Could Texas become a swing state?

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 07: The Texas flag flies at half mast in memory of soldiers killed in a mass shooting at Ft. Hood during a game between the Texas Longhorns and the UCF Knights on November 7, 2009 at Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Texas won 35-3. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Brian Bahr / Getty Images

A group of former Obama campaign staffers today launched a new organization to try turn reliably Republican Texas into a swing state.

The organization, called "Battleground Texas," will mount a multimillion dollar effort over the next several years to apply to the Lone Star State some of the hallmark tools of the Obama campaign: increased voter registration, data-driven voter contacts, and community organizing.

"Here's what we believe: with its diversity and size, Texas should always be a battleground state," Battleground Texas senior adviser Jeremy Bird said on a conference call with reporters. "But for far too long the state of play in Texas has been anything but competitive."

In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney won Texas - and its 38 electoral votes - by almost 16 points. The state last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1976.

Bird served as the Obama campaign's field director and is now a founding partner of 270 Strategies. Jenn Brown, Obama's Ohio field director, is executive director of Battleground Texas and has relocated to Austin.

"What I saw in Ohio is how every vote matters, and person to person relationships...and targeted voter contact is what won in that state," Brown said. Bird and Brown also pointed to the Obama campaign's successful efforts in Florida, Colorado, and Virginia as models for their Texas plans.

"In Texas there's a similar potential to grow the electorate and to engage new voters," Bird said.

According to the 2010 census, Texas is a majority-minority state where fully 38 percent of residents identify themselves as Hispanic. But the percentage of Texas Hispanics who vote is significantly lower.

Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio and the keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, said those voters are not being represented by their elected leaders.

"There's so many people in communities across this state that are being looked over and forgotten by their elected leaders, and it's vital that these people's voices are heard," Castro said.

The organizers of "Battleground Texas" concede that turning Texas blue for the presidency is a long-term goal. They'll begin by getting involved in state and local races in 2014. They have launched a website, Battlegroundtexas.com, to begin online fundraising. They are talking to large-dollar donors as well.

So far, Texas Republicans do not seem overly concerned they will be losing their state any time soon. Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, a Texas A&M graduate, put it this way in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: "The University of Texas will change its colors to maroon and white before Texas goes purple, much less blue."

  • Caroline Horn On Twitter»

    Caroline Horn is CBS News' senior producer for politics.

Comments