Texas Democrats struggle to mobilise voters in key O'Rourke-Cruz battle
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The US state of Texas is a red state - staunchly Republican. But Democrats are hoping for a blue wave during Tuesday’s midterm election, driven by Beto O’Rourke, the candidate for US Senate running against Ted Cruz. Polls show that Democrats must struggle hard to get their voters to the polls.
The O’Rourke campaign is aiming to knock on a million doors before 6 November and get-out-the vote efforts were going strong over the weekend.
In Sugar Land, a suburb of Houston, Sarah DeMerchant goes from door to door, dressed casually, wearing slipper-like boots and an O'Rourke campaign T-shirt. She is running for a seat in the Texas state House of Representatives against Republican incumbent Rick Miller.
It’s Saturday morning and not many people answer their doors, so she tucks leaflets into doorjambs and moves on down the list of houses in an app provided by the O’Rourke campaign.
Black women stand
DeMerchant had come out as part of an organising effort by Kanay Turner, of the O’Rourke campaign, who named the event the "black-girl magic blockwalk", to highlight the high number of black women, like DeMerchant, running for office.
“It brings out black women to come out and canvas and volunteer for us,” Turner explains to RFI.
It also encourages people to get to know candidates farther down the ballot, she says: “People say, 'Hey, I see Beto [O’Rourke]!' Well, you only know of Beto, did you know of all these other candidates on the ballots?”
The focus on the black women candidates did bring out first-time volunteers, like Shanice Drumgold, 29.
“The theme really grabbed my attention,” she says. “I grew up in a small rural county in Kentucky, so there was not a lot of black-girl magic going on, so anytime I see anything that encourages minority women to step up, then I get encouraged.”
Republicans count on churches
Republicans are doing their own get-out-the vote efforts, door to door and on the phone, but as the dominant political party in Texas, their tactics are different.
Candidates are not necessarily looking for new voters but, rather, they want to make sure their base actually goes to the polls. And the encouragement goes through various different organising routes, including churches, as a large part of the Republican base is evangelical Christians.
At a recent Sunday service, Gregg Matte, the pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, one of several megachurches in the city, told worshippers to get out and vote.
“Vote intelligently… Vote biblically,” he said from the stage, before reminding the audience that several people running for office, including Ted Cruz, are members of the church.
“We’re to vote biblically, which means we vote for people who uphold the values of Christ and what’s talked about in the word, like abortion,” says Debbie Bragg, after the service. “Abortion is against God’s word. If a politician is promoting abortion, that’s wrong.”
Jacob Hudson, another parishioner, agrees that the main issue is abortion: “My vote goes more towards the people that are against that, so that’s for me the strongest biblical stance I take.”
Seven thousand people worship at Houston First Baptist Church each week. And, while churches in the United States are not allowed to endorse candidates, the Republican Party is staunchly pro-life. Ted Cruz, who failed to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, supports abortions only when the life of the mother is endangered.
Will it work?
As Republican candidates reach out to their supporters en masse, young volunteers and activists from United We Dream, the largest immigrant rights group in the US, go out to try to find voters one by one.
“We’re targeting low-propensity voters, people who don’t usually go out to vote,” explains Tamaris Gonzales, the Houston organiser for the group. “It can be minorities, like Hispanics, Asian and black people who don’t vote. We want them to go out and vote.”
And the big question is if they will or not and whether that will help the Democrats counteract the massive Republican voting bloc in Texas on 6 November.