AUSTIN, Texas — Rick Potter knows campaign signs don‘t vote, but when an overwhelming amount of Beto O‘Rourke signs began sprouting up in his home county, he says he knew exactly what to do: call in the cavalry.
For 18 years, Potter has been part of the Mighty Texas Strike Force, which typically deploys a few battalions of rock-ribbed conservatives from solid-red territory to a swing state where they can help tip a competitive race to the GOP. This year, the group is deploying at home, in the Lone Star State.
“It marks the first time I‘ll stay in Texas to assist in keeping a Republican in office,” said the 62-year-old Travis County businessman. He has been part of a volunteer army of 1,500 to 2,000 conservatives from 15 different states who volunteer their time to go to battleground states on their own dime during presidential election cycles.
He explained: “We knock on doors, do phone banking, go to rallies, and do social networking for about three weeks immersing ourselves in places where elections are close for Republicans. We used to be mostly Texans, we began in 2000 when George W. Bush was running for president.”
Since then, the group has grown with members from other red states who go out in swing states to help out with voter and efforts to get out the vote.
Today, Potter is the chairman. “We changed the name to the Mighty American Strike Force because of the variety of states involved,” he said. “But to date we have never deployed in midterm elections.” And the group never felt the need to hit the hustings in Texas.
“We‘ve started our conference calls and are getting ready to go where we are needed,” he said.
It says something that Potter feels his efforts are needed in his home state.
“This is a unique time and we always assess where we can have the greatest impact. Well first, before we deploy anyone, we first make sure that they‘ve got their basic coverage in their home state. With all the outside money pouring into Texas this is a time we need to make sure we take care of the home front first,” said the commercial developer, project manager and broker. “So we may have people from Alabama coming to Texas or from Oklahoma coming to Texas, or whatever. It could be one of the places were deploying to rather than from.”
O‘Rourke has outraised Sen. Ted Cruz by $8 million so far, according to The Texas Tribune, and the latest Real Clear Politics polling numbers show a tight race with O‘Rourke within the margin of error.
Potter says maybe his geography makes an O‘Rourke victory feel like a real possibility: He lives in Travis County, a blue doughnut hole surrounded by Republican members of Congress all over the outskirts.
In 2016, 350 volunteers including Potter were in Pennsylvania for two weeks, spread out in counties surrounding Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Scranton. In these areas, turnout increased just enough from Mitt Romney‘s numbers in 2012 to place candidate Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by just over 40,000 votes — the first GOP win of Pennsylvania‘s electoral votes since 1988.
Potter is now organizing a similar grassroots effort here in Texas. “You can‘t just sit back and say this will never happen in Texas, because it could, and we are going to utilize the best power we have, people, and once again will work to make a difference in a close race.”
Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at szito