Beto O’Rourke and Texas Democrats unite for largest Black voter outreach effort in state history

by | Jul 27, 2020 | 2020 Elections, Politics

Beto O’Rourke and Texas Democrats are joining forces to reach every single one of Texas’ 1.5 million Black voters by mid-August. The announcement comes amidst a transformative political climate steeped in demands for racial justice and calls to end police brutality against Black people.

The endeavor is the largest outreach effort of Black voters in state history, and may help deliver Texas’ 38 electoral votes to Democrats for the first time since 1976, fundamentally altering the landscape of Texas and presidential politics for generations.

A collaboration between Beto O’Rourke’s Powered by People, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, and the Texas Democratic Party, the mobilization effort represents an unprecedented investment and powerful demonstration of commitment to reach Black voters, who have long been the backbone of the Democratic base.

In 2018, Black Texans helped power O’Rourke’s run for the U.S. Senate, voting for him by an overwhelming margin of 90 percent. Similarly, large shares of Democratic support from Black voters were seen statewide, for candidates up and down the ballot, despite limited outreach to Black and Brown voters in 2018. An aggressive door-knocking push in communities of color began only a month and a half before election day.

“For too long, Black voters have been underrepresented in outreach and investment by organizations that haven’t truly harnessed or understood the power of the Black vote,” said Serita Robinson, the Texas Democratic Party’s Black constituency organizer. “Black voters are the key to winning Texas. Our investments now are going to make the difference between winning and losing in November.”

Texas, the state with the largest Black population in the country, has seen its voter registration rolls swell to more than 16.4 million voters this year, with more than 1.5 million of that share being Black voters.

In a stunning show of organizing power, the coalition of Democratic groups plans to call more than 1.1 million Black voters and text 950,000 of them, within weeks, to identify Democrats and ask them to vote for the entire Democratic ticket. In the wake of the COVID-19 surge, the effort also aims to sign up eligible Black voters to vote by mail and register any unregistered Black voters living in households that are contacted.

The Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, the Texas Democratic Party, and Powered by People have spent considerable resources to prepare for this effort by building organizing infrastructure and registering likely Democratic voters ahead of the election. 

The Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, an influential and prominent political group that facilitates Black engagement in the Democratic Party and civic life through its 22 local chapters across the state, helped lay critical groundwork for the collaboration. Caroll Robinson, the state chairman for the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, began talking to party leadership and O’Rourke months ago to formulate the best mobilization strategy. 

“We have never in the history of the state run such a comprehensive program to do outreach to Black Texans to encourage them to turn out to vote,” Robinson said. He indicated that this coordinated effort could serve as a blueprint for outreach to other constituency groups across the state and country. “If you’re going to represent people, you have to reach out to them, communicate with them, and educate them about their options.”

Robinson, who has been advocating for increased Black voter registration, education, and outreach since Rev. Jesse Jackson’s run for president in 1984, noted that the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats has strategically guided the collaboration from the beginning. The group serves as the political home for many Democratic Black voters; thus, it is notable and appropriate that the Coalition is serving at the forefront of leadership for this cycle’s effort.

The Texas Democratic Party, which will provide much of the data and messaging for the endeavor, has been working to build relationships with Black community leaders and voters across the state. Robinson, the party’s Black constituency organizer, helms this outreach. She has focused on organizing events in which Black people and the most marginalized, like those incarcerated without a felony and those recently released, can have a voice in the Democratic party by participating in the election. Through these events, Robinson has created a statewide network of community captains who are accountable for getting 20 of their friends and family members to vote, and she plans to train faith leaders to register and mobilize congregants to the polls.

In collaboration with the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats and the Texas Democratic Party, Beto O’Rourke will direct his volunteers’ energy toward an effort to reach 1.5 million Black voters across Texas | Photo: Beto O’Rourke

Powered by People, O’Rourke’s volunteer powerhouse which has a goal of reaching 15 million voters across Texas’ 254 counties, will provide much of the organizing muscle for this outreach endeavor. O’Rourke and his massive band of thousands of trained volunteers have already registered nearly 50,000 unregistered Democrats, made more than 1.5 million calls to Texans, and just in recent weeks, sent more than 4 million texts to voters across the state — rural, urban, and suburban.

“For far too long the votes of Black Texans have been suppressed by Republicans and taken for granted by Democrats,” O’Rourke said. “The work of this coalition will address both of these challenges by helping to elect a Democratic majority in our state house, one that will work to end racial gerrymandering and voter suppression, and by individually reaching out to every Black voter in the state of Texas.”

The collaborative outreach and deep investment to reach Texas’ Black voters is also a definitive play to not only deliver a Democratic majority in the Texas House and gain critical leverage in the redistricting process by flipping nine of 22 seats where O’Rourke won or lost within single digits in 2018, but to actively compete to flip the U.S. Senate seat, as well as 10 Congressional seats in districts that O’Rourke won or lost by under 3 points in 2018, and scores of judicial seats, including nearly half of the Texas Supreme Court.

Polls show an increasingly tight race in the nation’s largest battleground state, with a recent poll putting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden up by one point in Texas, and another putting Biden up five points.

“[The Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Powered by People, and the Texas Democratic Party] agree and understand that Black voters are essential to the success of the Democratic party,” said Robinson of the Texas Coalition of the Black Democrats. “Not just in 2020, but in 2022 and 2024… the long haul.”

Texas Democrats have signaled that they aim to both expand the electorate by activating more than one million Black voters, and make history by delivering sweeping Democratic victories at all levels of the ballot. The multiracial coalition they seek to build and prioritize — led, as it has always been, by Black voters — may very well usher in an enduring era of Democratic dominance in the state.

Photo: Beto O’Rourke

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Chris covers Texas politics and government. He is a Policy Advisor for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and a graduate student at Harvard University. Previously, Chris served as Texas State Director and National Barnstorm Director for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and as a Political Advisor for Beto O’Rourke. Born in Houston, Texas to immigrants from Hong Kong and Mexico, he is committed to building political power for working people and communities of color. Chris is a Fulbright Scholar and a graduate of Rice University.

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