Posted: Jun 27, 2014 3:05 PM
Updated: Jun 27, 2014 3:06 PM
DALLAS (AP) Thousands of delegates gathering Friday for the Texas Democratic Convention got a heaping dose of optimism from their party's top stars as they look to break the Republicans' 20-year winning streak in statewide elections.
Gubernatorial hopeful and state Sen. Wendy Davis joined Texas Senate colleague and lieutenant governor candidate Leticia Van de Putte in addressing a fiery women's caucus meeting on the sidelines of the gathering in Dallas. Both will later give speeches before the full convention and have vowed to pull upsets and win in November.
A Democrat hasn't been elected to a statewide office in Texas since 1994, the longest such string of defeats in the nation.
Davis became a Democratic sensation nationally with a 12-plus hour Texas Senate filibuster last summer that temporarily delayed passage of strict abortion restrictions statewide. The party hopes she and Van de Putte can woo women voters, young Texans and independents.
Delegates are also hoping to expand the base by approving an official party platform that stresses openness and inclusion. That's in contrast to Texas Republicans, who at their convention in Fort Worth this month crafted a platform with a hard-line stance on immigration and an endorsement of therapy to turn gay people straight.
In another stark difference, joining Van de Putte and Davis at Friday's women's caucus was Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay.
The final Democratic platform won't be ready until Saturday. Still, more openness can mean defying traditional Democratic values or taking positions that alienate some voters. That tension was on display in Friday meetings of Democrats who support gun rights and oppose abortion and the death penalty.
"If we're going to be a big tent, it has to go both ways," said James White, a Texas Democratic Executive Committee member who addressed a gun-owner caucus.
White, who said he owns "a fair number of guns," was advocating for stronger language defending the Second Amendment in the platform, saying "we're looking for middle ground."
Similar sentiment came from Lois Kerschen, who has been coming to Texas Democratic Conventions for 42 years but opposes abortion and is on the board of directors of Democrats for Life of America. She said most women get abortions because of economic circumstances and that expanding social programs could change that.
"You can't shove us out of the party," Kerschen said. "Put pro-life Democrats as candidates and you are going to win. We haven't done that in Texas and we're losing."
Kerschen said the party has stopped including language in its platform "welcoming diverse opinions."
Meanwhile, the party's 2012 platform expressly oppose the death penalty even though Texas leads the nation in executions. Scott Cobb, who ran a Democrats Against the Death Penalty caucus meeting Friday, said he expects similar language to be included this year. He said that, though support for capital punishment remains strong statewide, it's "slipped some."
"Democratic grass-roots activists write the platform and they're a little bit ahead of public opinion," Cobb said. "But public opinion is catching up."