2018: Will ‘blue wave’ hit Tarrant County and flip Texas?

Texas Democrats are targeting one of the reddest areas in the state this year and believe 2018 is the year they can finally turn Tarrant County blue.

This summer, they’re holding their state convention in Fort Worth. And they’re putting one of the top locally elected Democrats, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, in charge of the effort.

“You hear a lot lately about this blue wave that’s coming all across America,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said Wednesday, during a media availability at the Fort Worth Stockyards. “The blue wave is especially strong here in Texas. And it is especially strong in North Texas.

“The biggest part of that blue wave is starting here.”

That’s partly why they decided to make Tarrant County — the largest urban area in Texas that remains reliably Republican — the site of their convention.

If they can encourage more people to head to the polls, and cast their ballots for Democrats, they say they hope to reap a big gain.

“If we can make those changes here in Tarrant County, the Republican Party is done with,” said Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who will chair the state convention. “It’s over for them.”

Republicans say turning Tarrant County, or the state, won’t be easy.

After all, Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994.

“But we take absolutely nothing for granted,” said Tim O’Hare, who heads the Tarrant County Republican Party. “Our people are motivated. They are excited about the changes the Trump administration has ushered in.

“And we are ready to fight. We fully expect Tarrant County to once again be reliably red.”

The Texas Democratic Party’s state convention will be at the Fort Worth Convention Center June 21-23. The Republican Party of Texas will hold its state convention June 14-16 in San Antonio.

‘Plant our flag’

The Republican Party of Texas last held state conventions in Fort Worth in 2012 and 2014.

Each local GOP gathering drew about 10,000 or more delegates and guests who, each year, were believed to spend more than $3 million on hotel rooms, travel, food and entertainment, officials have said.

Democrats say they expect about 8,000 delegates in Fort Worth this summer who could bring a $2 million economic impact to the area.

The choice of Fort Worth for the convention “shows how important we are in changing the landscape of Texas,” said Deborah Peoples, who heads the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “The fact that the party has chosen to plant our flag right here in Tarrant County shows how important” this area is.

Tarrant County has long been viewed as a bellwether.

And political observers maintain if this county flips, it could mean the state is ready to change as well.

“There are so many who believe as Tarrant County goes, Texas goes,” said state Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. “And as Texas goes, our country goes.”

He said 2018 “could be the best year and most memorable year in Texas history” in at least two decades.

But many note that Tarrant County suburbs have been a haven for many conservatives, including those involved in the NE Tarrant Tea Party, which has been a key force in a number of elections.

GOP: ‘Ready for the challenge”

Not only is Fort Worth home to Senate District 10 — a key political battleground because it’s neither solidly Republican nor Democratic — but it also boasts more Democratic candidates up and down the ballot than it has in the past.

“It’s important for us not just to plant our flag here,” Hinojosa said. “We see that the gains we stand to have in our Legislature and Congress are especially important here in the northern part of the state.”

Democrats locally and across the country hope to see a “blue wave” in this year’s midterm elections. Generally, the president’s political party tends to lose seats during these elections, both in Congress and state houses across the country.

The question is how big a gain Democrats might see this year.

And the key to that might rest in Tarrant County.

“There’s no question that Tarrant County has been a battleground for quite some time,” Hinojosa said. “It has everything going for it to become a deep blue county.

“If it’s not turning blue in 2018, it’s going to be deep purple.”

Local Republicans also say they’ve been reaching out to the community in new ways — creating new programs where party members reach out to “non-traditional Republicans” and give scholarships to students.

And the GOP has long led the way in outreach, from block walking to phone banking, which is partly how they’ve managed to dominate state politics for decades.

“We are not resting on our laurels,” O’Hare said. “We are not kicking back, assuming things are going to be great. We are being proactive, taking steps to ensure we remain red.

“We are ready for the challenge and fully anticipate a bright red county in November.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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