Opinion: If Democrats are smart, they'll make Texas the new Iowa

The US and Texas state flags fly outside the state Capitol building on July 12, 2021, in Austin, Texas.

Abhi Rahman is a communications adviser and rapid response strategist. He has served as a spokesperson for Beto O'Rourke, Stacey Abrams and the Texas Democratic Party. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)The 2024 election will likely be the most important election in United States history. Democrats can ill afford to put resources into states that will not pay dividends in the next presidential election -- and beyond.

Abhi Rahman
And that means they must pay special attention to where they hold their first primary. After the Democratic National Committee voted to essentially strip Iowa of its status as the first state to vote in the primary season, it established a new set of criteria for the first caucus or primary state. It must be a state that is demographically diverse, has a proven history of filtering strong winners and will be competitive in the next election cycle.
    There is only one state in the entire country that fits those criteria -- Texas.
      First, let's talk about diversity. The Lone Star State is home to the largest Black population in the country, the second-largest Latino population and the third-largest Asian American population. And yet, of the five most diverse states in the country, the only state that currently does not consistently vote for Democrats is Texas.
        Democrats across the nation are facing the vexing question of how to compete for Latino voters -- a growing electoral necessity -- amid a relentless push from Republicans to win over this diverse constituency group. Winning in Texas could give Democrats insight into how to win over some of the most conservative Latino voters while still serving the party's most reliable constituency -- Black voters.
        But Texas also offers a different kind of diversity -- geographic, with residents living across rural, suburban and urban parts of the state. Indeed, Texas is a microcosm of America -- featuring rural towns like Amarillo and Fort Stockton, predominantly Latino areas in the Rio Grande Valley and south Texas, booming suburbs around the major metropolises and the second most diverse county in the country -- Harris County (home to Houston, the most diverse city in the country).
          You want to fix the Democratic brand in rural America? Test it out in rural Texas, which on its own accounts for over 3 million people.
          But what about retail politicking? The sheer size and diversity of Texas would likely make Democratic candidates barnstorming the state equipped for any state, region, demographic group or door-to-door conversation they'll have across the country. And if Democrats want to be successful on a national level, they will need to learn how to message to people in all parts of the country.
          Just look at recent political history. When Trump ran in 2016, he visited small towns and big cities -- contributing to his electoral victory then. When Texas Democrat Beto O'Rourke ran for the US Senate in 2018, he visited all 254 Texas counties. The end result? The closest statewide race in Texas in 40 years.
          Perhaps the biggest concern is that Texas is too big and expensive for candidates without resources to compete. That assertion is flat-out false. The majority of delegates are proportioned based on state senate districts, not traditional congressional districts, meaning that you don't have to spend your time in the major metros to get delegates out of Texas; you can spend your time and money anywhere in the state and get nearly the same end result. In fact, some of the most delegate-rich areas are not the big metros, but the smaller markets.
          In addition, because Texas doesn't have a winner-take-all delegate system, but rather proportions district-level delegates to every candidate who gets more than 15% of the vote, multiple candidates have an opportunity to pick up delegates -- and remain competitive in the primary system.
          With 20 media markets in the state -- some as big as Houston and some as small as Victoria -- any candidate can find airtime and the delegates they need to compete. Don't want to spend big on TV in Dallas and Houston? That's fine -- any campaign can go buy rural radio spots in Odessa and San Angelo that are far cheaper. Don't want to spend your time campaigning in Austin and San Antonio? Go barnstorm the delegate-rich areas of Tyler, Wichita Falls and Beaumont.
          Moreover, the assertion that spending in Texas equals a victory simply doesn't track. In 2020, the candidate in Texas who spent the most by far and who put the largest team together was former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He finished a distant third in the primary.
          Now when it comes to picking primary winners, Texas can be both the jumping-off point and bellwether for the entire process. From Hillary Clinton's commanding victory in 2016 to Joe Biden's decisive victory in 2020, when Texans vote in the primary, it matters and signals how the rest of the Democratic nomination fight will play out. This insight will only serve to strengthen the nominee for the general election.
          Most importantly, the ramifications of having numerous Democrats competing in Texas are undeniable. For years, Texas Democrats have been begging for resources and begging for the national party to do what's necessary to actually compete in the state.
          Flipping Texas completely remakes the Electoral College map at a time when the Electoral College provides Republicans a small boost. Texans know who shows up for them. Having Democrats competing in their state in the run-up to the 2024 election will provide the jolt necessary to work toward flipping Texas.
          It might not happen in 2024, but demographics show that by 2028, according to Darrell West of the Brookings Institution, with the right investment and resources put into the state, Texas could be a true battleground.
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          For too long, Democrats have relied on the increasingly older and Whiter populations of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to provide them with the coalition needed to win the election. While that strategy worked in 2020 by a slim majority, the reality is the path forward for Democrats is through investment in the Sun Belt, not the Rust Belt.
            Democrats, we have a choice to make: play it safe and pray we win by a slim majority again in 2024, or play it big and kick off our election season and resource allocation with a bang.
            In this case, fortune favors the bold. We should and must choose Texas as the first primary state in 2024. As we say in Texas: if you save Texas, you save the United States -- and you save the world.