AUSTIN (KXAN) – When I played high school football, supporters from our rival school spray painted their school’s name on our turf practice field. They hoped it embarrassed us enough to play poorly; it did the opposite. Inspired, we beat them by double digits. A week after the election there’s the same feeling around Republicans. Someone spray-painted a big D for Democrats on Texas politics. It didn’t end well for the blue team.
The Democrats could have still declared a small victory if they reached 42 percent. The Democratic nominee in 2010, Bill White, pulled in 42 percent statewide. In 2014, outside groups, notably Battleground Texas, pumped in millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers to make Texas “purple”. Few suspected Wendy Davis to win, but many thought her dynamic story and demographics would help make the race close. On Nov. fourth, Davis received 39 percent of the vote, a complete and disheartening defeat for her side. Texas looks just as red as before, and here are some reasons why.
Abbott wanted to make a point: “You have to start with a candidate and a message,” said Dave Carney, Abbott’s chief strategist. The day after Abbott won, Carney and his partner, James McKay, gave a presentation about what worked and what didn’t during the campaign. A near 20-point victory speaks for itself; a lot of things worked. Abbott portrayed himself as a compassionate heir apparent. He made few mistakes and capitalized on his opponent’s weaknesses. He didn’t just run to win, he ran to dominate. Abbott sprinted through a whirlwind tour of cities to end his campaign. By that time, Abbott’s team already knew it won. “We wanted to build a governing coalition,” said McKay. He insisted on the first debate being on the border, not writing off Hispanics as Democrats. Around $50 million to spend doesn’t hurt either.
Abortion: It’s very difficult to be pro-choice and win statewide in Texas. Whether Davis wanted it or not, abortion was a major aspect of this election. It began with Davis’ headline-grabbing 2013 filibuster of HB 2, which dropped the number of abortion providers to single digits. Her summer book tour highlighted her two terminated pregnancies. As time ran out, she tried to distance herself from the issue. Abbott met his Hispanic goal and abortion was more fodder to get out some very Catholic, Hispanic voters.
Republicans closed the technology gap: Not a fan of big brother? Too bad. Both campaigns collect and use data to get your vote. They know where you live, what you drive, when you watch TV, what magazines you subscribe to, and they score you based on how likely you are to vote for them. They waged a TV war, monitoring and reacting to ads the other side ran. After getting a good thumping in 2012 for not evolving to 21st century campaigning, Republicans caught up this year. The massive database, GOP Data Beacon, launched this year. Abbott’s camp merged it with its own data and vastly outperformed the Democrat’s database, TexasVAN, in real world results. With all that at their fingertips, around 200 Abbott campaign workers literally were fired, because they didn’t contact enough likely voters. Combine big data with an all-or-nothing campaign attitude on favorable ground, and you get a twenty-point landslide to the right.
Wendy Davis and the Dems fired up the wrong base: Abbott characterized her as a liberal puppet funded by big, out-of-state pockets. “The Battleground Texas movement got Republicans motivated. It allowed them to think every single Democratic race was against those people with Battleground Texas,” said Ben Philpott, political reporter at KUT. Abbott won the women’s vote and gathered 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, proving cut-and-dry stereotypes don’t work in Texas. The state ranked 51st out of all the states and DC in voter turnout. Voter registration went down in Texas when you take in population growth. “The mantra was ‘show the liberal Democrats they picked the wrong battleground,” said Bob Garrett from the Dallas Morning News. The GOP base showed up, the Dem’s didn’t.
Davis’ “bold” media strategy swung for the fences, and missed: When the now infamous “wheelchair” ad came out, people watched the slow zoom-out from an empty wheelchair. People talked about the ad itself, not the message behind it. Jay Root from the Texas Tribune called it a “hail Mary” attempt. Davis trailed in the polls and had to do something. Dave Carney from the Abbott campaign said the ad “actively drove our voters to the polls. It was (Abbott’s) second best ad.” Running radio spots featuring Michelle Obama didn’t help either. Yes, it might have energized the Democratic base, but also the Republican base. It’s simple math, there are more extreme Republicans in Texas than extreme Democrats.
It might be time to throw away those (already-printed) Clinton-Castro buttons. Many say Battleground Texas’ efforts to turn Texas purple have failed. “Any Democrat coming to Texas in 2016 will be throwing money away,” said Garrett. Texas women and Hispanics vote Republican, too. Texas is staying red for a long time.
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