Rand Paul is a US Senator from Kentucky, but he had a stern warning for Texas this weekend: You may be tea party-friendly and predictably Republican-red today, but you could turn blue within a decade if you don’t become more inclusive.
Why Texas? Sen. Paul was raised in the Lone Star State, which his father Ron Paul represented in Congress for 24 years, so he knows the territory and feels at home there. “I speak Texan,” he has said.
More important, perhaps, it’s a key state for any Republican considering a run for the presidency, which Mr. Paul is. Plus, his “bigger tent” message is an important one acknowledged by most GOP leaders, with whom he’d like to be associated even as he pushes his own more libertarian political philosophy.
Speaking to the county Republican organization in Houston Saturday evening, Paul warned that Texas "will be a Democratic state within 10 years if you don't change."
"That doesn't mean we give up on what we believe in, but it means we have to be a more welcoming party,” Paul said, as reported by CNN. “We have to welcome people of all races. We need to welcome people of all classes – business class, working class.”
“We need to have people with ties and without ties, with tattoos and without tattoos; with earrings, without earrings,” he said. “We need a more diverse party. We need a party that looks like America.”
More to the point, that means attracting more Hispanics, who make up nearly 40 percent of voters there.
The 2012 presidential race was a sobering reminder for the GOP. Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polling; Barack Obama won 71 percent.
Obama’s national vote share among Hispanic voters was the highest seen by a Democratic candidate since 1996, when President Bill Clinton won 72 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, the Hispanic portion of the electorate keeps steadily growing: 8 percent in 2004, 9 percent in 2008, 10 percent in 2012.
Especially in Texas, with a Hispanic population that is nearly four times the national average, the impact of those trends could be dramatic – Sen. Paul’s essential point.
For one thing, Paul says, Republicans need to assume a different tone (if not stance) on immigration reform – far different than GOP hopefuls voiced during the primary and caucus fight leading up to the 2012 presidential election. (Who can forget Mr. Romney’s “self deportation” remark? Or the criticism of Texas Gov. Rick Perry by rival candidates when he suggested a more welcoming attitude toward immigrants – including those who had come to this country illegally?)
“We won’t all agree on it,” Paul said. “But I’ll tell you, what I will say and what I’ll continue to say, and it’s not an exact policy prescription … but if you want to work and you want a job and you want to be part of America, we’ll find a place for you.”
Politico reports that people applauded when he quoted his colleague, Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah: “Immigrants are assets, not liabilities. We were all immigrants once.”
Given Paul’s warning, is it possible today for Democrats in Texas to win statewide office or perhaps even turn from solid red to purple if not blue?
“Some Democrats in Texas have seized on the shifting tide that Paul identifies. One Democratic super PAC, Battleground Texas, was launched specifically to back Democratic candidates in the state,” Mollie Reilly of the Huffington Post wrote Sunday. “The most visible of these candidates is State Sen. Wendy Davis, whose filibuster of an anti-abortion bill last summer put her on the national radar. Davis is currently running for governor against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R)."