Alex Samuels

Here are 5 things to watch on Election Day 2020 in Texas: analysis

"Five things to watch on Election Day 2020 in Texas" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

It's finally Election Day.

After months of campaigning and prognosticating — all during a pandemic — Texas is playing host to a series of high-stakes contests up and down the ballot, from a presidential race that could be the state's closest in a generation to the fight for the Texas House majority. And it is all coming after an early voting period that saw turnout exceed the number of votes for the entire 2016 election. After 9.7 million people voted early, some experts believe Texas might be on a path to potentially surpass 12 million voters when all is said and done.

Texas has attracted intense national interest in recent weeks, and in one sign of it, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, spent the day before the election traveling the state.

“The road to the White House runs through Texas, and the road to a Senate majority runs straight through the great state of Texas, and that's why I'm proud to be here, folks," Perez said Monday morning in San Antonio.

Hours later, as he finished a six-day bus tour in Dripping Springs, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn recognized two of the factors making for a dramatic end to the general election in Texas: the massive early voting turnout and a late surge in outside Democratic spending against both him and President Donald Trump. Cornyn said the 9.7 million early voters are a “wonderful thing" but added that “about a million of them have never voted in a primary general election, so that's going to be an interesting mystery."

“We've never seen such an unprecedented amount of out-of-state money coming into Texas this election," said Cornyn, speaking from the balcony of his campaign bus surrounded by down-ballot candidates. “Every single Republican up here is being outspent by our opposition."

A reminder: The number of Texas voters casting absentee ballots has risen sharply due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the outcome of some key races may not be known Tuesday night as a result.

That being said, here are five of the biggest storylines to watch.

Can Joe Biden actually win Texas?

A Democrat hasn't won Texas' electoral votes since 1976, but statewide polls show a highly competitive race.

If Biden can turn voters out and flip the state, it would be a massive event in state and American politics — and would almost certainly mean a Biden victory nationwide.

A Democratic win in Texas could hinge on Hispanic and suburban voters. On Friday, Biden's running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, made a last-minute stop in McAllen with Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro. When asked by a reporter there why she was visiting the border city, Harris said it was “because there are people here who matter, people who are working hard, people who love their country, and we need to be here and be responsive to that." (Trump hasn't done any general-election campaigning in Texas, though national surveys have shown Trump improving among Hispanic voters compared with his 2016 standing.)

Texas' fast-changing suburbs, meanwhile, have been steadily slipping out of Republicans' grip over the last few election cycles. On Tuesday, Democrats are hoping to pick up several congressional and state House seats in these regions and build on the suburban strength they garnered in 2018 to undercut Trump's advantage in rural areas of the state.

Of the 1.8 million newly registered voters the state gained between 2016 and 2020, most of them are in large urban and suburban counties. The big cities are dominated by Democrats. Meanwhile, traditionally Republican suburban counties like Denton, Williamson and Collin are trending more blue.

Will the Texas House flip?

After gaining 12 seats in 2018, Democrats are nine away from the majority in the Texas House. Flipping the chamber would unlock a major prize for the party: more influence in the 2021 redistricting process.

While Democrats have to defend the dozen seats they picked up, they are confident about those races and have cast a wide net on offense, designating as many as 22 pickup opportunities. At the core of that battlefield are the nine seats that O'Rourke won in 2018 that are still represented by Republicans.

The battle for the lower chamber has become a hugely expensive affair, attracting tens of millions of dollars from statewide and national groups. On the latest campaign finance reports alone, covering Sept. 25 through Oct. 24, candidates across 34 battleground districts combined to raise $39.4 million, including in-kind donations, and spend $22.3 million.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who is not up for reelection until 2022, has made the state House fight his top political priority this election cycle. His campaign has spent over $6 million on down-ballot races this fall, according to a memo sent Monday to state House Republicans.

Abbott has also visited a handful of battleground districts recently to knock doors. On Saturday, Abbott was in House District 121, where state Rep. Steve Allison, R-San Antonio, is fighting for reelection after winning the seat by 9 points just two years ago.

Still, Democratic optimism about capturing the House majority has only grown in the homestretch. In one sign that the party anticipates being in control come January, three Democratic members have announced in recent days that they are running for speaker.

