Alex Samuels

How Ted Cruz's attempt to overturn Biden' win ended in violence at the US Capitol: analysis

Two nights before the Electoral College certification in Congress, Ted Cruz was in vintage form.

The junior U.S. senator from Texas was calling in to a friendly conservative radio host — Mark Levin — and setting up Wednesday's vote to be the kind of intraparty line in the sand that has powered his political rise.

By then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had made clear that he opposed objections to certifying Joe Biden's election as the next president. But Cruz and 10 other GOP senators announced they would still object unless Congress agreed to an “emergency audit" of the presidential election results.

Cruz told Levin that there were some conservatives “who in good conscience" disagree with his view of Congress' role in certifying the presidential election results, and that he had talked to them and did not fault them. On the other hand, Cruz said, there were “some Republicans who are not conservatives but who are piously and self-righteously preening" when it comes to the issue.

In spearheading the group of objectors, Cruz arguably upstaged U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, who announced his plan to object three days earlier — and, like Cruz, is considered a potential 2024 presidential contender.

But on Wednesday, what Cruz might have thought was a savvy political play took an alarming turn: Supporters of President Donald Trump stormed and ransacked the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were considering Cruz's objection. Three people suffered medical emergencies during the siege and died; their deaths were in addition to another woman who was shot by a Capitol police officer.

Cruz denounced the violence but incurred a fierce backlash from critics in both parties, who said his drive to question the election results — and appease the president and his supporters ahead of a possible 2024 run — helped fan the flames of anger among Trump supporters. Prominent Texas Democrats called for him to resign. Many others suggested he'd played an inciting role in one of the darkest days in modern American history.

Politically, it was a high-stakes distillation of GOP tactics in the era of Trump.

“His challenge of the Electoral College votes helps him among core Trump supporters but risks further damaging his political standing among rank-and-file Republicans like moderates and suburban swing voters who have traditionally formed a stable winning coalition for Republicans in Texas and nationally," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, who added, “Siding with Trump is risky."

In recent months, Cruz has positioned himself as one of the most prominent and vocal Trump supporters casting doubt on the election. Two days after Election Day, Cruz charged that Philadelphia officials were not allowing election observers to watch the counting of votes in the swing state, even though Trump's lawyers conceded that they had been allowed in the room.

In December, Trump asked Cruz if he would be willing to argue a long shot case filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to invalidate the election results in states like Pennsylvania in the event that it reached the U.S. Supreme Court. (Cruz agreed, but the high court ultimately said Texas did not have standing to bring the case.)

And in the days ahead of Wednesday's certification, Cruz raised concerns about how many people believed fraud had occurred in the election, without acknowledging the role he had played in encouraging those beliefs.

“We've seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud," Cruz said in an early January interview on Fox News. “And that's produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that."

But people in both parties have questioned his motives.

“Proposing a commission at this late date — which has zero chance of becoming reality — is not effectively fighting for President Trump," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, tweeted. “It appears to be more of a political dodge than an effective remedy."

As people stormed the Capitol building, Cruz insisted on Twitter that violence “is ALWAYS wrong" and called the attack a “despicable act of terrorism and a shocking assault on our democratic system."

“Those engaged in violence are hurting the cause they say they support," he said.

He did not, however, withdraw his objections to the Election Day results.

It didn't help that Cruz on Wednesday was fundraising off his Electoral College challenge, with some money-seeking texts hitting phones as Trump supporters wreaked havoc at the Capitol. (An aide to Cruz said the messages were sent “from a firm" and not approved by Cruz to be sent.) To Cruz's critics, including those within his own party, it was emblematic of the kind of naked political ambition that they have long abhorred about him.

“The Cruz effort had nothing to do with making some determination of whether or not there was fraud to reverse the outcome of the election and only to do with 2024 and the presidential primary," said Jerry Patterson, a Republican former state land commissioner who is open about his unhappiness with Trump, but conceded that he's voted for Cruz in past elections.

“That's why I could never get back into politics anymore. I'm sick and tired of the bullshit. And that's what it was," he said.

