Nov 9, 2023 - News

Travis County Dems to fund political action in suburbs

Illustration of a donkey holding a big hundred dollar bill in its mouth

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Travis County Democratic Party is now trying to extend its organizing and fundraising muscle to Austin suburbs.

What's happening: The county Democratic organization, rich with donors and equipped with full-time personnel, is helping pay for staffers in Hays and Williamson counties, politically purple areas on Austin's fringe.

  • The Democratic operations in those counties historically have had no paid staff, even as local political offices are increasingly in play.

Why it matters: Across the country, suburbs and exurbs are now political battlegrounds, and the Travis County experiment is a novel one in Texas.

Catch up quick: Suburban counties that were once GOP strongholds are now considered up for grabs, with Beto O'Rourke winning Hays County in 2022 and Gov. Greg Abbott eking out a win in Williamson County that year.

What they're saying: "We're trying to amplify the influence of the local parties," Katie Naranjo, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, tells Axios.

Context: Travis County already has high voter registration — typically over 95% — and relatively high turnout.

  • The amount of money needed to turn out heretofore unengaged likely Travis County Democrats is "exponentially more" than what it would yield in suburban counties that have had no professional staff, Naranjo says.

By the numbers: Blue Action Texas and other political action committees that Naranjo declined to name will also chip in resources.

  • All told, the investment in Hays and Williamson counties will total roughly $500,000, Naranjo tells Axios.

Details: The staffers will aim to get more likely Democrats to vote in the March primary — key to building a Democratic voter list — and increase voter registration.

  • The organization will start with one staffer for both counties and later have one for each.

Between the lines: With an ineffectual Texas Democratic Party organization, it has fallen to the Democratic organization in Travis County, a redoubt of progressive politics, to help out in the neighboring key suburban areas.

  • Republicans have held every statewide elected office since the 1990s, and won double-digit victories in the 2022 election.

Zoom in: In Hays County, Democrats are hoping to flip the sheriff's office, the county commissioner seat in the northwestern part of the county, a district judge position and a tax assessor-collector position, Democratic county chair John Hatch tells Axios.

  • "More people want to be involved, but it's like herding cats, so it helps to have a paid person," Hatch says.

The big picture: "Until we invest in the exurbs and suburbs in big cities and do actual on-the-ground organizing, we'll never see a statewide flip," Naranjo says.

The intrigue: The efforts in Central Texas come as their GOP counterparts are trying to make inroads in Democratic strongholds along the border.

What's next: The primary election, including candidates for U.S. president, House and Senate, is March 5.


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