Republicans and Democrats Launching Efforts in Texas, California to Woo Latinos

Voters go to the polls for Super Tuesday primaries in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights on February 5, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.

Voters go to the polls for Super Tuesday primaries in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights on February 5, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.  (2008 Getty Images)

With the 2012 election over, and Latino voters a star voting bloc, both Republicans and Democrats are looking to steal their hearts in states where they tend to lean toward the opposing party.

In Texas, organizers of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign are working on turning this Republican hub into one where a Democratic presidential candidate can snatch a victory.

In California, former George W. Bush aide Ruben Barrales is the new head of PAC GROW Elect, which kicked off in 2011 to support Latino Republican candidates. 

With the bruising defeat of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, and the critical role Latinos are said to have played in that defeat, PAC GROW Elect is pledging to carry out its original mission with a vengeance, according to the Web site campaignsandelections.com

Spearheaded by organizers of Obama's re-election campaign in 2012 -- when Romney handily carried the Lone Star State -- a new push, called "Battleground Texas," officially launched Tuesday with the goal of seizing shifting demographics to make the state eventually winnable for a Democratic presidential candidate.

"With its size and diversity, Texas ought to be a place where local races are hotly contested and anyone who wants to be president has to compete," said Jeremy Bird, a senior adviser to Battleground Texas who served as field director of Obama's re-election bid.

Or as Gov. Rick Perry calls it, "the biggest pipedream I have ever heard."

Organizers are not projecting when that might happen. Nor are they saying how much money they will need to raise and spend to give Democrats a fighting chance in Texas, where the party hasn't won a statewide office since 1994.

 Lynda Tran, a spokeswoman for 270 Strategies, the firm behind Battleground Texas, said the group is registered with the Federal Election Commission and the Texas Ethics Commission.

About 70 percent of Hispanics nationwide voted for Obama over Romney in November. The booming Texas population is being driven by Hispanic growth -- minorities accounted for nearly 9 of every 10 new residents in the past decade-- and Democratic organizers believe the changing face of the state will boost their chances.

In California, Barrales said change toward cultivating support for Republicans would begin at the most local level.

“We’re definitely focused on local races because that’s where we’re going to find those future leaders in California,” Barrales told the campaign Web site. “As we move forward we will also get into state races and then probably support federal candidates as well.”

“What I expect them to do is increase the numbers, increase the resources and really to have a strong network that Latino Republicans can plug into and count on for help and support,” Barrales said, according to the site. “The end result will be a stronger Latino community in California and a stronger Republican Party as well.”

But Perry, for one, isn't buying that Texas will cease to be a Republican stronghold.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last weekend during the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, Perry said the University of Texas would adopt the rival maroon-and-white colors of Texas A&M before the state ever goes blue.

"Democrats are about government getting bigger and bigger and government providing more and more," Perry told the newspaper. "Texans have never been for that, and Texans never will."

State demographers have predicted that Hispanics will make up a plurality of Texans by 2020, and then become the majority between 10 and 20 years later.

For now, even some of the biggest Democratic stars in Texas concede that odds are long in top races for the immediate future.

When a moderator at a Texas Association of Business conference last month joked to U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro that it could be more likely he would be elected president before Texas governor, Castro laughed and said that it might be true.

"I'm sounding a little pessimistic, but I believe that the Democratic Party can come back," Castro said. "If you look around other states, there has been other periods where Democrats have dominated for 40 years and then it changed, or vice versa. Things will change. What I have said is for Democrats, they're not going to change on their own. Demographics are very powerful, but you have to lay a lot of infrastructure to make that change."

Barrales said that in California, his group wants to grow a solid farm team, working outside the party structure and relying partly on funding from frustrated donors.

"I'm at a point where I either can keep complaining about it, or I can do something about it," said Barrales, who ran unsuccessfully for state controller in 1998. "What we want to see is a Republican Party that's more representative overall of the demographics."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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