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Democrats Hoping More Political Money Will Stay in Texas

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News
There's plenty of political money in Texas, but for Democrats much leaves the state.

This week the head of the Democratic Governors Association said the Texas Governor’s race isn’t in the top tier of races his group will be financially backing in 2014.

Texas has long been a fertile fundraising stop for groups like the DGA and other national Democratic candidates and organizations. But has any of that money started flowing back to Texas to help ongoing efforts to turn it blue?

It's often referred to as a Chicken or Egg problem. Democrats have had trouble running competitive races in Texas. So donors haven't opened their pocketbooks. But until a candidate gets enough money, they probably won't be competitive.

"For them to overcome this, to really turn this state blue, they have to have both. They have to have high-caliber candidates and the money," St. Edwards political science associate professor Brian Smith said.

Which is why not getting financial backing from large national groups like the Democratic Governors Association, has been a nail in the coffin for many campaigns. But that may be finally be starting to change.

"You know there is a tremendous amount of investment that we are seeing from Texas donors in, not only the Davis campaign, but the Texas Democratic Party has seen a substantial in-flow of contributions to the party because of the investments we're making in infrastructure," Texas Democratic Party executive director Will Hailer said.

There's plenty of political money to make those investments in Texas. The state’s donors gave about $33 million to Democratic candidates in the 2008 Presidential election. Another $24 million to President Obama’s 2012 campaign.

But almost all of that money leaves the state, never to return. St. Edward's Brian Smith says that's where Battleground Texas, the much publicized effort to make Texas a competitive state for Democrats, comes in.

"That is their goal is to become that local organization that you know if you give money to Battleground Texas it's going to stay within the state. Previously the Democrats didn't have a real organization that did that," St. Edward's Smith said.

The group has raised more than $3 million so far. That's money mostly spent not on specific candidates but on trying to level the playing field for Democrats when it comes to party infrastructure.

So while getting the cold shoulder from the Democratic Governors Association isn't great, Texas Democrats may be able to better absorb that stomach punch this year.The state party’s Will Hailer thinks national groups need to look beyond double digit poll deficits to see that the party machinery is chugging along, even without that national support.

"They're not going to see the Republicans, who are showing up in droves to talk to Senator Davis and Senator van de Putte, saying that this is going to be the first election in a long time that they have voted for a Democrat," Hailer said.

Now, in the Texas Governor's race, every little dollar helps. Especially when going up against Republican Greg Abbott, who has close to $30 million in his war chest, with more money raised every day. Hailer promises that as Election Day draws closer, he'll be calling groups like the Democratic Governors Association and asking them to rethink whether they’ll spend any money in Texas.

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