Don't Let Up, Texas Obama Director Says

"This race is going to tighten up," Sepúlveda warns

Don’t let those poll numbers lull you into letting your guard down. That’s the message that Juan Sepúlveda, Texas state director of the Barack Obama campaign, had for party activists at the Central Texas Democratic Forum luncheon today. He detailed how the Texas campaign is both sending volunteers and staff to battleground states (such as neighboring New Mexico) and trying to help Dems here. Some excerpts from his presentation:

“We’re worried about a couple of things,” Sepúlveda said. “One, it is not over, and we’ve got to make sure we don’t get complacent.

“The second thing is that this race is going to tighten up. We started to hear people say, ‘Oh, I guess we don’t need to go to New Mexico anymore, that’s done, it’s finished, we’re up by six, seven points there.' We have to remind them that four years ago, John Kerry was at exactly the same position. He was exactly seven points ahead of President Bush at the time, and we ended up losing New Mexico by under 6,000 votes.

“So we are making sure, and we are not going to stop. We’re going to keep doing everything that we’ve been planning on doing, and we’re going to make sure that we carry through in the last 15 [days] because there are a number of these states where we’re fortunate to be ahead, but we’re talking two points, three points, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Indiana, you go down the line, these states are tight and could break either way.

“You all know that every four years, very little happens in Texas. That’s why I know that this campaign is just different. When they were talking to me about considering taking on the state director role, I was ready, I had all the stats, I was going to make the pitch: ‘We’ve got to do some stuff here at home.’ I was shocked that they had stolen my notes and basically told me, ‘… and [the Texas staff] are going to do in-state work as well.’ [I said,] ‘Uh, okay.’

“That’s why this campaign is different. When I spoke with Steve Hildebrand, the deputy campaign manager who was in charge of hiring all the state directors, he knew the numbers and he went through them with me. He said, ‘You guys are five seats away from taking back the state House.’

“We were up in Round Rock yesterday – there are Democrats in Round Rock – and they kept correcting me, ‘No, there’s only four to go because [Dist. 52 Dem candidate] Diana [Maldonado] is about to get elected. … As I talked to Steve, as I talked to the campaign, they said ‘Look, we are going to do everything we need to do and we are going to win on Nov. 4, but an even more important date is going to be in January of 2009 when President Obama has to start governing, and he’s going to need Texas. … There’s a little thing called the Census that takes place in a couple of years, and after that census we need the Democrats to be in charge.’

“Y’all remember Tom DeLay and what happened the last time there was a redistricting. We don’t know the exact number yet, but we know that Texas is going gain the largest number of new congressional seats. … It’s going to be three or four.” Sepúlveda motioned toward Austin state Rep. Elliot Naishtat and said, “We all know that we’d rather have Elliot drawing those lines than the Republicans.”

“All of the toss-up states today have one thing in common: They’re all Bush states [in 2004]. … There are a number of paths to 270 [Electoral College votes, the number needed to win]. John McCain has one of them. And here’s a little thing to keep in mind, and the networks don’t want to hear me say this to you: A lot of people will tell you that John McCain cannot win without Virginia. So as the polls close on the east coast on Nov. 4 and as the networks will call each state as those polls close, if John McCain doesn’t win Virginia, which is one of the first states they’ll be calling, NBC, CBS, they’re gonna need a hell of a movie to show. There’s going to be lot of time [to fill] because it’s going to be over that night.”

Afterward, I asked Sepúlveda about rumblings we’ve heard that down-ballot Democratic candidates are unhappy with activists being shipped out to battleground states when boots are need on the ground here to win close Congressional and Legislative races.

“In Texas we’re big enough to do both,” he replied. “While we’ve sent about 1,000 folks out of state, it’s a tiny percentage of the tens of thousands of volunteers who are still here in the state and working on down-ballot races.”

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