by David M. Drucker · June 12, 2019
Wealthy Republican donors are preparing a multimillion-dollar effort to register more than 1 million new GOP voters in Texas for 2020 amid anxiety that President Trump could be in more trouble in this reliably red state than some in the party realize.
Richard Weekley, a Houston real estate developer and veteran Republican campaign contributor, is spearheading the new group, dubbed Engage Texas. According to GOP sources, the organization was set up as a 501(c)4, political nonprofit organization and plans to raise and spend $25 million by Election Day next year.
Engage Texas has garnered the support of top Republicans in the state and appears to have the support of party insiders in Washington. They believe the group could be critical to compensating for demographic trends that favor the Democrats — and to holding Texas for Trump and GOP Sen. John Cornyn.
“In 2018, we got hammered not only in the urban areas but in the suburbs, too,” Cornyn, 67, told the Washington Examiner. The third-term senator, who has sounded the alarm about the dangers of taking Texas for granted, described with a sense of relief the “substantial focus and investment, now, that will be made on voter registration.”
Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than two decades, and Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there three years ago by 9 percentage points.
But the midterm elections saw a significant shift. The Democrats captured two traditionally Republican, suburban seats in the House of Representatives, and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, now a presidential candidate, came within 2.6 points of ousting Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Recent polling suggests Trump could be vulnerable in the state in 2020, a product of continued resistance in the suburbs of Austin, Dallas, and Houston.
Some Republicans have attributed the outcome last fall, in which the GOP also suffered losses in state legislative races, to Cruz’s unpopularity and the resources invested by O’Rourke and his allies, a feat Democrats are unlikely to repeat in a national presidential contest. Senior Republican strategists in Texas are warning against that line of thinking.
“Everybody thinks it was a Cruz-Beto thing. But it’s a mess,” a GOP adviser said, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. “Independents are behaving like Democrats — like they did in 2018.”
Even so, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott trounced his Democratic competition in his 2018 reelection race by more than a million votes, winning by 13 percentage points.
Republican insiders in Texas are worried about the impact of a potential political realignment that could see affluent, college-educated voters in the suburbs permanently defect from the GOP to the Democratic Party. Additionally, they fret that thousands of Americans who move to Texas every month, attracted by the booming economy and low cost of living, will bring their liberal politics with them.
Engage Texas, modeled after a similar political nonprofit group that has operated in Nevada, is a crucial part of counteracting the effects of these shifts. Republican insiders in the state estimate that there could be as many 2 million unregistered GOP voters. Adding them to the rolls could ensure that Texas continues to perform as a red state, even as Democrats make gains there.
“For Trump, Texas is like Wisconsin was for Clinton. If the president ignores the state, the race could be close, and he could possibly lose,” said Chris Wilson, a pollster who has advised Cruz and other Texas Republicans. “But [Trump] campaign manager Brad Parscale spent years here and knows the electorate, so there is little concern Texas would be ignored. In fact, it is far more likely the Trump campaign puts Texas away quickly.”
Engage Texas also saves Team Trump from having to spend the considerable sum it will take to register voters in Texas. America First Policies and America First Action, the president’s designated outside groups, are generally taking the lead nationally on voter registration for the GOP.
Washington Examiner · by David M. Drucker · June 12, 2019