How many U.S. House seats will Democrats pick up?

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to Texas in March 2019 and declared the state would be “ground zero" for Democrats in 2020. They have made good on her promise, at least when it comes to the congressional battlefield here.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has built a Texas target list that includes 10 GOP-held districts, more seats than the committee is working to flip anywhere else in the country. In all but two of the 10 districts, the DCCC has added the Democratic nominee to its Red to Blue program for top candidates.

National Republicans, meanwhile, have targeted the two seats they lost in 2018, those held by Democratic U.S. Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston.

With Allred and Fletcher well positioned for reelection, most of the action has centered on the Democrats' targets, and four of them in particular at this point: the 21st District, where Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, is up for reelection; the 22nd District, where Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, is retiring; the 23rd District, where Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, is not seeking reelection; and the 24th District, where Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, is also vacating the seat.

That is not to say Democrats are not seeing promise in other targeted districts. As an example, they have grown optimistic in the homestretch about the 3rd District, where Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, is running for reelection in the kind of highly educated suburban district that has swung away from Trump.

Can John Cornyn dispatch a late Democratic spending blitz?

Cornyn, a Republican, has long had a polling lead — if small at times — in his reelection campaign. But the race is ending on a less certain note amid an 11th-hour spending spree by Democratic outside groups that even Cornyn admits is concerning.

Senate Majority PAC, Future Forward and EMILY's List combined to dump eight figures into the contest during early voting, seeing a late opportunity to unseat Cornyn and elect his Democratic opponent, MJ Hegar. The president of EMILY's List, Stephanie Schriock, told reporters Friday that the contest has become a “late-breaking race" and that with Texas' huge early voting turnout, “we feel like we've got a real path here to victory."

A pro-Cornyn super PAC has ratcheted up its spending in recent days, but it has not been able to match the Democratic coalition dollar for dollar.

Both Cornyn and Hegar hit the road hard in the lead-up to Tuesday. Hegar, the former Air Force helicopter pilot, joined Harris for her three stops Friday across Texas and then headed out on her own, visiting Austin, Del Rio, Laredo, San Antonio, Webster, Arlington and Dallas.

Cornyn, meanwhile, went on the bus tour, which began Wednesday. He swung through 21 cities through Monday, which included three stops that day with the state's junior senator, Ted Cruz, who warned in Dripping Springs that the state is “under assault" and asked Republicans to “fight back the socialist horde that is attacking our state."

How high can Texas turnout get — and when will all the votes be counted?

There were 9.7 million early voters in Texas, exceeding the 9 million who voted in the entire 2016 election. Now the question is this: Just how high will total turnout go Tuesday?

Many political observers are bracing for a turnout north of 12 million, which would be uncharted territory in Texas politics.

Just how uncharted? Consider this: A turnout of over 12 million would be more than two and a half times that of the last time Cornyn was on the ballot, in 2014.

Across the country, election officials are preparing for a longer-than-usual wait time for full results due to adjustments made as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, that could be less of a factor in Texas, which declined to expand mail-in voting and lets counties begin counting absentee ballots before Election Day.

Still, more down-ballot races are in play than in recent memory in Texas, and there is the possibility that multiple outcomes are not confidently known until every last ballot is counted. In Texas, absentee ballots count as long as they are postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received by the county elections office by 5 p.m. the next day. Counties can also accept overseas military ballots through Nov. 9.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/11/03/texas-elections-what-to-watch/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

Rural Texas saved Ted Cruz in 2018. Will it save Donald Trump on Tuesday?

"Rural Texans have long helped Republicans. Will that hold true on Tuesday?" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Rural Texas saved Ted Cruz in 2018. Will it save Donald Trump on Tuesday?

That is one of the defining questions as Texas barrels toward what could be its closest presidential race since 1976 — or the first time the state picks a Democratic presidential nominee since then.

The story of Texas politics in 2020 is about the cities becoming bluer, the suburbs becoming more competitive and the Latino vote rising — but it is also about a rural firewall that has kept Republicans in power for so long. Rural areas of the state have historically been Republicans' strongest line of defense in Texas as polls show suburbs — even in traditionally red areas — shifting toward Democrats. But with the state's changing demographics and a noticeable surge of Democratic energy in deep Trump country, there's an open question of whether Republicans can hold onto these districts with the same large margins they did in 2016.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs Trump's reelection campaign in Texas, called into a Lubbock radio show Thursday with an explicit appeal to rural Texans.