The episode not only gave fodder to Cruz's longtime intraparty detractors but also fellow Republicans.

“You have some senators who, for political advantage, were giving false hope to their supporters [and] misleading them to believe somehow yesterday's actions in Congress could reverse the results of the election," U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who is also seen as a possible 2024 contender, said in a TV appearance on Fox without directly naming Cruz. “That was never going to happen yet these senators, as insurrectionists literally stormed the Capitol, were sending out fundraising emails."

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 nominee for president, raised similar frustrations on the Senate floor Wednesday night, without mentioning Cruz or other objectors by name.

“I ask my colleagues: Do we weigh our own political fortunes more heavily than we weigh the strength of our Republic, the strength of our democracy and the cause of freedom? What is the weight of personal acclaim compared to the weight of conscience?"

To be clear, Cruz received backup from his own party. While his initial coalition did not hold, he was still joined by several colleagues in objecting to the certification of the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Dozens of House members, including many Texans, also objected in both cases.

The state's senior senator, John Cornyn, split decisively from Cruz, announcing he would not object in a lengthy letter to Texans on Tuesday, specifically pooh-poohing Cruz's emergency audit proposal. That contrast in particular heartened some Cruz supporters.

“Ted Cruz will be a stronger force in the Texas GOP than John Cornyn because of the way he has handled the last 30 days and because he doesn't answer to the same political elite that Cornyn does," said Luke Macias, a consultant for some of the Texas Legislature's farthest-right members. “Democrats' insane calls for Cruz to step down have only made him politically stronger."

Democrats, meanwhile, were apoplectic over his role. Two of the state's best-known Democrats, Joaquin and Julián Castro, called on Cruz to resign, as did the state Democratic Party. Cruz's old nemesis Beto O'Rourke emailed supporters calling for “accountability and consequence" against the Texas senator, who defeated O'Rourke in a Senate race in 2018.

“Sen. Cruz, you must accept responsibility for how your craven, self-serving actions contributed to the deaths of four people yesterday. And how you fundraised off this riot," tweeted U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. “Both you and Senator Hawley must resign. If you do not, the Senate should move for your expulsion."

In Cruz's Houston hometown, activists lined the streets on Thursday, calling for his resignation while standing outside of a downtown skyscraper that houses one of Cruz's offices.

But to detractors asking him to leave Congress, Cruz responded curtly Thursday afternoon, “Sorry, I ain't going anywhere."

While Cruz himself doesn't appear to have any regrets for his role in inciting an insurrection — on Thursday he said he would do it all over again if he had to — his colleagues might not easily forgive under a new presidential administration.

Patterson, for one, thinks Cruz's future political prospects hinge on where Republicans go in the next four years — and whether they remain loyal to Trump.

“There was a reset yesterday of politics in America — at least I hope and pray there was," Patterson said.

Disclosure: The University of Houston has been a financial supporter 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.

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Texas electors refuse to admit Trump’s defeat, pressure battleground states to overturn election

The Electoral College on Monday affirmed former Vice President Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election, but not before Texas' 38 electors delivered their votes for Donald Trump and defiantly urged the legislatures of four swing states to overrule the will of their voters and appoint their own electors.

The call from the Texas electors came in the form of a resolution they passed 34-4, but it had no impact on the results. The four states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania — had already cast their votes by that time, and soon after, California cast its 55 votes for Biden and pushed him over the 270 number he needed to win the presidency.

Nonetheless, the resolution continued the practice of many Texas Republicans of baselessly questioning Biden's victory and claiming fraud.

The resolution also “condemn[ed] the lack of action by the U.S. Supreme Court" to overturn the election results. There was a brief debate among electors over whether they should keep language in the resolution denouncing members of the U.S. Supreme Court for “moral cowardice." On Friday, the high court briskly rejected a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton that sought to overturn the election results and had become a vehicle for Republicans across the country to contest Biden's victory.

One elector said the inclusion of the Supreme Court language would make Texas appear “childish, impertinent and angry." An amendment deleting the language eventually prevailed.

