AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Call it the long hello.
Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis has announced that she will make clear her future plans on Oct. 3. In the meantime, she's collecting emails, networking with Democratic supporters and will likely send out a number of email blasts over the next 10 days, releasing tidbits of news designed to build momentum before her formal debut as a candidate for Texas governor.
Despite the attempt to build suspense, the roar of the political machine behind her betrays that she's already started a campaign that could have national implications, whether she wins or loses in 2014.
Davis and other Democrats are well aware of the naysayers who dismiss any attempt to break the Republican hold on Texas. They cite the state's conservative history, the 20 years since a Democrat has won a statewide election and the 1-101 losing streak since 1994.
Yet anyone who reads the U.S. Census knows the state is undergoing perhaps the most dramatic demographic change since Stephen F. Austin started bringing white immigrants to the Mexican state of Coahulia y Texas. The Anglo majority that controlled Texas politics since the Civil War makes up less than 50 percent of the current population and more than 50 percent of public school students are Hispanic. Texas will be a solidly Hispanic-majority state by 2025.
Democratic officials argue that since their party receives two-thirds of the Hispanic vote, 90 percent of the black vote and a quarter of Anglo ballots, they can win statewide elections and make Texas competitive in the 2016 presidential election. The only problem, they admit, is getting enough of these people to actually cast a ballot.
That's where Davis and a group called Battleground Texas come in.
Davis' Tarrant County Senate seat looks a lot like Texas demographics, and she has turned out the Democratic coalition. She has a compelling rags-to-riches story that connects with less affluent voters and her politics appeal to the Democratic base and white suburban women who are more likely to cross party lines.
Battleground Texas, meanwhile, is doing the difficult job of changing the math. They are organizing thousands of volunteers to register Democratic-leaning citizens to vote and then make sure they get to the polls. Hours after Davis announced her Oct. 3 deadline, Battleground Texas asked volunteers to organize watch parties of Davis' formal proclamation.
Both Davis and Battleground Texas will rely on technology and networking techniques pioneered by President Barack Obama in both of his national campaigns. That's why Davis called on supporters to sign up for email updates and Battleground Texas is building a database of supporters that Democrats will use not only in 2014, but for years to come.
Republicans also employ these techniques and they have a head start. The Republican front-runner, Greg Abbott, has already won three statewide elections for attorney general, has $20 million in the bank and the support of Gov. Rick Perry. He has a formidable campaign already in motion, while Davis hasn't formally announced yet.
Yet even if Davis doesn't defeat Abbott in 2014, she can do something even almost as important: close the gap with Republicans ahead of 2016.
For the past decade, Democrats have struggled to get more than 42 percent of the vote in Texas, and the theories as to why are legion. But the result of the losing streak is a poorly financed party with active chapters in only half of the state's counties.
Davis' charisma and ability to attract national financial support will help re-energize Democrats across the state. If she can lose with 48 percent of the vote in a non-presidential year and leave behind a party organization capable of turning out 4 million Democrats, she will have laid the groundwork to make Texas competitive in 2016.
And turning the second most-populous state with 20 media markets into a battleground state for Republicans in 2016 would be quite an accomplishment.
Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cltomlinson
Chris Tomlinson is the AP's supervisory correspondent in Austin responsible for state government and political reporting.