“The margins will depend on all of our great friends and our patriots in West Central and East Texas who say, 'I don't want the president just to win, I want him to stomp the Democrats here 75-25,'" Patrick told host Chad Hasty. “And the bigger rural Texas [votes] will determine the final margin he wins by — is it 4? Is it 6? Is it 8? Is it 3?"

In 2018, Cruz needed the state's rural counties to fend off a blockbuster challenge by Democrat Beto O'Rourke. The former El Paso congressman defeated Cruz 51% to 48% in the non-rural counties, which Trump carried by 3 points in 2016. But Cruz held strong in the rural counties and carried them 75% to 24%, nearly identical to Trump's margin in them two years earlier.

No one expects Smith County, which includes Tyler, to flip to Democratic control after Trump bested Hillary Clinton by more than 67 percentage points in 2016. And no one doubts the passion of GOP voters in red enclaves across the historically Republican counties across Texas and the South. Texas is dominated by Republicans in all levels of state government.

The problem for Republicans is that rural Texas is making up a shrinking share of the statewide vote as population growth largely favors the cities and suburbs. Rural counties contributed 13% of the statewide vote in 2014, 12% in 2016 and 11% in 2018.

And the GOP dominance has not gone unanswered in rural Texas, where Democrats have made investments to at least cut down on their deficits there.

“Republicans are in trouble out here," said Stuart Williams, the West Texas organizer for the Texas Democratic Party. “Trump won in places like Lubbock in 2016 at the lowest level that any Republican had won since 1996. And that was four year ago before we all saw ... what can happen to our country."

Biden's campaign has made some overtures to rural Texas. In mid-October, the campaign hosted a “Rural Texas Community Conversation" with Tom Vilsack, the former U.S. agriculture secretary and Iowa governor. And the campaign did a three-day surrogate bus tour last week whose first three stops were in Amarillo, Lubbock and Abilene. (The tour was derailed Friday after a highway skirmish with Trump supporters south of Austin.)

The Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump group run by former Republican operatives, has also sought to help Biden in rural Texas. In early October, the organization announced a $1 million ad campaign called “Operation Sam Houston" that was aimed at over 600,000 suburban and rural Republican women in Texas.

The divide between rural and non-rural Texas does not just matter for the presidential race. It is poised to factor into other statewide contests, including those for U.S. Senate and a seat on the Railroad Commission, which regulates the Texas oil and gas industry.

In the U.S. Senate election, Republican incumbent John Cornyn has been prioritizing more conservative, rural parts of the state in the closing days of his reelection campaign. He is in the middle of a statewide bus tour whose itinerary is largely filled with cities like Wichita Falls and Tyler.

“We're counting on you," Cornyn said Thursday in Tyler. “We're depending on Tyler, Smith County and East Texas to win this."

Cornyn's Democratic rival, MJ Hegar, said Saturday she was “not concerned at all" about a repeat of 2018, when rural Texas rescued an otherwise vulnerable Republican U.S. senator.

“I grew up in rural Texas, and I know what rural Texas needs," said Hegar, who was raised in Williamson County — north of Austin — when it was less suburban than it is today. “It's why I'm running for office. Rural Texas is hurting because of a lack of access to education and health care, two of the biggest employers in rural Texas. Rural agricultural Texas is hurting because of the China trade war that we're losing right now because of ineffective leadership from the top down."

Democrats say they are also appealing to rural voters with issues such as broadband internet access. Republicans, meanwhile, say their rural voters are energized by Trump's follow-through on campaign promises to restrict abortion and appoint conservative judges.

Republican congressional nominees who do not have competitive races, many from rural areas, have nonetheless hit the campaign trail hard this fall to try to maximize their district's vote for Trump. Right after securing the GOP nomination for the 4th District at a convention in August, Pat Fallon gave a speech in which he said Republicans in the largely rural northeast Texas district “need to make sure we run the score up in CD-4 so we can help President Trump carry this state and save our country."

