Battleground Texas’ First Birthday

By Jenn Brown, Executive Director and Jeremy Bird, Senior Adviser

One year ago — February 26th, 2013 — we launched our movement to turn Texas into a battleground state. And it has been a busy year. As a New York Times columnist noted, “Battleground Texas has put the fear of God into the Texas Republican Party,” and we are just getting started.

Battleground Texas launched with a mission to empower grassroots volunteers to change the face of Texas politics. We hit the ground running to assemble an organization that meets the standards expected in a battleground state. With a team that combines campaign veterans from battleground states across the country with some of Texas’ best and brightest, we are building an intensive field program that employs the successful volunteer-driven “neighborhood team model,” fully integrated with sophisticated digital outreach, advanced data analytics, aggressive communications, and robust grassroots-to-national political and fundraising networks.

From Amarillo to Brownsville and the Piney Woods to El Paso, Battleground Texas set out to energize and support Texas Democrats. Our staff logged more than 200,000 miles on the road this year — enough to circle the state more than 50 times — and the response has been overwhelming.

In just a year, Battleground Texas:

  • Mobilized nearly 12,000 active volunteers working across the state;
  • Recruited more than 5,700 volunteers to be deputized by their counties to register voters;
  • Trained and empowered more than 800 volunteer “Fellows” to organize in their communities;
  • Conducted more than 2,800 volunteer events across the state, including house parties, phone banks, trainings, and voter registration drives;
  • Attempted more than 370,000 phone calls and door-knocks to engage Texans;
  • Grew a digital network that reaches more than 3 million people every month and gained a larger following than Republican Party of Texas on bothFacebook and Twitter; and
  • Directly raised almost $3 million from more than 8,000 donors, including Texans from every Congressional District and supporters in 44 states, and jointly raised nearly $5 million for the Texas Victory Committee, a joint victory fund with the Wendy Davis for Governor campaign.

Fervor to turn Texas into a battleground state didn’t just empower the grassroots — it encouraged talented public servants to run for office – and as the Dallas Morning News declared, Texas Democrats are fielding the “most serious group of candidates in years.”

As we join strong leaders like Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte to make the case for progressive leadership in Texas, we know strength at the top of the ticket catalyzes the grassroots and encourages more Texans to engage in the Democratic process — and that voters across the state will be paying serious attention. That’s good for Texas.

We will also work with key down-ballot races to leverage our impact for priority campaigns across the state.  We helped Celia Israel win the Special Runoff Election for House District 50 in January. Representative-elect Israel summed it up at her victory party, “Battleground Texas is not just a political slogan, it’s a political muscle, and we’re going to use it in 2014.

While the grassroots energy and enthusiasm across Texas has made the 2014 election more competitive than anyone imagined possible a year ago, the Battleground Texas movement isn’t just about one election or one election cycle. It’s a long-term effort to reshape the Texas political landscape to represent the values of all Texans, not just the select few. We know change won’t happen overnight — turning Texas into a battleground that matters locally and nationally year after year will take a long-term strategy and a sustained push from grassroots activists.

To build for the long term, we launched programs to ensure Texas has home-grown, talented professionals for years to come, including:

The Executive Latino Leadership Program: The Latino community is rapidly growing, but too few Latinos play leading roles in Texas elections. To help address that, we established an intensive 10-month training program for Texas Latinos interested in learning the skills necessary to run modern campaigns. The program blends networking, individual development, and a series of weekend seminars to introduce participants to experts on all facets of a modern campaign, from communications to digital engagement to grassroots organizing. The first class of 60 Latinos, who started last November, have brought a wide range of experiences and ideas to the program. We expect they – and those who follow – will play an important role in changing the face of Texas politics.

The Fellowship Program: To grow and develop organizing talent in Texas capable of taking leadership roles with progressive campaigns and organizations, we launched a quarterly apprenticeship program to provide participants with leadership development and hands-on training in digital organizing, data best-practices, and volunteer organizing. More than 800 participants have trained as fellows, and the program is already paying dividends. More than half of Battleground Texas’ field organizers started as fellows, and other graduates of the program are playing active roles with a wide range of campaigns this year, including state House and municipal races.

In 12 short months, Battleground Texas has changed the conversation in Texas. A year ago, Republican leaders ridiculed the notion of Texas as a battleground state; now they plan to spend millions of dollars attacking Democrats to “keep Texas red.”

In the last year, we recruited thousands of volunteers, energized the base, and attracted thousands of new voters into politics for the first time. In response, the Republican Party of Texas, the Republican National Committee, and national PACs like FreedomWorks are pledging and spending millions of dollars and importing an admitted criminal to ‘raise the alarm’ about Battleground Texas. Their actions speak loudly and are a real testament to the excitement we have generated among grassroots Texans.

Republicans’ reactions belie a sad truth: they are terrified at the prospect of more Texans at the ballot box. Like the Republicans, we know that as the Texas electorate more reflects the Texas population, Texans’ government will more reflect Texans’ shared, progressive values.

Before Battleground Texas launched, too many Texans had given up on their voice being heard, Texas donors were all too often just an ATM for out-of-state campaigns, and Texas Republicans took their power for granted.

With Battleground Texas’ growing grassroots movement, those days are quickly fading. We’re driving a broad shift much faster than anyone thought possible.  And we are in for the long haul. Change will not come easily, but taking the harder road for a better future is what Texas is all about.

Over the coming years, Battleground Texas will use the data-driven, people-focused approach that helped win grassroots campaigns throughout the country to turn the Lone Star State into a battleground where all elections — from City Council to the White House — are hotly contested.