Energize party members and inspire like-minded Texans to vote this November for Democrats up and down the ballot in this deep red state.
“That’s our focus — getting Democrats to the polls in November,” said Vicki Moore, of North Richland Hills. “We’re not going to win every race. That’s not realistic.
“What is realistic is that people are listening and paying attention. I think we will have a lot of success.”
Moore and thousands of other Democrats are expected at the Fort Worth Convention Center this week for their every-other-year state convention where they will elect party officials, craft a guide for their party and motivate Democrats to vote in the general election that’s five months away.
Republicans have long said they 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 Democrats — who decided to hold their convention in Tarrant County, the largest urban area in Texas that remains reliably Republican — believe anything can happen this year.
“This election, everything is a stake,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party. “This is about a Texas where everyone has a fair shot to get ahead.”
The Texas Democratic Party’s state convention, touted as one of the party’s largest such gatherings in the country, is second only in size to the national convention, officials say. U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, will chair the convention that runs through Saturday.
This comes one week after Republicans gathered for their own convention in San Antonio.
Democrats say there’s a different feel for the convention this year.
Maybe it’s the activism that began after Republican Donald Trump won his bid for the White House in November 2016.
Or maybe it’s because Texas Democrats saw a near record turnout in a non-presidential primary earlier this year, when more than 1 million Democrats voted in the March primary. It was their largest turnout in such a primary in decades but they fell short of matching GOP primary turnout that passed the 1.5 million voter mark.
“I have not heard of any big issues at the convention other than our desire to win,” said Deborah Peoples, who heads the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “Every delegate I have talked to is focused on making sure we support our entire community. There’s a camaraderie I haven’t seen in a long, long time.
“I think we will come out unified as one body, ready to take on the Republicans in the fall.”
Democrats are expected to stick to their key issues, such as calling for education, equality and health care for all Texans.
“Everybody is talking about the bread-and-butter things,” said Libby Willis, a Fort Worth delegate. “The theme that’s carrying through to this convention started the day after the November election in 2016. That’s energy.
“I’ve never seen a state convention quite as focused on training and new people who haven’t been to a convention before,” Willis said. “It’s like people were watching from afar before and now want to be involved.”
Delegates will hear from statewide candidates such as El Paso Democrat U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Republican incumbent Ted Cruz for a seat in Congress, to Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff who is challenging Republican incumbent Greg Abbott for the Texas governor’s post.
O’Rourke — who has drawn national attention for his effort to unseat Cruz, a Tea Party darling — trailed Cruz by 11 points in a late May poll released by Quinnipiac University. But a poll conducted by a Democratic polling firm released last week showed the race in single digits.
Also expected to be in the spotlight is the local battle for Senate District 10, a district neither solidly Republican nor Democratic that has swung between the two parties for years. Democrat Beverly Powell will face off against incumbent Republican Konni Burton for this so-called swing district once held by Fort Worth’s Wendy Davis in November.
“We are fired up because we’ve got so many possibilities to have strong advocates for our ideals,” said Pam Durham, a Fort Worth delegate. “We just have to make sure everybody knows every vote counts in November.”
Another key moment during the convention will be when delegates choose party leaders.
Hinojosa faces several challengers for the chairmanship, including Cedric W. Davis Sr., Rachel Barrios Van Os and Fidel Acevedo.
And several people are running for vice chair as well, including Peoples, Carla Brailey, Shirley McKeller, Rose Salas and Orthon Medina.
With these elections, “we are setting the trajectory for the future,” said Libby Willis, a Fort Worth delegate. “We will be helping shape the future of the state party.”
One dominant convention theme may be Trump himself.
“Texas Democrats are fully aware that their best chance for success ... is to convert the 2018 election into a referendum on the Trump presidency,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.
“Trump remains the Texas Republican Party’s weakest flank.”
That’s a theme that should resonate with this gathering, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
“An impressive turnout in the primary won’t mean much if Democrats don’t show up in November,” he said. “They need to keep their feet on the gas pedal.”
Feeling it now?
Moore, president of the Tarrant County Democratic Womans Club, is excited to finally be a delegate to the state convention.
A federal employee for 33 years, she wasn’t allowed to participate in partisan politics.
Now she can.
The key to November, she said, is making sure voters know their options.
“I knock on doors (for voter outreach) and people who have been independent in the past have said, ‘We have to do something different than what’s going on right now,’ “ Moore said. “To me, I think that’s indicative of the support that there is in Tarrant County for Democrats.
“I think there has been a lot, but people just haven’t felt the need to go out and vote,” she said. “I think they are feeling it now.”