It's also the mission of Ronny Jackson, the former White House doctor who is set to become the next congressman from Texas' 13th District, the reddest in the country. While Jackson's election is all but guaranteed Tuesday, he said he has been impressing upon voters that they still need to show up for Trump.

“I think it's going to be absolutely crucial," Jackson said. “Texas 13, 19, 11 — these three big rural [congressional] districts out here in West Texas and the Texas Panhandle, we really are the firewall that keeps Texas red. It's just overwhelmingly Republican out here ... and that really does make a difference statewide."

Among Democrats, there's optimism that Biden-backing allies in rural Texas could not only prevent Trump from recreating his overwhelming 2016 margins in white, working class areas, the kind of support that offset his losses in the suburbs and among voters of color four years ago, but also make Trump's path to victory in Texas all the more difficult.

“I'm also seeing a pretty substantial uptick in folks volunteering with Democratic-adjacent organizations," said Amy Hull, 42, who lives in Tarrant County. “It's been interesting to see people who were pretty tuned out four years ago become unapologetic about their politics and determined to do everything possible to make our community, state and country government work better for everyone."

Republicans could especially take heart in rural areas that have only grown more red in recent election cycles. Take for example Jones County, which includes part of Abilene and went for John McCain by 47 points in 2008, Mitt Romney by 55 points in 2012 and Trump by 65 points in 2016.

The county GOP chair, Isaac Castro, said there is “a lot more enthusiasm" for Trump in Jones County compared to four years ago, when some local Republicans had reservations about his conservative credentials.

“I really think that this year he's probably going to do better," Castro said, adding that he was not worried about Trump losing statewide. “You know, West Texas is going to be strong for him again."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/11/02/texas-rural-republicans-2020/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

Michael Bloomberg to spend $15 million on TV ads for Biden in Texas and Ohio after seeing tight polling

By Alex Samuels, The Texas Tribune

Oct. 27, 2020

"Michael Bloomberg to spend $15 million on TV ads for Biden in Texas and Ohio after seeing tight polling" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is funding a last-minute ad blitz on behalf of Joe Biden in Texas and Ohio, providing a boost to the former vice president as polls and a flutter of late campaign activity continue to show that the Lone Star State might be in play.

A Bloomberg spokesperson told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday morning that the former mayor of New York City and Democratic presidential candidate will use his super PAC, Independence USA, to fund $15 million worth of statewide ads in both Texas and Ohio.

The ads begin running Wednesday and will go through Election Day, or Nov. 3. In Texas, the ads will focus on “[President Donald] Trump's mismanagement of COVID-19 crisis," according to a Bloomberg spokesperson. The commercials will run in both English and Spanish.

The decision by Bloomberg is further fodder for Democrats that for the first time in decades, Texas is not a foregone conclusion. The move comes as some polls show the Biden-Harris ticket within striking distance — and, in some surveys, ahead — in the traditionally Republican state.

The Bloomberg spokesperson confirmed earlier reports from the New York Times that the former mayor asked his team to run a round of polls across multiple states and based its spending decisions on survey results. The team came away convinced that Texas and Ohio were prime pickup opportunities for Democrats, despite both going for Trump in 2016, and Bloomberg later gave “the go-ahead to invest additional money to support Joe Biden," the spokesperson said.

For the most part, both Biden and President Donald Trump have avoided general election campaigning in Texas. Trump hasn't visited the state since the summer, while Biden's last appearance was in March. In the last month, however, Biden has sent a flurry of surrogates to the state to campaign on his behalf. His running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, is planning to visit Texas on Friday.

Until now, Bloomberg had focused his general-election activities in Florida — where he pledged to spend $100 million supporting Biden. The Bloomberg spokesperson told the Tribune on Tuesday that Bloomberg also plans to increase the size of his television ad buys in Florida over the next week.

But this is not the first time Bloomberg has waded into Texas politics. Before spending a gusher of cash in the state during his own failed presidential campaign, his super PAC spent $2.8 million to help Democratic U.S. Reps. Colin Allred, of Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, of Houston, in their respective 2018 congressional races.

More recently, he made a late donation of $2.6 million to the Democratic nominee for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, providing a massive fundraising boost in a race for the oil and gas regulatory board that usually does not see such big money.

