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'Keep It Red' Fights Democrats to Keep Texas Republicans in Power

It was the big news immediately after the 2012 Presidential election: some of Pres. Barack Obama's top campaign generals were on their way to Texas to turn the solidly conservative state into a purple state – and eventually a Democratic stronghold.

Battleground Texas leader Jeremy Bird was grilled on the plan by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert:

But for every Texas Democrat who got excited about what changes could lie ahead, there's a Republican who wants to make sure that doesn't happen.Conservatives started by giving their prediction for what "turning Texas blue" would mean for the state:  doom and gloom – higher taxes and fewer jobs– as forecast by Sen. John Cornyn and his side project Keep It Red.

"The Democrats could turn Texas blue. People forget Texas was an all Democrat state for over a century," says Brendan Steinhauser, Cornyn's campaign manager and Keep It Red's leader. "So it's really only in our recent history that we've been a Republican state." 

But that short reign has led to one heck of an advantage for Republicans. The party controls all statewide elected offices and holds large majorities in the Texas House and Senate. But Steinhauser says that doesn't mean anything, because keeping a Republican majority is all about making connections with new voters. That especially includes the state's rapidly growing Hispanic population.

"And so Battleground Texas and Senator John Cornyn's campaign can probably agree that this is a long battle over the next few decades. That it's a battle for the hearts and minds for people around the state," Steinhauser says. "That there's no magic bullet or simple solution. And that real outreach is showing up early, being helpful, listening to people, treating people kindly."

Democrats would argue the GOP has had trouble treating the state's Hispanics kindly. They point to the anti-immigrant rhetoric used by Republicans as they run to the right of any and all opponents in GOP primaries.

Steinhauser didn't say whether that's slowed his efforts with Hispanic outreach. But he does say a message of acceptance is important.

"It's up to people like myself, it's up to Senator Cornyn, to go and make the case that we want all of you involved in the Party," he says. "And we agree on 80 percent of the issues. We are going to disagree on some of the other 20 percent of issues. But this is your home. That's where I think we can find a way forward. And, if we don't, we won't be successful in national elections."

Steinhauser would like to eventually see Texas Republicans getting 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. But he knows he doesn't have to get there immediately. For now, a Republican taking just 20 percent of Hispanic voters would easily win a statewide election.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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