Early Votes in Texas Surpass 2016 Total as Democrats and Biden Campaign Continue Push to Flip State

Supporters listen as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), speaks during a campaign event at First Saint John Cathedral in Fort Worth, Texas on October 30, 2020. (Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

Early Votes in Texas Surpass 2016 Total as Democrats and Biden Campaign Continue Push to Flip State

"Now we know this is no time to let up on the pedal though, right?" vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris said in Fort Worth.

Ahead of the end of Texas' early voting period on Friday evening and as Democrats including members of Joe Biden's presidential campaign fight to flip the Lone Star State blue, multiple reports revealed that by Thursday more Texans had already cast ballots in this cycle than the total number of state residents who voted in 2016.

As of early Friday more than nine million people in Texas had voted, according to the Associated Press, the Texas Tribune, and the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida. That means Texans represent over 10% of the more than 86 million Americans who have voted early by mail or in person for the November 3 presidential election.

"Through Thursday, 9,009,850 have voted so far this year, with one day of early voting left," reported the Tribune, which also shared a graph of the state's 2020 turnout. "In 2016, 8,969,226 Texans cast a ballot in the presidential race."

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The AP put those data points into context:

Voters statewide don't register by party affiliation, so no one can yet know which side will benefit from the surge. Turnout has also been inflated by Texas' booming population. More than 16.9 million Texans are registered to vote in 2020, a roughly 1.8 million increase from 2016's about 15.1-plus million. The number of early votes so far accounts for only about 53% of statewide registered voters, while about 59% of registered voters cast early and Election Day ballots in 2016.

Earlier this month, Biden poured $6.3 million into an advertising blitz in the state, prompting local media and state Democrats to point out that he was the first party nominee in decades to make a serious push in Texas. That move came shortly after a Washington Postopinion piece by former Democratic presidential primary candidate and Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Tory Gavito, president and co-founder of Way to Win and the former executive director of the Texas Future Project.

Urging Biden to invest in their state, O'Rourke--also known nationally for narrowly losing to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2018--and Gavito noted that defeating President Donald Trump there could cause a Biden victory on Election Day, "because Texas' 38 electoral college votes are the most up for grabs of any swing state."

Though securing Texas' electoral votes would be no easy feat for the former vice president--Trump beat 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 9% in the state and most local polls this month have favored the president--there is some anticipation of a long-sought shift. On Wednesday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Reportdeclared Texas a "Toss Up" in terms of the presidential election, with national editor Amy Walter writing "it is clear that it's more competitive than ever."

"Texas' shift from Lean Republican to Toss Up shouldn't come as a surprise," Walter added. "Recent polling in the state--both public and private--shows a 2-4 point race. That's pretty much in line with the hotly contested 2018 Senate race in the state where Sen. Ted Cruz narrowly defeated Rep. Beto O'Rourke 51% to 48%."

Biden and his supporters, including O'Rourke, are still hard at work to win over voters in Texas. His primary rival-turned-running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), campaigned in the state on Friday, starting in Fort Worth before heading to McAllen and Houston, according to the Tribune.

"So listen, today is the last day of early voting in Texas and you all have been doing your thing," Harris told a mostly Black, socially distanced, and seated crowd, during an event at the First Saint John Cathedral in Fort Worth. "Now we know this is no time to let up on the pedal though, right?"

Reporting for Politico Friday, Will Ford detailed how left-leaning Texans are now also targeting some of the reddest areas of the state. "For years, Democratic orthodoxy has maintained that flipping Texas Democratic in statewide races--this year for presidential candidate Joe Biden and Senate candidate MJ Hegar, most prominently--means increasing turnout in urban areas and swing suburbs," Ford explained. "But that strategy alone hasn't worked yet--even as favorable demographic changes, especially in urban areas, suburbs, and now even exurbs, have put the state in play."

These days, people like Hannah Horick, chair of the Ector County Democratic Party, and David Logan, a data analyst for Jon Mark Hogg, the Democratic candidate for Texas' 11th Congressional District, "are part of an effort by Democrats to broaden their strategy by targeting the most Republican areas of the state as well," he continued. "If they can boost Democratic support in places like Odessa just slightly, then, together with the unprecedented early vote surge in cities, Democrats think they might finally get enough votes to flip the state. It's not about winning in these deep-red counties and districts--it's about cutting into Republican margins, no matter how large."

O'Rourke, who campaigned all across the state during his bid to oust Cruz from the Senate, spoke with Ford about this approach:

"I think it's a false choice," O'Rourke told me, of the traditional thinking that parties have to choose between targeting rural and urban voters. "You can do both. In Texas, there were really two populations left uncontested--rural red counties written off and urban ones taken for granted." For Republicans, he added, the same was true, though in opposite directions.

But when I asked whether he received pushback against this strategy in Democratic circles, he almost laughed. "Tons. They all said, 'Your vote's in Houston and the cities.'" West Texan voters were equally surprised: O'Rourke said some voters in West Texas told him they hadn't seen a statewide Democratic candidate visit since LBJ.

On Friday, with a possible Biden win just days away, O'Rourke was back to knocking on doors--this time, urging residents of Mission, Texas to cast their votes for his former primary competitor.

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