10/06/2014 03:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2014

Greg Abbott and Latino Voters in Texas

It has been a long time since Democrats won a statewide office in Texas. Texas Democrats haven't won a statewide election in Texas since 1994 and face an uphill battle in 2014's gubernatorial race, even though State Senator Wendy Davis is a charismatic and serious contender.

That having been said, Texas Democrats have strongholds they can generally rely on for support, namely urban Texas (the counties that contain Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio all supported President Obama's re-election in 2012) and the predominately Latino counties of South Texas. The Latino vote has been a big source of Democratic hopes in Texas, with the assumption being that if and when the sleeping giant of Latino voters wake up, they will overwhelmingly vote Democratic and turn Texas blue.

Smart Republican operatives are well aware of this strategy and they have been doing what they can to increase Latino support for the GOP in Texas. A good recent description of this comes from a piece by Joshua Partlow in the Washington Post, which describes Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's campaign to gain votes in South Texas. As the Partlow article states:

But this year, Republican nominee Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, has set out to break Bush's record by making the rapidly growing Hispanic vote -- and the Rio Grande Valley -- central to his campaign. The day after Abbott announced his candidacy in San Antonio, he was in McAllen, on the Mexican border. He has visited the area 14 times during the campaign, most recently for his first debate with the Democratic candidate, state Sen. Wendy Davis. He has also aired six Spanish-language TV ads, including one featuring his Latina mother-in-law that premiered during the Mexico-Brazil World Cup match in June...The situation has surprised locals who are accustomed to being a sideshow in big elections.

If this Twitter thread is any indication, a lot of people are skeptical about the prospect of Abbott gaining a large amount of Latino support. Time will tell if that skepticism is warranted, and I hope it is, but it is a huge mistake for Democrats to assume that the Texas Latino vote is locked in their favor. As I've previously written, Texas Democrats shouldn't wait for demographics to transform Texas politics. They have to engage voters today to bring them over to the Democratic column and that includes working to keep Latino voters in the fold. The Republicans don't need to win most Latino voters to remain dominant in statewide Texas politics. All they need is the support of around 40 percent of Latino voters. That is the amount of support that Governor Rick Perry received when he won re-election in 2010. Greg Abbott appears to understand those numbers and doesn't appear to be writing off the Latino vote in South Texas. Abbott can claim at least a certain measure of success in Latino outreach if he wins the plurality I mention above and the best way to do that is to focus on South Texas, which is exactly what he's doing.

Democrats cannot be complacent here. While Battleground Texas and Wendy Davis have been doing yeoman's work in trying to turn Texas blue, that won't happen if the Latino voters that make up the Democratic current and future base stay home or vote Republican. Snarking about the GOP's chances with Latino voters won't do Texas Democrats any good and it's clear that Greg Abbott isn't going to allow himself to be linked to the more xenophobic wing of the Texas GOP (and admittedly, that's a very big, pterodactyl-sized wing) without a fight. The future of Texas politics is intrinsically tied to the future of the Latino vote. Texas Democrats need to realize that future is still unwritten and not leave anything to chance.