‘We have a fight’: Ted Cruz is warning Trump that Texas really is in play for Biden

‘We have a fight’: Ted Cruz is warning Trump that Texas really is in play for Biden
Photo via Gage Skidmore.

In the 2020 presidential race, the Cook Political Report has moved Texas from "leans Republican" to "toss up" — meaning that Cook believes the Lone Star State really is in play for former Vice President Joe Biden. GOP presidential candidates have a long history of double-digit wins in Texas, but recent polls show this year's presidential race to be shockingly close in that state. And according to New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin, one of the Texas Republicans who is sounding the alarm is Sen. Ted Cruz.

Republicans and Democrats alike have been skeptical about the possibility of Biden defeating President Donald Trump in Texas, which Trump won by 9% in 2016. But that's 9% compared to Republican Mitt Romney's 16% victory over President Barack Obama in 2012. And when Cruz defeated Democrat Beto O'Rourke by only 2% in Texas' U.S. Senate race in 2018, it was obvious that Texas had gone from deep red to light red.

Many GOP strategists were hoping that O'Rourke's performance in 2018 was an anomaly, but polls — which show Biden either slightly ahead of Trump or slightly behind him — indicate it wasn't: Texas is still red, but not as red as it used to be. And Cruz, according to Martin, is warning Trump's campaign that he needs to take Biden's performance in Texas seriously.

Cruz, Martin reports, told Trump, "We have a fight" and "there's no doubt that it's a real race."

"They may be on opposite sides of the partisan divide, but Texas Republicans and Democrats alike believe the long-awaited moment has arrived: the state is a true presidential battleground, and either candidate could prevail next week," Martin notes. "Although a Democrat has not carried Texas (in a presidential race) since 1976, recent public and private polls suggest a highly competitive race, with some surveys showing Mr. Biden up narrowly and others showing Mr. Trump enjoying a small lead."

Martin speculates that Biden himself may not believe that Texas really is in play for him. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win Texas was Jimmy Carter 44 years ago.

But states evolve politically. California, during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, was a red state — the San Francisco Bay Area used to be an oasis of liberalism in a state where Orange County, San Diego, Bakersfield, Burbank, Santa Barbara, Fresno and Glendale were all GOP strongholds. Now, California is overwhelmingly Democratic. Virginia and Arizona used to be deep red; now, they're swing states.

Martin explains, "Even as leading figures in both parties urge their respective presidential nominees to take Texas seriously, the campaigns are still reluctant to spend precious remaining time and money there. Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Biden is expected to appear in the state before the election, the president has not spent a cent on television commercials, and until this week, Mr. Biden had resisted advertising in Texas' two largest markets: Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth."

In other words, Biden's campaign is competitive in Texas despite not taking it nearly as seriously as he takes Florida, Arizona or Pennsylvania. And O'Rourke has implored Biden to visit Texas before Election Day.

"Though the state isn't essential to a Biden victory," Martin observes, "Democrats have been more aggressive here. Mr. Biden is dispatching his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, to Texas on Friday, and Democrats have also planned a multi-city bus tour across the state. A pair of Democratic billionaires, Dustin Moskovitz and Michael R. Bloomberg, have separately poured money into the state at the 11th hour."

Even if Biden narrowly loses Texas to Trump by 2%, 3% or 4%, that would be bad news for the GOP. It shows Democrats making progress in a state that in the past, they automatically assumed they would lose by 15% or 20% in a presidential race.

Texas' other big statewide race in 2020 is its U.S. Senate race. Democrat M.J. Hegar has been trailing incumbent GOP Sen. John Cornyn in most recent polls, but only by single digits. And Cornyn is taking Hegar's campaign seriously, saying that "the thing that worries me the most" is how much Democrats have been spending on her campaign.

Martin notes, "A Biden win (in Texas) would doom Mr. Trump's chances for reelection. More significantly, it would herald the arrival of a formidable multiracial Democratic coalition in the country's largest red state. That would hand the Democrats an electoral upper hand nationwide and all but block Republicans from the White House until they improve their fortunes with college-educated white voters, younger people and minorities."

As Martin puts it, "The stakes here are, well, Texas-sized."

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