In the days leading up to the November election a surge in early voting throughout Texas inspired fresh hope among Democrats that, for the first time in more than four decades, the party could turn the Lone Star State blue.
Polls showed the party’s nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, within striking distance of incumbent President Trump, and last week Wednesday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report shifted Texas to a “toss up” from “leans Republican.” Record turnout in Harris County, a Democratic stronghold, spurred those dreams of flipping the state.
“We have always been bullish on Texas and are taking the Lone Star State seriously,” Biden for President Texas state director Rebecca Acuna said in a statement to Fox News in mid-October. “Trump’s severe mismanagement of this pandemic and the resulting economic crisis has left Texans fed up and ready for change.”
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But those hopes were quickly extinguished on Tuesday when, within hours of the polls closing, Trump was named the projected winner in Texas.
Democrats came up short in down-ballot races as well. Republican candidates had resounding victories across the board. Incumbent Sen. John Cornyn soundly beat Democrat MJ Hegar by nearly 10 percentage points, and Texas House Republicans appear poised to hold onto their majority, fighting off a well-financed challenge to flip the lower chamber.
Despite Democrats’ multimillion-dollar ad campaigns — and a last-minute campaign visit by Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris — the Nov. 3 election proved another disappointment for the party and made one thing clear: In Texas, Republicans still dominate.
In an October op-ed published by The Washington Post, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a former presidential candidate who endorsed Biden earlier this year, and Tory Gavito, the president and co-founder of the progressive donor network Way to Win, pressed the Biden campaign to spend heavily in the state.
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“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.”
At the beginning of the month, the Biden campaign dispatched Jill Biden to help boost early voting in the state, with three stops in El Paso, Dallas and Houston.
“For the first time in a long time, winning Texas is possible,” she said during the stop in El Paso. “Not just for Joe, but for the Senate and the state House as well. And if we win here, we are unstoppable.”
Yet with 85% of ballots tallied so far, Trump has a commanding lead of nearly 6 percentage points. While that margin is smaller than Trump’s 9 percentage point lead over Hillary Clinton in 2016 — and narrower than it’s been in years — it’s still a far cry from the neck-and-neck race that some Democrats were anticipating.
A Democratic presidential candidate has not won statewide in Texas since 1976, when Jimmy Carter beat incumbent President Gerald Ford by more than 3 percentage points in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
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Democrats have pointed to the losses as evidence the tides are starting to slowly shift in their favor and painted an optimistic picture about future elections.
“With every election, we’re getting one step closer to that change,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas.
While Biden performed well in some large suburban counties outside of the state’s biggest cities, he underperformed Hillary Clinton in 28 counties near South Texas or near the border, winning by about 17 percentage points, roughly half of the 33-point margin that Clinton won by in 2016.
In one of the most notable, and shocking, results from the night, Zapata County, which has a large Hispanic population, broke for Trump by 5 points after Clinton won it by 33 points in 2016.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who was not on the ballot this year, but he campaigned heavily for state Republicans and celebrated the election outcome on Twitter.
“Texas DID stay Red,” he wrote. “Every statewide race and the Texas House and Senate remain Republican. God Bless Texas.”