Just as Stacey Abrams’s 2018 Georgia gubernatorial campaign laid the foundation for the transformation of US politics in 2020 and 201, Beto O’Rourke’s 2022 Texas gubernatorial candidacy has the potential to bring about similar long-term revolutionary changes in American politics and public policy priorities for decades to come.
When I first started raising money for Stacey 10 years ago, we had no way of knowing that her work would result in cutting US child poverty in half, removing every single dangerous lead pipe that poisons our nation’s drinking water, and ousting a white nationalist fascist from the White House who tried to destroy democracy itself. But all of those things happened this year. None of them would have been possible without the creation of a civic engagement and voter mobilization machine in Georgia capable of mobilizing millions of voters of color, flipping the two US Senate seats that handed Democrats control of the Senate 11 months ago. The fight in Georgia is not finished, and Stacey’s announcement last week that she is running for governor again is one of the most hopeful developments in US politics heading into 2022.
With Beto also mounting a gubernatorial bid next year, the potential for permanently reshaping the national political landscape is enormous. By replicating the Georgia model of organizing everywhere and making massive investments in boosting Democratic voter turnout, Beto can not only win the office in 2022—he can accelerate the transformation of Texas, and by extension American politics, for decades to come.
The Strategic Significance of the South and Southwest
The states in the South and Southwest are the linchpins of the progressive political revolution in America. This is the land where enslaved Black people picked the white cotton that made white people rich. It’s the territory that once belonged to Mexico until it was taken in a violent and bloody war. And it’s true: Both have some of the most conservative politics and politicians in the country. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Texas Governor Greg Abbot are ideological descendants of those who defended slavery and segregation. The ugly truth is that millions of people enthusiastically embrace those politics of white nationalist fear and resentment.
Much less appreciated is the fact that those states are also chock-full of people of color (as well as a meaningful minority of progressive whites). Georgia is teetering on the edge of becoming a “majority minority” state, as the proportion of white people has shrunk to just 50.06 percent of its population. In Texas, people of color are 61 percent of the population; there are as many Latinos, 39 percent, as whites in the state.
Stacey Abrams understood that building a statewide voter turnout operation could transform Georgia politics—and thereby upend the national political balance of power. In so doing, Georgia showed the way, opening the door to a new and better political era. Texas can now blow the door off its hinges, bury the right-wing movement seeking to make America white again, and usher in an era of greater justice and equality for the entire country. As Texas trends blue in coming years, it can flip its Senate seats and create a Texas-sized hole in the electoral college math necessary for any Republican seeking the White House.
Beto Can Win
Let’s be clear. This is not just about laying the foundation for long-term gains over the next several years by giving it the old college try. Beto can absolutely win, and he is uniquely positioned to do so by virtue of the assets built during his 2018 Senate campaign.
The notion that Texas is a “red state” is incorrect. While it is true that the people who cast ballots in recent elections largely supported Republicans, albeit by decreasing margins, the composition of the population of the state as a whole is trending Democratic. (I wrote about this January when I said that Texas is the next Georgia.) Latinos and African Americans are now the majority of the state’s population, and the popular perception of Texas as a place filled primarily with Stetson-wearing white men is fundamentally anachronistic. When you think Texas, you should now think of Selena, Beyoncé, and Megan Thee Stallion. Those Texas-born and raised cultural icons came from the communities that increasingly define the state.
The electorate in 2022 will be even more favorable than it was four years ago when Beto first ran statewide and came within 214,921 votes of winning. Nearly 300,000 people of color in Texas turn 18 every year, with 33 new eligible voters of color every single hour. By the time ballots are cast in November 2022, 1.2 million more young Texans of color will be eligible to vote than was the case four years ago.
In addition to all the new voters of color, there are literally millions of previously ignored and disengaged people of color who have sat out past elections. In 2018, 5.4 million people of color didn’t vote. What we learned in Georgia is that victory depends on massive turnout, and massive turnout requires strong organizational infrastructure working to find and mobilize every possible supporter.
That is the second advantage contributing to Beto’s improved prospects.
One of the hallmarks of Beto’s 2018 candidacy was the heavy emphasis on grassroots, hyper-local voter contact and mobilization. As a result, he has both a valuable network of preexisting relationships and also a literal road map to victory: He drove to all 254 counties in the state in 2017 and ’18, and was probably the only candidate to do so. In the intervening years, taking another page from the Abrams playbook of supporting ongoing civic engagement work, Beto has partnered with voter turnout powerhouses such as the Texas Organization Project. He has also kept his own network alive through the organization Powered By People, which has helped to register 200,000 people since late 2019.
Beto kicked off the gubernatorial campaign in November by focusing on the largely Latino and highly neglected Rio Grande Valley (where Abbott has been cultivating voters and buttressing his image for years), signaling that showing up everywhere will again form the basis of his campaign strategy,
The third pillar of power Beto has going for him is money. Texas is a huge state and, consequently, it is expensive to mount a campaign there. Abbott spent $85 million in 2018. He has already amassed a war chest of $55 million more than one year out from the election.
Beto is quite literally one of the only people in the country with a proven fundraising network capable of going toe-to-toe with the Republican financial juggernaut. In his 2018 campaign, he raised $80 million, and he still has those relationships, connections, and contact info. The continued passion of Beto’s backers shone through in the form of an impressive first day of fundraising in November, where he brought in more than $2 million. In contrast to what typically happens in Texas, the Republican standard-bearer will not be able to massively outspend the Democrats with Beto atop the ticket.
Texas is winnable. Turning it blue will quickly improve the lives of the 29 million people who live there—and the millions more, like me, who have family in the state. The implications for such a victory are even greater. If 2021 has proved anything, it’s that mobilizing voters of color in the South and Southwest is the progressive revolution we need.