A series of polls showing Joe Biden leading or effectively tied with President Trump in Texas may be giving false hopes to Democrats the party can win its electoral votes for the first time since 1976.
But the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s chances of claiming the Lone Star State’s 38 Electoral College votes remain narrow. That’s because, in part, the former vice president’s favorable poll numbers in Texas have less to do with operations within than wider national trends.
Two polls released over the weekend bolstered Democratic hopes of winning the once-deeply red state — an event that if it did occur, would doom Trump’s chances of winning 270 Electoral College votes, a majority needed to be the next White House occupant.
A Dallas Morning News poll of 1,677 registered voters in Texas, conducted June 29 to July 7, found 43% support for Trump and 48% support for Biden, a 5-point lead that is remarkable in a traditionally Republican stronghold.
And a CBS News/YouGov poll of 1,212 registered Texas voters conducted July 7-10 found Trump ahead of Biden by 1 percentage point, 46% to 45%. That’s a more plausible spread than the Dallas Morning News poll found. But still a sign that Texas is increasingly becoming a 2020 battleground, amid a continued movement of people to Texas from California, the Northeast, and other, more liberal environs.
“He’s continued to sink,” Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said about Trump’s poll numbers, noting that Trump is seeing unfavorable numbers everywhere . “Whether that means that Biden is likely to win, Texas is still an open question.”
“If the election were held today, I would still bet Trump,” Jillson told the Washington Examiner.
The possibility of a Democratic presidential candidate winning Texas is something of a mythological Golden Fleece for some in the party — the idea that if they win the Lone Star State, where Trump beat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by 9% in 2016, it will lead the party to national dominance.
The rising Hispanic and Latino population, along with an influx of residents who previously lived in Democratic states such as California, give some Democrats hope that if they can engage those voters, they can win. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s historically close loss to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by 2.6% in 2018 made that strategy seem feasible. So did the defeat of a pair of incumbent Republican House members in 2018, with several more facing tough Democratic challenges in 2020.
O’Rourke’s hybrid PAC, Powered by People, touted the poll numbers as evidence that with enough grassroots outreach, Biden can win there. “Together, we can turn out enough voters to deny Trump Texas’s massive Electoral College prize – our 38 votes,” a Monday fundraising email from the PAC said.
The former vice president adopted some of O’Rourke’s hopeful analysis.
“I think we can turn Texas blue. Beto convinced me of that awhile ago,” Biden said in a June 29 virtual fundraiser with his former primary rival. “I think we can take this Texas grit and these big ambitions and turn them into Texas wins.”
And Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, said in a June 23 fundraiser that Texas is part of a “very expanded map” in 2020 and is “within the margin,” along with traditionally Republican Arizona and Georgia.
Darron Shaw, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said that the state has become more competitive since the last presidential race.
“The average pro-Republican slant in a statewide race has gone from about plus-15 to plus-9,” Shaw told the Washington Examiner. “My guess is that Trump is up a point or two now and that he’ll probably surge ahead by a bit more as the race draws near.”
But the O’Rourke strategy of mobilizing voters will be far less of a factor in Trump winning Texas than Trump’s nationwide unfavorable ratings.
“Texas isn’t going to make any difference, because if Texas goes Biden, 40 other states went before Texas, and it’s over,” Jillson said. “It would be a nail in the coffin. It would be a statement about future presidential elections and the futility of the Republican Party going forward. But it’s not the first thing you think about.”
“Texas is a luxury for Biden; he’s only likely to campaign here to the extent that it ties Trump down and forces him to expend resources here rather than in other crucial states,” he said.
With that reality in mind, there is little incentive for Biden to spend money and resources on a state that he is only likely to win in a national landslide, despite pleas from his supporters in the state to do so. O’Rourke raised nearly $80 million for his close loss.
And despite the hype over Texas, Biden’s campaign is not currently laying out money on television ads in Texas — though it did spend $500,000 on ads in Texas in June.
“Democrats like to pretend Texas is on the table, but they know that’s a joke — just ask Gov. Wendy Davis, Sen. Beto O’Rourke, and President Hillary Clinton,” Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager told the Washington Examiner.
The Trump campaign is making some defensive moves in the state, though, by spending on television ads in Texas.
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