Texas, for a week at least, is the center of the Democratic political universe. There have already been a couple of major polls of the state released, a declaration of intent by the state's Democratic Party, pushback from Texas Republicans and some crowing from national Democrats about their chances of finally catching, or at least catching sight of, their white whale.
Thursday night brings with it the main event, with the 10 leading presidential candidates finally debating each other on the same stage at Texas Southern University in Houston (7-10 p.m. on ABC News, locally WFAA Channel 8, in Spanish on Univision, and streamed on various websites and mobile apps).
There's a reason the possibility of blue Texas makes Democrats salivate. Without the state's 36 electoral votes, it's difficult even to imagine a path to an Electoral College victory for a Republican presidential candidate. Texas' rising population means it will only grow in political clout in the coming decade. Texas going blue, or purple, would also change the regional footprint of a party that's struggled in the South and Southwest for almost four decades.
Monday morning, the Texas Democratic Party rolled out its "Path to Victory in 2020 Plan." The state party, which still hasn't won a statewide election in more than 20 years, sounded anything but timid about its prospects.
"We will win the White House, take out John Cornyn, expand our Texas congressional delegation, break the supermajority in the Texas Senate, flip the Texas House and elect hundreds of local Democrats across the state,” said Texas Democratic Party deputy executive director Cliff Walker.
Texas Democrats, like their counterparts at the Democratic National Committee, are pouring millions of dollars worth of resources into the state, targeting the registration of Democratic-friendly would-be voters and continuing the turnout surge that carried former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke to within three points of upsetting incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz in November.
In response, Texas Republicans touted their own spending and said they intended to keep Democrats from turning Texas into a "copy of California."
"The state party is breaking fundraising records, and we are investing those funds in data, systems, training and the largest Get Out The Vote (GOTV) effort Texas has ever seen," Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said in a statement. "We will continue fighting hard to ensure Texans turn out to vote for the values that have made our state such an incredible place to live."
For national Democrats, a DNC official said on a press call Wednesday, a competitive Texas brings with the added bonus of forcing President Donald Trump's campaign to use resources in a state where competition can be expensive.
All signs point to the state being at least as competitive as it was in 2018, too.
According to a poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University, 48% of Texas registered voters said they would "definitely not" vote for President Trump in 2020, with 35% saying they would vote for him. Fourteen percent of voters said they might vote for Trump.
"It has never been more clear: Texas is the biggest battleground state in the country," Texas Democratic Party executive director Manny Garcia said in a statement Wednesday. "We’re having a debate here in Houston because Texas is the focal point of the Democratic offensive strategy."
Trump, according to almost any Democrat one can find, as well as non-partisans like Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, is a millstone around Texas Republicans' necks. His stances toward immigrants and communities of color make it next to impossible for the Texas GOP to target otherwise conservative Hispanic or Asian voters. Stir in suburban disenchantment with the president, especially among women, and you have the makings of a bloody political fight.