Personal appeals to nonvoters could turn Texas purple
By Brian Chasnoff, Express-News columnist
The twin brother of Mayor Julián Castro wasn’t worried about his own political prospects, for good reason: He drew no opponents in the primary and predictably won the 20th Congressional District in November. But using a list of reliable voters that day to target his block-walking, bypassing row upon row of homes, Castro was worried about the future of the Democratic Party in Texas.
“I was thinking, ‘God, it’s the same thing over and over,’” he said. “And I thought, ‘What about all these other people?’”
That’s a question national Democrats are tackling head-on these days. In an initiative expected to cost tens of millions of dollars, strategists filed this month with the Texas Ethics Commission to create a new organization, dubbed “Battleground Texas,” to identify and mobilize progressive voters in deep-red Texas, according to Politico.
Castro’s idea, conceived that day on the campaign trail, is more modest in scale. But its creative approach might inform the myriad efforts here to revitalize Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide election in two decades.
“My approach was trying to leverage engaged citizens,” Castro said, “consistent voters, to get inconsistent voters to vote.”
He named it the “Victoria Project” after his late grandmother.
The premise is simple: Every reliable voter has a constellation of friends and relatives who don’t vote, and “we can leverage our personal relationships to encourage people to do things,” Castro says, “and one of those things is voting.”
Each voter would cast a personal appeal powerful enough to motivate nonvoters to cast ballots.
Castro offered a fictional example: Maria Fernandez, whose father died from diabetes, emails 10 people “who really cared for her dad” with a message that “combines a personal narrative with a policy imperative.” In other words, Fernandez mourns both her father and GOP policy on health care.
For the recipients, it could prove the sole act of political persuasion they encounter all season.
“These inconsistent voters, they’re not getting any phone-banking, mail or block-walking,” Castro said. “There’s essentially a funnel effect that occurs where you start to ignore more and more people.”
Castro liked the idea enough to use it in his own campaign. About 50 people participated, targeting about 300 inconsistent voters, and data showed it worked with about 100 people, he said.
“It’s very intensive work,” Castro said. “There’s a lot of follow-through and a lot of handholding because you’ve got to help people craft the message.”
In this era of Texas politics, disgruntled Democrats should have little difficulty crafting messages. Gov. Rick Perry‘s threat to fight an expansion of Medicaid, for instance, is a no-brainer.
More than 6 million Texans, or 24 percent of residents, lack health insurance, the highest share in the nation. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay about 90 percent of the cost of coverage for low-income adults over the next 10 years.
That would insure about 2 million people, reducing Texas’s uninsured rate by about 25 percent.
On Monday, Billy Hamilton, a consultant who once served as the state’s chief revenue estimator, issued a report calling the Medicaid expansion a “smart, affordable and fair” choice for Texas. Huge savings, he argues, would offset state spending, and thousands of jobs would be created.
Also, the expansion would save the lives of about 5,700 adults and 2,700 children every year. Democrats looking for a personal appeal could start there.
“If you don’t try to sell an argument in politics, nobody’s going to buy it,” Castro says. Texas Republicans “are getting to the point of being radical.
“I’m not saying it’s the most liberal state in the nation. But it shouldn’t be the craziest.”