Biden won 306 pledged electoral votes in the November election, but Trump — along with many Texas Republicans — has refused to accept defeat and waged a legal and political campaign to get certain swing states to undo the results. Typically, the meeting of the Electoral College is a mostly ignored formality. But Republicans' continued disputes of the election caused this year's vote to take on a rare public fascination.

The Texas resolution drew a mocking reaction from the Democratic lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, John Fetterman.

“We'll get right on that," he wrote on Twitter, followed by a post mocking the Dallas Cowboys.

In a statement, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa condemned some Texas Republicans for trying “to subvert the will of the people and change the election results to keep Trump in power."

“They failed miserably, but the effects of their brazen disregard for democracy will be felt for a long time," he said.

There has been no credible evidence of widespread fraud in the election, but Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly alleged it. Numerous lawsuits filed by the Trump legal team claiming or raising questions of fraud were thrown out of state and federal court. Even so, Paxton launched a last-ditch legal effort to overturn the election results last week, only to be soundly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the suit, he claimed that pandemic-era changes to election procedures in those states violated federal law and asked the high court to block the states from voting in the Electoral College.

Many leading Texas Republicans were supportive of Paxton's effort. More than a dozen Texans in Congress signed an amicus brief endorsing Paxton's tactic. Ted Cruz, the state's junior U.S. senator, agreed at the president's request to argue the case before the high court if it were heard.

In claiming victory Monday night, Biden addressed the lawsuit in his remarks.

“It's a position so extreme, we'd never seen it before," he said. “A position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law and refused to honor our Constitution."

The state's senior senator, John Cornyn, questioned Paxton's legal theory, however. When asked at the U.S. Capitol on Monday whether Biden is the president-elect, Cornyn responded in the affirmative.

“I would say that subject to any other litigation that could occur between now and Jan. 20, the answer is yes," he said, according to Politico.

U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, also acknowledged Biden's victory.

“Our Constitution defines the process for electing the President," Taylor said in a statement. “Today, the Electoral College voted and on January 20th, President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Anne and I extend our prayers and well wishes to the Biden and Harris families as they prepare for this momentous undertaking."

Cruz, meanwhile, stopped short of admitting Trump's defeat, but said Monday night on a campaign telephone town hall that “it is very, very uphill right now."

“Clearly if something significant doesn't change, then Biden and Kamala Harris are on a path to being the next president and vice president," he said. “I hope something significant changes."

Last week, state Republican Party Chair Allen West made national news after the Supreme Court's decision by suggesting that states opposed to the ruling “should bond together and form a Union ... that will abide by the constitution."

The next — and final step before inauguration — will be Jan. 6, when the states send their votes to the U.S. Capitol, where they will be tallied in a joint session of the newly sworn in U.S. Senate and House. The Texas electors' resolution Monday urged lawmakers from the four swing states to object to their electors if they are not replaced by their legislators.

A copy of the resolution approved by Texas electors Monday.

In most circumstances, electors follow the will of the state's voters. But in 2016, two Texas electors refused to vote for Trump — one voted for then-Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and another cast a ballot for a fellow Texan, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Their dissent triggered Gov. Greg Abbott to push for a bill that would “bind" Texas' Electoral College members to the result of the statewide popular vote. The measure failed.

In Texas, Trump decisively defeated Biden, but the margin — 5.6% — was the closest between the two parties since 1996.

Electors are often low-profile party fixtures within the state's political world, but this year's Republican lot included state Rep. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park. There are 538 electors total.

Hours before Monday's meeting, even with Texas slated to deliver its votes to Trump, several Republicans suggested that the nation's election results were not yet settled.

“The Electoral College is casting their votes," tweeted U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell. “Democrats will soon say it is time to move on. They are 100% WRONG. We should not move on until the massive claims of voter fraud are answered and addressed!"

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, an Austin Republican, released a statement Monday afternoon saying “there's no question about the outcomes in Texas, despite the millions upon millions that Democrats desperately poured into races all over the place." But he followed up with a call for for answers to “some legitimate questions" raised about “what went on in" races in other states.

Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Politico has been a financial supporter 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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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