02/01/2013 04:00 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2013

Turning Texas Blue (or at Least Purple): Bet On It

Last week, Politico reported that national Democrats are creating a "large-scale independent group" aimed at turning Texas into a legitimate electoral battleground.

This is no mere pipe dream. It's eminently doable.

Jeremy Bird, a key builder of the Obama campaign machine, is forming "Battleground Texas." The group plans to raise "tens of millions of dollars" across the country and put the Obama field manual to work in the Lone Star State, precinct-by-precinct, block-by-block.

Should Republicans be worried? Just ask freshman U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

The Tea Party darling believes that Republicans would cease to be nationally relevant if they can't maintain their presidential lock on his state. As he bluntly told The New Yorker three months ago: "If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won't be talking about Ohio, we won't be talking about Florida or Virginia, because.... you can't get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party."

Cruz is right. Texas is that important to the Republican Party, yet its urban voting patterns now consistently show Democratic stroke. Mitt Romney won the state 57-41, but he didn't win any of the biggest population centers. According to official results, Harris County (Houston) was closest, 49-49, while Travis County (Austin) did its typically progressive lean, 60-36 Obama. Bexar County (San Antonio) was 51-47 Obama, and get this: Dallas County did a stout reversal of Romney's statewide numbers, going 57-41 for the president.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing's own backyard? Is this a fluke? No, it's actually been trending toward Democratic bastionhood since '04, when John Kerry barely lost to native son George W. Bush, 50-49. Since November '06, Democrats have won every county-wide office in each election cycle. "Big D," indeed.

Although "bright blue" isn't in the cards for Texas, former Bush media guru Mark McKinnon told a Texas Tribune breakfast gathering last summer that the hard-right nature of the modern Republican brand, coupled with the rise in Hispanic voting, would likely turn the state purple in the next few years, perhaps by 2016. The congressional delegation will stay red for a while, thanks to redistricting by the Legislature. Still, just imagine the state's 38 electoral votes being in play in 2016 or 2020. Republicans can't win the White House without them.

If Democrats are successful, the elephant in the room will look like a chihuahua.

Addendum Added: One other bit of evidence that Texas isn't as red as widely assumed. The following map, from the Nov. 6, 2008 New York Times, shows the nationwide, county-by-county shift in presidential voting patterns from four years earlier, 2004. The red and blue doesn't represent which party won a given county (much of the blue is in states actually won by John McCain). Rather, the map shows which areas trended bluer and redder in '08 than they'd been in '04. As you can see, most of the nation trended bluer, except for McCain's Arizona and one notable swath that begins in upper Appalachia and swoops down into the South and includes Oklahoma. As for Texas, if you envision the outline on this map, it is apparent that the swath of America that trended redder than usual in '08 was predominately outside her borders. While it is certainly true that Obama did a little worse in Texas in '12 than in '08, that's a product of four years of constant demonizing and health care battle scars that will fade. At the end of the day, the map shows that Texas just isn't as red as the rest of red America.