A Biden win in Texas this year would be seismic in American politics and end the decadeslong Republican dominance in the nation's most populous red state. The last Democrat to win the state's Electoral College votes was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Still, Biden nor Trump has invested serious resources in the state in the lead-up to Election Day. Over the weekend, Trump's campaign dismissed the possibility that Texas could flip to Democrats; Rick Perry, the former energy secretary and governor of Texas, told reporters that it was “not a battleground state."

Polls paint a different picture: The latest survey from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune, released Oct. 9, gave Trump a 5-point lead over Biden in the state. A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed a tie; a Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler poll released Sunday showed Biden up 2 points, and a New York Times/Siena College poll on Monday gave Trump a 4-point lead. Another nonpartisan Texas poll released Monday, from the Hobby School for Public Affairs at the University of Houston, gave Trump a 5-point lead.

Disclosure: New York Times and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/10/27/michael-bloomberg-biden-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

Biden to spend $6 million on massive Texas ad buy — more than any Democratic presidential nominee in decades

By Alex Samuels, The Texas Tribune

Oct. 6, 2020

"Biden campaign to spend $6 million on Texas campaign ads, more than any Democratic presidential nominee in decades" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign is set to spend millions of dollars on TV ads in Texas as polls continue to show a close race in the state.

The former vice president's campaign announced earlier this year that it would make TV reservations this fall in Texas, and as of Tuesday, it had booked more than $6 million through Election Day, according to the media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

“This is historic. That shows you just how important Texas is to them and it shows that Texas is in play," said Abhi Rahman, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. “It shows you their investment in Texas is real." Rahman noted that Biden's spending is the biggest investment from a Democratic presidential nominee in the last 25 years and is a drastic change from 2016, when then-nominee Hillary Clinton didn't spend seriously in the state.

Though Biden and Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris have yet to visit Texas in the run-up to Election Day, Democrats have called for the duo to invest heavily in Texas. In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who endorsed Biden after dropping his own presidential bid, and Tory Gavito, the president and cofounder of the progressive donor network Way to Win, urged the Biden campaign to steer serious money to the state to ensure President Donald Trump doesn't win a second term.

“Biden, his campaign and Democrats in general need to make it clear: We are competing in Texas, and we'll invest whatever it takes to turn out the state's true electoral majority and flip Texas once and for all," they wrote. “Democrats have historically failed to invest in Texas, despite the size of this prize, because they believed the door is closed to Democratic presidential candidates. But, like many things in 2020, this year is different — Biden has his foot in the door and needs to kick it open for a quick end to the election."

Biden expanded his on-the-ground presence in Texas in September, hiring 13 more staff members — following an initial hiring announcement in early August — to his team as polls continue to pit a close race between him and Trump.

On Monday, Biden's team deployed Douglas Emhoff, a lawyer who is married to Harris, to Edinburg and San Antonio. He will visit Dallas on Tuesday afternoon, Biden's campaign announced Tuesday morning.

News of the campaign's spending through Election Day comes as The Lincoln Project, the group led by former Republican strategists working to defeat Trump, launched a $1 million digital ad campaign in the state. A spokesperson says the group is targeting over 600,000 “suburban and rural Republican women" and tailoring the campaign to Hispanic voters.

The Lincoln Project's effort will feature a number of different ads, including previously released spots criticizing Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his responses to racism and extremism throughout the country. There will be Texas-specific ads, as well as Spanish-language spots, according to the spokesperson, Nate Nesbitt.

As speculation has swirled about the extent of Biden's investment in the state, the Texas Democratic Party has been ramping up its advertising. On Tuesday, the party announced a digital, print and radio campaign aimed at Black voters in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and East Texas. The party described the size of the effort as “high six figure(s)."

Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016, but recent statewide polls have painted a rosier picture for Biden in the state as surveys continue to show Trump essentially tied with, or barely ahead of, the former vice president.

Still, Trump's campaign has long dismissed the notion that the state is in play. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs Trump's reelection effort in Texas, led a bus tour through the state last month, while Texas GOP Chair Allen West expressed hope that the president would visit North Texas before Election Day.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/10/06/texas-biden-presidential-campaign/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

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