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In the 2012 election, we heard a lot about the growing power of Hispanic voters. Well, nowhere is that more evident than Texas. Look 10 years into the future, and among the voting age population, Hispanics will be the largest group. This week, in a series called Texas 2020, NPR is examining the dramatic demographic shifts underway in Texas.
And now, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson explains how those changes could affect the electoral map.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: With the two parties in Washington gridlocked on immigration, the budget and other issues, it's easy to forget that when it comes to winning presidential elections, one party has a distinct advantage.
RHODES COOK: The Democrats have a significant advantage on the electoral map that gives them the inside track going into 2016.
LIASSON: That's independent political analyst Rhodes Cook. Cook's latest red and blue charts show that what used to be a Republican advantage has, over the last generation, flipped. There are now 18 states plus the District of Columbia that voted Democratic in every one of the last six presidential elections. That gives the Democrats a comfortable base of 242 electoral votes out of the 270 needed.
On the other hand, only 13 states, with 102 electoral votes, have gone Republican in each of the last six elections. And that is the painful reality for Republicans like strategist Alex Lundry.
ALEX LUNDRY: We're starting out really behind the curve here. We have to expand the map, because the map right now is really disadvantaged distinctly for Republicans.
LIASSON: In recent years, Republicans have been watching the map shrink. Virginia and Florida, once GOP strongholds, have turned purple. Now, Democrats are turning their attention to the biggest Republican prize of all, Texas - yes, bright red Texas, where no Democrat has won statewide since 1994. Without Texas, Republicans' chances of winning the White House would fade to near zero.
Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa says his party's hopes are based on demographics.
GILBERTO HINOJOSA: Forty percent of the people in the State of Texas are Hispanic. Fifteen percent are Asian-American or African-American. That's 55 percent of the population. Texas is the only minority-majority state in the entire country that is not a Democratic state. And it's primarily 'cause of the Hispanic vote.
LIASSON: Or to be more accurate, the Hispanic non-vote.
A new group, called Battleground Texas, is planning to spend tens of millions of dollars trying to turn Texas blue by 2020. It's made up of Obama campaign veterans like former field director Jeremy Bird, with lots of experience targeting and turning out minority voters for Democrats. Now, Bird wants to do the same thing for Texas.
JEREMY BIRD: If you look at the 2012 electorate, only 38 percent of all eligible Hispanics turned out to vote. Compare that to Florida, where that number is 62 percent. If 62 percent of Hispanic voters who are eligible to vote turn out and vote in Texas, it's a battleground state.
LIASSON: The math makes the Democrats' strategy sound simple. Barack Obama lost Texas last year by 1.2 million votes. And, says Gilberto Hinojosa, there are currently 3 to 4 million eligible Hispanics in Texas that didn't vote in 2012.
HINOJOSA: That's where our problem is. The moment that they get engaged and start voting, it's all over but the crying for the Republican Party in Texas.
LIASSON: Not so fast, says Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Munisteri says the Democrats' plans for Texas are based on a string of bad assumptions.
STEVE MUNISTERI: The first false premise is that Hispanics will vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. We know that's not true. Republican elected officials were rational enough a long time ago to recognize how important Hispanics are to our state and actively sought the vote from Hispanic communities, with great success.
LIASSON: Republicans have been averaging about 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas - just enough to stay competitive. Even Mitt Romney did better in Texas, getting 36 percent of the Hispanic vote there, compared to his dismal 27 percent nationwide. Munisteri agrees that nationally Republicans do have a problem. But, he says, Texas Republicans have the solution.
Back before the 2012 election, Munisteri says he warned a group of Republican Party chairs that if they didn't do a better job of engaging minority voters...
MUNISTERI: It is a probability in the short term, and a statistical certainty in the long term, that the Republican Party will never win another national election. And that's the bad news. Let me give you the good news and show you why we've been doing so much better in Texas.
LIASSON: Munisteri says Texas is the exception to the rule when it comes to Republicans and Hispanics. And he says he's ready to commit candidates and resources to match Democrats in the fight for Hispanic votes. So whether or not Texas turns blue by 2020, the state is certain to get a lot more attention from both parties even sooner.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
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