Austin, Texas: Obama’s Home Away From Home

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Austin, Tex., 2007/Roxanne Jo Mitchell

Barack Obama’s first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border as President is the main attraction of Tuesday’s Lone Star state swing. Obama will tour a cargo facility and give a speech in El Paso, the latest effort in a push to court a crucial Latino voting bloc bristling over the lack of progress on immigration reform. But the remainder of his itinerary is hardly an afterthought. The White House wedged in a visit to a familiar destination: Austin. It’s a wealthy, liberal bastion in a Red state that Democrats hope to put in play in the coming years.

By one reckoning, Austin was where Obama’s fledgling presidential campaign first gained momentum. On Feb. 23, 2007, shortly after getting clobbered by Hillary Clinton at an early debate sponsored by the SEIU in Nevada, Obama held a rally in Austin. “The Austin event drew over 20,000 people, an enormous crowd for a primary event,” David Plouffe, Obama’s senior adviser and former campaign manager, wrote in The Audacity to Win, his chronicle of the 2008 race. The campaign channeled the crowd’s enthusiasm into cash. “At the end of March [2007], the county with the largest number of Obama contributors was Cook County, Illinois, not surprisingly. Number two, though, was not Manhattan or Miami Dade or Marin County, California. It was small-by-comparison Travis County, Texas, home of Austin.”

One of the 2008 presidential debates was held in Austin, and Obama returned again a year ago to give the commencement speech at the University of Texas’ flagship campus. “He has told multiple people that he loves Austin, and it’s safe to say Austin has always welcomed the President. The ’07 visit here was a significant turning point in the election,” Hector Nieto, Organizing for America’s state director for Texas, told the Travis County Democratic Party’s blog.

This time around, Obama will headline two Democratic National Committee fundraisers. Between stocking his war chest and soothing the frustrations of a key constituency, Obama’s Texas trip is a reminder that his campaign is working from carefully crafted script, even in its early stages.