Participants rally on the floor of the Texas Democratic Convention in San Antonio in 2016.
All this week, Texas Democrats have been holding their state convention online because of COVID-19. Party leaders are convinced that changing demographics and dissatisfaction with President Trump will help them carry the state in November.
Conventions are typically a way for a party to make a show of strength, bringing tens of thousands of followers together under one roof.
But how do you measure that strength when the convention is virtual?
“[Monday,] we blew all of our online fundraising efforts, records out of the water, for the first day of our convention,” said Luke Warford, the Texas Democratic Party’s voter expansion director.
Warford said all those resources will help with what he calls the largest voter registration effort in the state party’s history.
“If you look at the unregistered population in Texas,” he said, “it’s probably somewhere between 5 and 6 million people, so that’s really a huge population of unregistered voters that we think should be registered.”
The party’s set a more modest goal of registering 2 million, through October 2020. They’re counting heavily on mobilizing the state’s nonwhite population.
“The context here is that the unregistered population of the state skews, leans heavily Democrat, because it is young and it is diverse,” Warford said.
That was the focus of two panel discussions midweek. The first one, on the Latino vote, sought to dispel the idea of the bloc as a “sleeping giant.“
Macias said Latinos may hear the phrase “sleeping giant” and think their vote doesn’t count.
“It’s not helpful to Democrats, it’s not helpful to Latinos, and it’s not helpful to getting Donald Trump out of the White House,” said Mayra Macias, executive director of the Latino Victory Project. “One of the things that we did early on this cycle was whenever a reporter talked to us about the Latino vote, was reiterate the number that 32 million Latinos are going to be eligible to vote in 2020, making us the largest nonwhite ethnic voting bloc.”
State Representative Rafael Anchia of Dallas, chair of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, said Latinos were worried about voter suppression. He likened the behavior of Republicans like Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has led the charge to limit mail-in voting, to schoolyard bullies.
“I want people to be pissed,” Anchia said. “I want people to be mobilized, and I want people to punch these bullies in the nose with their vote.”
At times, though, the convention seemed out of touch. Many of the panels were pre-taped, and the discussion on winning the black vote had no mention of George Floyd’s death and the nationwide protests that have followed.
Speakers in that panel emphasized the need for candidates not to take black voters for granted. Tracy Scott, president of the Black Women’s PAC, said candidates need to show where they stand on issues of economic justice.
She had a message for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden about the South Carolina primary that revived his campaign.
“Angela Rye made this great quote the other night on social media, and her statement was, ‘Jesus was to Lazarus as black women were to Biden,’” Scott said, referencing the biblical story of a man being brought back to life.
But speeches Friday and Saturday are expected to address Floyd’s killing and protests. The party’s Luke Warford said, “Look at the lineup of people who are coming, who are engaged here. It’s Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi. The list goes on and on, and I think that level of excitement and interest is because people know we can win this year.”
Pelosi will be the final speaker on Friday night, while Biden will close out the convention on Saturday.
Warford said the Biden campaign plans a big investment to get out the vote and sees Texas as its largest battleground state. A Quinnipiac University poll released midweek showed Biden in a dead heat in Texas with President Trump.