POLITICS

Bernie Sanders Visits Texas To See If He Can Keep Drawing Huge Crowds

Going to Texas furthers Sanders' argument that progressive candidates shouldn’t confine themselves to the coalition of voters that elected President Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is making good on his promise to visit red states during his presidential campaign, with a swing through Texas planned for Sunday.

There are a couple of reasons why a Texas visit is unusual for any presidential campaign this early in the election cycle, let alone a Democratic one. The state’s primary isn’t among the four earliest contests crucial to establishing momentum -- Texas’ primary is on March 1, otherwise known as “Super Tuesday.” And for general election purposes, the state remains out of reach for Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide race since 1994.

But that’s beside the point for Sanders, who has said he’d travel not just to Iowa and New Hampshire but to states in the deep South, where despair often sets in for Democrats. He visited Austin in late March.

"I'm going to be going around the country not only to blue states ... but to red states, conservative states,” he said in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday. “We're going to go to Alabama, we're going to go to Mississippi. ... I think the message that we have is resonating. People are going to get involved in the political process, we're going to drive turnout up, and when we do that, we win."

For Sanders, the visits to Dallas and Houston accomplish both principled and pragmatic goals. He gets the press coverage to generate interest among Democrats in the early primary states -- the thousands who turned out for his rallies in Madison, Wisconsin, and Portland, Maine, inspired stories about his supporters’ enthusiasm.

And going to Texas furthers his argument that progressive candidates shouldn’t confine themselves to the coalition of voters that elected President Barack Obama. Progressive voters' stances on economic issues should resonate with working voters, the thinking goes, if the party does more to reach out to those in "flyover" states.

"The other thing I want to do is to take these debates into the so-called red areas of the country," Sanders told The Nation's John Nichols. "I think it is insane that the Democrats do not have a 50-state strategy [along the lines championed by Howard Dean]. How is it that, if you are the party of working people, supposedly, you abdicate your responsibility in some of the poorest states of America? Where are you in Mississippi? Where are you in South Carolina? Where are you in Alabama? Where are you in other low-income states? If you don’t get started now, you will never advance. So I intend in this campaign to go to states that many Democratic candidates don’t usually visit."

Democrats had high hopes for Texas ahead of last year’s midterm elections. Progressive activists and former Obama staffers formed a grassroots organizing group called Battleground Texas in 2013 to boost voter turnout and make inroads among demographics like Latinos and white women using out-of-state expertise and in-state volunteers. However, high hopes for the group were dashed on on Election Day, after Texas' low voter turnout  -- the lowest in the nation, in fact -- proved that transforming the state remains a formidable challenge.

"Texas Democrats welcome Senator Sanders to Texas," Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "Texas families deserve champions that are ready to grow our middle class, invest in our children’s future, and fix our country's broken immigration system."

 "We wish Bernie well, and no matter who wins the nomination, Texans will be there for him or her," Garcia added.

Sanders will be in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday for the state Democratic Party's Hall of Fame dinner, along with his main primary opponents, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Then, he'll fly to Phoenix, Arizona, for a town hall with O'Malley at the progressive Netroots Nation conference and a rally at the city's convention center. 

Clinton, for her part, has visited Missouri, Illinois and Texas in addition to the early primary states. 

This story has been updated to include a statement from Texas Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Manny Garcia.

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