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Democrats Hope To Build Party From Bottom Up

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HOUSTON (AP) – Texas Democrats have the longest losing streak in the nation, having lost every race for statewide office since 1994, but with Republicans stressing greater conservatism and fresh faces running as Democrats, they hope to turn that around.

That was the dominant message at last week’s convention in Houston, where delegates elected their first Hispanic chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa. He has led a county party, served as a judge and worked on the Democratic National Committee, giving him a broad perspective on the party and its problems in Texas.

“Demographically, we have more people who fall within our natural base than the Republicans,” Hinojosa said Saturday, explaining how non-Hispanic whites make up less than 50 percent of the population. “The problem is that we have not concentrated on our base. We have not developed effective strategies to be able to get that base out.”

Democratic leaders, though, have been promising to unite minorities and progressive whites for 30 years in order to win in Texas. But over those same years, Republicans have only gained in strength, dominating the Texas House with a 102-48 supermajority that allowed them to pass laws even if Democrats didn’t show up. They also hold a majority in the state Senate, board of education and Congress

That majority is likely to shrink after November’s election because a federal court redrew the state’s political districts to accommodate changes in the state’s population. Democrats hope to hold on to their seats in the state Senate and send at least 10 new lawmakers to the House in January. But they hope to score other victories too.

Two of the four new congressional seats in Texas will almost certainly go to Democrats, but Hinojosa said he believes Democratic candidates have a competitive chance to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ron Paul in southeast Texas, and incumbent Congressmen Quico Canseco in West Texas and Blake Farenthold along the coast.

Republicans are not giving up anything, and they remain the dominant party in Texas, turning out twice as many voters as Democrats in the May 29 primary. But voters at their primary and convention emphasized conservative positions and sought to drive out moderates, something that Democrats see as an opportunity.

“They are moving to the radical and leaving everything else behind,” said San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who gave the keynote speech to the Democratic Convention. “To be a moderate in the Republican party is to be a pariah. Texans of all stripes need to ask themselves if this is what’s best for America.”

Hinojosa also believes that many Texans are becoming disillusioned with the Republican party, but he said it will take more than independent voters for Democrats to win more races. He promised to get more Democratic voters to the polls by engaging those who are not routinely voting and recruiting dynamic candidates.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, who represents Dallas, is one of the Democratic politicians often mentioned for statewide office. He said he’s been buoyed by Democratic victories in local elections in the state’s major urban areas, particularly in Houston, and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas.

“I’m really bullish in our urban areas,” Anchia said. “It’s incumbent on us as a party to get difference-makers elected … I’d have young doctors, lawyers, engineers and young professionals that are extremely well-prepared in these seats.”

The key factor in winning elections, though, remains money, and so far this year, Democrats are sending most of their money out of state. Hinojosa said that one of his top priorities will be to convince Democrats, both within and outside of Texas, to donate to Texas candidates.

“Everybody comes to Texas to get money to invest in congressional campaigns outside of the state,” Hinojosa said. “It drains valuable resources out of Texas and primarily because of this self-fulfilling prophecy in our national party that Texas cannot turn blue.”

Anchia said the party should learn from the experience of Dallas Democrats.

“Nobody thought a Democrat could win countywide in Dallas, until one did and it kind of came out of nowhere,” Anchia said of Lupe Valdez, who became sheriff in 2004. “That was the tip of the iceberg and now the entire county is blue.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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