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Could Democrats Take Texas?

In an election cycle that looks increasingly like it might be a Republican “wave” year, Texas would seem like an unlikely place for Democrats to go looking for a silver lining. But as Mother Jones’ Suzy Khimm reports, Democrats might just be on the verge of taking back the state.

Khimm notes that Democrats really reached a nadir in the Lone Star State in 2004, when Tom DeLay’s 2003 redistricting scheme allowed the GOP to solidify its grip over every level of government in the once proudly blue state. But the Democrats’ darkest hour is now looking like it might have been a crucial moment in its current rebirth. Matt Angle, a veteran staffer for ousted Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), has made it his mission ever since to avenge DeLay’s meddling, and his efforts have begun paying off:

Down 14 seats in 2004, [Democrats] are currently within 3 of capturing a majority in the statehouse. They even have a shot at unseating GOP Gov. Rick Perry.

Much of this wouldn’t have been possible without Angle—and without the late Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer whose hefty donations to Democratic causes led some to dub him “the Texas George Soros.” Together, they created a state-based organization with a single clear mission: Help Democrats take Austin in five years.

Angle’s Texas Democratic Trust toils in the unsexy, nuts-and-bolts work of elections: developing 12 million voter files to target likely supporters, crafting sharper opposition research, and paying the salaries of Democratic Party staff members. Primarily bankrolled by Baron—who donated some $5 million—the Trust has raised nearly $12 million since its founding in 2005. State Rep. Jim Dunnam, the House Democratic Leader, remembers meeting with Baron shortly after the group launched. “He came in and said, ‘Y’all don’t worry—we’ll make sure the bill gets paid.’”

Baron’s financial aid to the Trust has been undeniably helpful, but the prominent backing of such a colorful figure has its drawbacks as well:

Texas Republicans have seized upon Angle’s wealthy financiers to paint the Texas Democrats as an elite party backed by trial lawyers like Baron, who is best known for paying for John Edwards’ mistress, Rielle Hunter, to relocate during the presidential campaign. “It can be an Achilles heel,” admits Mike Lavigne, a former executive director for the Texas Democratic Party. He also cautions that Texas Democrats may have become overly reliant on Angle’s well-funded operation. “The state party needs to be self-sufficient—they need to have the ability to raise money.”

The Trust’s whole mission is supposed to culminate this November because the midterm elections will determine who controls the state legislature when Texas once again goes to the drawing board for redistricting. Whether it can buck the Republican tide that’s sweeping the nation remains an open question, but there’s no question its efforts, combined with demographic shifts within the state, are leading some to speculate about when the state will again turn blue in a presidential contest — and it might just happen sooner than you think.

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