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Group says it hits milestone in bid to turn Texas toward Democrats

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Alumni from the Obama 2012 presidential campaign reached what they called a milestone this week in their campaign to turn Texas from a Republican stronghold into a state where Democrats post wins capable of shaking the national political landscape.

The Battleground Texas group marked the 2 millionth call by its 22,000-strong volunteer army trying to amass Democratic votes from the state's large Hispanic population and disaffected voters, including those who see Tea Party influence as pushing politics too far to the right.

But polls of major races this year show Republican candidates with strong leads over Democrats, who have not won a statewide election since 1994. Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor and now the state's attorney general, has maintained a double-digit lead over Democrat Wendy Davis, a state senator.

"Two million calls is at least 10 times the number you would expect at this point in the campaign," said Jenn Brown, executive director of Battleground Texas, a group staffed with veterans of Obama presidential campaigns in swing states.

The 2 million was a goal for the group in Texas and is far above the tens or hundreds of thousands of contacts grassroots groups may typically have in a major state race.

The Republican Party of Texas does not see the campaign as moving the needle in the state of 26 million that Democratic President Barack Obama lost by 16 percentage points to Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election

"It doesn't do you any good to make a contact, to make a phone call, to knock on a door. You have to be able to make sure that you are convincing people to be on your side," said Steve Munisteri, state chairman of the Republican Party of Texas.

He said the polling numbers, relatively low turnout rates for Democrats in primaries, and the failure of Democrats to field candidates in scores of counties were signs the Battleground Texas campaign had not been effective.

DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFT

Demographic numbers do indicate, however, that the needle could eventually move.

By 2030, Latinos, who typically support Democrats, will be the majority in Texas under current trends.

If Democratic activists can secure those votes, the state could potentially join Democratic strongholds California and New York, with the three states securing the party nearly half the electoral votes needed to win the White House.

A 2014 Gallup poll said Hispanics in Texas favored the Democratic Party by about a 2-to-1 margin over Republicans, but "the Republican Party in Texas has seen more growth in Hispanic support over the past five years than the Democratic Party."

Financing numbers indicate the Battleground campaign has paid dividends, with Davis raising $27 million about four months before the November election, more than Democratic candidate Bill White raised in total in his 2010 run for governor.

Davis and Abbott have raised about the same amount of money in recent months, records indicate. But the Davis campaign said its overall fundraising had been broader, with about six times the number of donors as Abbott's campaign, which did not respond to requests to comment.

(This story has been corrected to make it clear in paragraph 2 that the group reached 2 million calls, not people)

(Additional reporting by Marice Richter in Dallas; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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