort is the conclusion that Democrats can’t simply ignore the counties they know they won’t win, organizers said.
Battleground Texas has pushed for a new statewide attitude, arguing that the party needs a presence in all 254 counties to win elections. Its leaders say similar efforts are happening in other GOP-dominated counties across the state.
“Collin County is a fantastic example of the excitement we are seeing across the state of Texas,” said Jenn Brown, executive director of the group.
Republicans remain confident, however. State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg of Parker has drawn a Democratic opponent for the first time in years. But she said she isn’t worried. She knows many suburban women who agree with the GOP’s anti-abortion efforts, she said.
And Collin County is thriving economically and has strong schools, she said, so it’s unlikely that Democrats will find enough people who are unhappy with their state government.
“What they are anticipating is not going to work,” Laubenberg said.
Even many Democrats admit that winning the county or individual races in 2014 is a long shot. But they view the fact that they have already begun a significant effort as a positive sign.
And they argue that even a little progress can help Democrats statewide.
“Our voting numbers might not be 50 percent plus one,” said Stevens, the party chairman, “but if you inch up the vote a little bit, you can affect the election.”
Laubenberg doesn’t have to worry about her own re-election, but Stevens is correct, and his recognition of what needs to be done in Collin is critical. Democrats absolutely need to maximize their vote in big urban counties and South Texas, where the bulk of Democrats live. But places like Collin are where the big overall population growth is. Democrats have to be in there competing for these new voters or they’ll be undoing the work they’re doing elsewhere. Look at these figures from the past three off year elections:
Year Registered Turnout Dem high Pct Reg Pct Turn ====================================================== 2002 312,606 130,443 37,716 12.07% 28.91% 2006 381,821 138,686 42,514 11.13% 30.65% 2010 424,548 157,849 51,890 12.22% 32.87%
There’s likely to be between 450,000 and 500,000 registered voters in Collin County in 2014. Turnout actually wasn’t that high in Collin in 2010 – about 37%, compared to about 36% in 2006 – so between population growth and general turnout activities, the potential is there to add thousands of Democrats to the tally. As the story notes, there were over 61,000 straight ticket Dem votes in 2012, and just over 101,000 votes for President Obama that year. The voters are there if they can be persuaded to show up. Sure, the same is true for the Republicans, but that’s not our problem. The job for Collin County Dems is to get their people out. The potential is there. The fact that they recognize it and are willing to work for it even if there aren’t likely to be any local prizes to be won is better. We’ll see how it goes.