Less than a week before Election Day, Joe Biden is tantalizingly close to a prize that has eluded generations of Democratic presidential candidates: Texas. Public opinion polls show Biden and Republican President Donald Trump tied in the state. They also suggest the former vice president is leading among those helping to set its staggering early vote totals. As of October 27, nearly 8 million Texans had cast ballots, approaching 90% of the entire 2016 vote, a higher percentage than any state in the country, according to the US Elections Project at the University of Florida. Trump appears to have the edge with voters planning to cast ballots on November 3, according to polls, which also show him improving his standing among Hispanics in Texas, a huge constituency, mirroring modest gains he has made with that demographic nationally since 2016. Texans do not register by party, which makes it difficult to say with certainty who is leading in early voting. A Biden win in Texas, which has not voted for a Democratic nominee for president since Jimmy Carter narrowly won the state in 1976, would end any chance of Trump’s re-election. Since 1976, the only elections years when the Democrats came close in Texas were 1992 and 1996.
The Democrat’s campaign has been cautious not to lose its focus on the battleground states, however. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton was criticized for miscalculating by spending time in Republican states late in the campaign only to lose seemingly solid Democratic states to Donald Trump. “We’ve been really focused on our top six states,” said Jenn Ridder, the Biden campaign’s national states director, referring to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina. “But in these last 10 days, if we can do a little bit to put (other states) over the edge, we’re going to take that opportunity.” Joe Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, will visit Texas on October 30, and billionaire Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $15 million in Texas and Ohio in a last-minute bid to flip both Republican-leaning states. The campaign’s reluctance to go all-in has frustrated some Texas Democrats, including Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke, who both ran for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. “They’ve invested close to zero dollars in the state of Texas, and they’re doing this well,” O’Rourke told reporters last week. “Imagine if they invested some real dollars.”
Texas added a week of early voting to ease crowds on Election Day in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. Harris County, which includes Houston and has become a Democratic stronghold in recent years, has already seen more than 1.1 million votes. But early voting is surging in all corners of the state, including Republican areas like Denton County, near Dallas, as well as Democratic centers like San Antonio’s Bexar County. Both counties have already surpassed their total votes cast in 2016. Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, conducted a poll from October 13-20 with the University of Houston that showed Joe Biden leading among those who had already voted by a 59% to 39% margin. But Trump led by a similar amount among those who planned to vote on November 3. “Democrats are clearly dominating the early turnout,” Jones said. “The pivotal issue for Republicans is whether they can get their voters to turn out on Election Day.”
Besides the early vote, there are signs that Texas’ shift toward the Democratic Party is not a mirage. Donald Trump and Joe Biden have been close in the state polls all year, and Democratic and Republican candidates are fiercely contesting dozens of congressional and state legislative races. As in other parts of the country, President Donald Trump has seen his poll numbers erode in Texas’ rapidly diversifying suburbs. That could have calamitous effects on down-ballot Republicans. According to James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, Biden has made gains among independent voters, who make up roughly 10% of the state’s electorate. An October poll conducted by Henson’s organization found Biden outperforming Trump among independents, 45% to 37%. In 2016, Clinton lost the same group by nearly 30 percentage points. Democrats also point to more than 3 million newly registered voters in the state, many of whom moved to Texas from predominantly Democratic states.
Rebecca Acuna, Joe Biden’s Texas campaign director, noted that the early voters include close to a million people who have never voted in a presidential election, many younger and more diverse voters who likely lean Democratic. “We have every reason to believe that Texas is a tossup,” Acuna said. Citing its own internal analysis, the Trump campaign asserted the president is ahead by hundreds of thousands of votes among early ballots. Trump won Texas by a nine-point margin in 2016. In recent days, Trump has tried to hurt Biden with the state’s dominant oil and gas industry by playing up comments he made at last week’s debate about the need to transition eventually from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. “Texas voters recognize Biden’s radical anti-energy agenda will destroy the state’s economy,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Cotten said.