Monday marks the start of the Democratic National Convention online, where former Vice President Joe Biden will officially be nominated as the Democratic challenger to President Donald Trump later this week.
Recent polling shows Biden in a virtual dead heat with Trump in Texas, raising a question: Can Biden win the state, something no Democrat has accomplished in more than 40 years?
Carla Brailey hopes the answer is “yes.”
If not for COVID-19, Brailey would be in Milwaukee this week. The Houstonian is a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. She was at home last Tuesday when the news broke that Joe Biden named Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate.
“My daughter was exercising, who’s 11 years old,” Brailey said, “and she couldn’t figure out why I was screaming. I was like, ‘Oh, my God. This is really happening.'”
As a Black woman, Brailey said she was elated by the choice. And it’ll make a big difference in her work getting out the vote this fall: Brailey is also vice president of the Texas Democratic Party.
“I think that we can do a good job of winning Texas locally. So, a lot of my focus will be on precinct chairs, getting them involved, getting them the tools that they need,” Brailey said — everything they need to compete.
Rebecca Acuña, Biden’s Texas state director, said the campaign is making an unprecedented investment in the state, compared to previous presidential cycles.
“We’re working really hard to get our base to turn out in higher numbers, whether that’s Latinos, African Americans, AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders),” Acuña said. “We are focused also on women. We are also focused in getting our numbers up in rural Texas.”
Conservative rural Texas will be quite a lift. At the very least, Democrats need to not get swamped in the rural counties, said Jay Aiyer of the University of Houston – Downtown. But what they really need to do is run up big wins in the major urban centers and the suburbs.
“The advantage still remains for President Trump, but this is definitely much closer than we’ve seen at any time since 1976,” Aiyer said. That’s the last time a Democrat won Texas in a presidential contest.
Democrats do have some reason to be hopeful this time, according to Rebecca Deen, who chairs the political science department at the University of Texas Arlington.
“They seem to be doing the right things with regard to party-building that they’ve not done in previous cycles,” Deen said. “So, they’ve learned from 2018. They have a much more solid ground game, and it appears to be that way across the state.”
In 2018, the last statewide contest, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by less than three percentage points.
But Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak doesn’t think midterm elections are a good predictor of presidential campaigns. And he’s not convinced Democrats have the money they need to carry the state.
“To run a statewide campaign in Texas, you would need at least $20 million. And really at the presidential level, you probably need more like $30-40 million,” Mackowiak said. “So, the most likely scenario is neither side will make significant statewide investments in Texas.”
Mackowiak is also skeptical of polling that shows Biden tied with Trump here, saying most of it just focuses on registered voters.
“When you do a poll, you want to test likely voters, because you want to capture who’s actually likely to vote,” Mackowiak said. “Those are the people that matter. People who don’t vote don’t matter.”
Still, at least one poll, Morning Consult, shows Biden with a one-point lead among likely voters.
In that poll, 47% of likely Texas voters said that they would vote for Biden if the election were held today.
Critically, the most recent poll shows Biden leading Trump among independent voters, 45% to 37%, according to Cameron Easley, a senior editor with the polling firm.
“I think what this data shows today is certainly that Texas is a much more competitive race than the Trump campaign wants it to be,” Easley said.
That’s not something Democrats can take for granted, said Almeda Dent, another Democratic convention delegate from Houston.
“From what I’m looking at, it just looks like Trump has a good chance of pulling Texas. I don’t know if he’s going to win across all the United States, but it looks like he’s going to win Texas. And that’s sad,” Dent said.
Sad, she said, because she believes Democrats already have enough people registered to win the state, if all of them actually voted.
“That’s why we have to do more,” Dent said. “We have to act like he’s 20 points ahead and work the area.”