AUSTIN — Barack Obama said Saturday that he is helping to spark an awakening among moribund Texas Democrats, who are now turning out to vote early in record numbers and could all but hand him his party's presidential nomination March 4.
"I think the patient may be starting to get out of bed, because we've been seeing just enormous excitement as we've traveled across Texas," he said in an exclusive interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I think people are very energized by the prospect of bringing the Bush era to a close and bringing the country together."
Obama said that his campaign could re-energize Democrats in states such as Texas, where collapse is almost a charitable description for what has happened to Lyndon Johnson's party in recent years.
In the interview, Obama sidestepped the question of who is to blame for the apathy, but he made it clear that he thinks he can pump up voters about the Democratic Party -- including in Republican-leaning "red states" -- in a way that rival Hillary Rodham Clinton can't. The Obama campaign has consistently portrayed Clinton as a polarizing figure who has turned off voters with overtly partisan rhetoric and gamesmanship.
"Unless you're building from the ground up and broadening the appeal of the party to independents and even some disaffected Republicans, ... we're not going to be able to get things done," he said. "I think we have been able to get folks in every state that we've campaigned in to take a second look at the Democratic Party."
The Clinton-Obama showdown is pumping up Democrats like never before in the modern era.
"This presidential primary is bringing a flow of turnout to our side like we've never seen before," said Democratic strategist Ed Martin, showing off a spreadsheet indicating a five-fold jump in early voting turnout in the state's most populous counties since early voting for the March 4 primary began Tuesday.
Clinton spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod said the former first lady is generating her share of the interest. "Texans know that Senator Clinton will roll up her sleeves and work hard for them every day, which is why she's been attracting huge crowds at early vote rallies throughout the state, and record numbers of Texans are coming out to vote," Elrod said.