DUNCANVILLE, Texas -- On an August afternoon in this Dallas suburb, nine Democrats gathered in the living room of Alice Kinsey, a 57-year-old mother of two, to celebrate President Barack Obama’s 52nd birthday and discuss their party’s future over chocolate cake and lemonade.
Kinsey, wearing a T-shirt declaring “Working Hard to Turn My Texas Blue,” is used to being in a political minority -- her parents felt they were the lone liberals in her 9,000-person hometown of Lamesa in the Panhandle. But in recent years Kinsey has found herself among more like-minded company. She and the others in the room have worked phone banks together and canvassed all over North Texas.
Democrats in Texas have had little to celebrate during the past 30 years. Since President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texas Democrat, signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the state has shifted progressively rightward. In 1976, Jimmy Carter became the last Democratic nominee for president to receive the state’s electoral votes.
But Kinsey and the others are convinced that their party is finally -- really, this time -- on the cusp of a comeback, and that Texas could sooner rather than later elect a Democratic governor and help send a Democrat to the White House. With 38 electoral votes, a Democratic Texas would make it near impossible to elect a Republican president.
Kinsey’s living room buzzed with renewed hopefulness.
Whether Democrats can start winning elections depends in large part on convincing people like Fidel Hernandez that the party represents their interests.
Hernandez immigrated from Mexico in 1985, met his wife, had three children and bought a house in the North Dallas suburb of McKinney. On weekdays, he works for a large optical manufacturing company where he has had a job for the past 25 years. On weekends and evenings, he fixes air-conditioning units.
Increasingly, Hernandez, 48, feels that no matter how hard he works he is not getting ahead. His day job pays him $16.25 an hour -- about $33,000 if he does not take any vacation time. His raises are given in quarters and dimes. He struggles to pay his bills on time and worries about his kids’ education. He has no savings.
“I’m not looking for rich,” he said. “I’m looking for a normal life.”
In the last presidential election, Hernandez, a devout Roman Catholic whose wife works for the local diocese, voted for Republican Mitt Romney because he was against abortion rights and same-sex marriage. But really, Hernandez does not think that anyone in government is looking out for people like him -- Democrat or Republican.
He says he will keep on voting Republican for the party's social conservatism until there is a better alternative.
Then there is Angel Calderon, 49, who has lived in Austin all her life and works three jobs -- none of which cover the cost of her health insurance.
“We’re not making it. I’m not making it,” she said. “My job should be worried about my health.”
Calderon votes sporadically and supported Obama in the 2008 presidential election, but does not consider herself particularly politically engaged.
Kinsey, the longtime Democratic activist, says that people like Calderon and Hernandez desperately need a state political system that works for them. She’ll be banging on doors and making telephone calls in her native state until she sees it happen.
“We just got to convince people,” Kinsey said. “It’s not a lost cause.”