This could be the year for Texas Democrats.
The goal is clear, many say, as they prepare to head to their state convention in near-record numbers with the prize clearly in sight: Return a Democrat to the White House and elect more Democrats to local, state and federal offices across this very red state.
“We probably will get to the second- or third-largest convention we’ve ever had in Texas,” said Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.
“The largest was in 2008 [when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought for the nomination] and we aren’t going to beat that,” he said. “But the [race] to become national delegates is incredibly competitive.”
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Republicans think it’s highly unlikely Democrats will make much headway in a state where they haven’t elected anyone to a statewide office in more than a decade.
But there’s no arguing that almost anything can happen in this very unusual presidential election year.
Even though Hillary Clinton has secured the Democratic presidential nomination, her supporters — and those of Bernie Sanders — are expected to head in large numbers to the Democratic State Convention.
At stake: 251 coveted national delegate spots at the Democratic National Convention next month in Philadelphia.
According to estimates, more than 9,000 delegates including 763 from Tarrant County could attend this week’s convention in San Antonio.
The goal is to unify the party, officials say, so presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — who is expected to attend fundraisers in Texas as the convention begins — doesn’t have a chance in November’s general election.
If they meet their projected turnout, Texas Democrats will exceed the 7,082 delegates and alternates who gathered at the Republican State Convention last month in Dallas.
The convention runs Thursday through Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Officials are still waiting to hear whether any presidential candidate will be able to attend and speak at the convention.
Either way, Democratic congressman Joaquín Castro, chairman of the convention, and his twin, Housing Secretary Julian Castro, are among those preparing to speak at the event.
“We know that the strength of Texas is in its families, our shared dreams, and our grit to get the job done,” Julian Castro said. “Texans think big, as big as our great state.”
There are no passengers at this convention. We are all crew. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro
Joaquín Castro said Texas Democrats have much to do this year.
“This is an election year and there is so much at stake,” he said. “There are no passengers at this convention. We are all crew.
“It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Former state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is expected to have a small speaking role at the convention, likely during a woman’s caucus. In 2014, she was one of the main speakers.
The delegate battle
For the first time in a long time, there were more local Democrats who wanted to attend the convention as delegates than there were spots, said Deborah Peoples, the Tarrant County Democratic chairwoman.
All 763 local delegate spots were filled, and officials chartered a bus to help many delegates make the trip to San Antonio.
Enthusiasm among Democrats in Texas is at an all time high. That bodes well for Democrats in November. We just need to keep the enthusiasm going.
Tarrant County Democratic Chairwoman Deborah Peoples
“This is a historic year,” Peoples said. “There has been a spirited battle between Hillary and Bernie and we have so many voters who haven’t been engaged in the process.
“Enthusiasm among Democrats in Texas is at an all-time high,” she said. “That bodes well for Democrats in November. We just need to keep the enthusiasm going.”
Edward Perkins of Fort Worth is among the hundreds of North Texas Democrats vying for coveted national delegate spots.
Perkins, 22, said he wants to go to the national convention to vote for Hillary Clinton to become president.
“I think it’s pretty exciting,” said Perkins, a clerk for Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Sergio De Leon. “In 2012, I watched the national convention on TV.
“I would love to be there in person this time.”
He said he’s begun reaching out to fellow delegates, sending out emails and making calls, asking for support in his quest. If he’s lucky enough to be chosen, he said, he will begin a gofundme account — or use a different fundraising tool — to help raise the money he needs for the trip.
Fort Worth attorney Jason Smith also hopes to be chosen as a national delegate, but he’s running for a spot in Senate District 10, which has four slots for Clinton supporters and two for Sanders supporters.
A longtime Clinton supporter, Smith said he wants to be at the national convention in case any ruckus occurs.
“There could be some attempts to disrupt the national Democratic convention,” Smith said. “We need really solid Hillary people there to help let cooler heads prevail.
“I think they will try to stage some big rallies outside and do some things inside the convention to disrupt the proceedings.”
Elizabeth Tarrant, a Democrat running for the Texas House 97th District, is among the many Sanders supporters heading to the state convention as delegates.
She and others know that the nomination isn’t a done deal until delegates at the national convention formally choose their candidate.
“I’d like to see Bernie as the nominee,” said Tarrant, 24, of Fort Worth. “But if …Hillary is the nominee, I’ll stick by her.
“The picture is way bigger than [one person],” she said. “A lot of the people on the ‘Bernie or Bust’ movement can’t see the forest for the trees. … I really hope we can all get behind each other as Democrats.”
Garcia said he expects issues near and dear to many Texans’ hearts to come up at the Democratic convention.
“While Republicans spent their [convention] time talking about bathrooms, Democrats are talking about kitchen table issues — why so many Texans are stuck in traffic, why kids are in crowded classrooms and why wages have been stagnant.”
At the time, the issue of superdelegates, elected and former party officials who choose which candidate to support, may be a big topic during the convention.
Sanders and his campaign have long criticized the superdelegate process, which he says is part of the “anointment process” helping Clinton this year.
This was one of many issues that came up during local senatorial conventions, said Libby Willis, a Fort Worth delegate and chairwoman of the Senate District 10 delegation.
“In our district, the notion that there shouldn’t be superdelegates prevailed,” Willis said. “I think it’s something that has worked for a while, and I’m not bothered with it.
“We place trust in the hands of our elected officials. It’s just part of the system and the way it works,” she said. “But what happens at the state convention … depends on how many people on each side of the issue show up.”
Tarrant said she understands why superdelegate spots were created in the first place. But she also believes change is needed.
“The system is antiquated,” she said. “We need to reform it and come up with something new or do away with it entirely.”
As Texas Democrats at the convention debate the issues and vie for national delegate spots, representatives of Clinton and Sanders are asking them to work together.
“We feel it important to address the growing tensions that have begun to divide our party,” Clinton representative Garry Mauro and Sanders representative Jacob Limon wrote in an email that was sent to state delegates. “As Texas Democrats we must stand together against this sort of divisiveness and remain a party united in inclusion.
Donald Trump must never be allowed to assume the Presidency and we must all come together to prevent that nightmare from becoming a reality.
Hillary Clinton representative Garry Mauro and Bernie Sanders representative Jacob Limon, in an email sent to state delegates
“We must work in a positive and energetic manner,” the email says. “Donald Trump must never be allowed to assume the Presidency and we must all come together to prevent that nightmare from becoming a reality.”
The key also is to focus on another common goal.
“We want to make Texas blue again,” Tarrant said. “It was once blue and it seems everybody forgot that.
“We can do this.”
Fort Worth will be the site of the next Democratic State Convention, in 2018. The two-day gathering, most likely in June, will be at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
Officials say the biennial event, which hasn’t been held in Fort Worth since 2006, could draw 8,000-10,000 delegates and guests to Fort Worth.
As for this year, the Tarrant County Democratic Party is chartering a bus to help some local delegates travel to the state convention in San Antonio. For more information about that, or discounted hotel rooms, contact the party headquarters at 817-335-8683.
Staff writer Anna M. Tinsley