US election: can Joe Biden do the impossible and win Texas for the Democrats?

Former vice president targets traditionally Republican state with $6m ad spend

Joe Biden campaigning in Texas
Former vice president targets traditionally Republican state with $6m ad spend - and sends his wife to win over undecided voters
(Image credit: Callaghan O'Hare/Getty Images)

Jill Biden is set to visit Texas this week as part of a major push by her husband’s party to win the traditionally Republican-voting state in the presidential election.

The would-be first lady is set to make stops in Houston, Dallas and El Paso on Tuesday, the first day of early voting, as the Democrats look to do the unthinkable and flip the state from red to blue.

Joe Biden’s campaign is targeting Texas with an advertising blitz reportedly worth $6m (£4.6m) - “the biggest investment from a Democratic presidential nominee in the last 25 years” in the state, according to The Texas Tribune.

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The Lincoln Project - a group led by former Republican strategists now working to defeat Trump - has also launched a $1m (£768,000) pro-Biden digital ad campaign in the state.

Doug Emhoff, the husband of Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris, has joined the Texas campaigning push too, visiting Edinburg, San Antonio and Dallas last week, as polls showed that the battle for the Lone Star state was looking unusually close.

Donald Trump has insisted the Republicans have nothing to worry, however. In a tweet on Friday, the incumbent said: “Biden is against Oil, Guns and Religion, a very bad combination to be fighting in the Great State of Texas. We are Winning Big, in the Real Polls, all over the Country!!! NOVEMBER 3rd. VOTE!!!”

What are the numbers saying?

Though his claim to be ahead nationally is incorrect, Trump does currently lead in Texas. The president commands 50% of the state’s likely voters to Biden’s 45%, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. A Yougov poll from 8 October also shows Trump ahead by 5%.

Some analysts see Texans’ voting intentions as an indication of their negative attitude towards Trump, rather than a clear endorsement of Biden.

In the University of Texas poll, 55% of respondents who identified as Democrats said they were voting for Biden because they want him to be president, while 45% said he was their choice simply because they don’t want his rival to remain in the White House.

By contrast, a vast majority of Trump’s supporters - 81% - said they want him as president, while 19% said their main motivation was to stop Barack Obama’s former vice president from securing the top job.

“What it really shows you is just how much of this is about Trump,” said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the university and co-director of the poll. “The race is a marker for attitudes towards Trump. It really is a referendum.”

Kind of blue?

Democrats have already made great strides in Texas since Trump first assumed the presidency.

In 2014, Democratic nominee Wendy Davis lost her bid for governor to Republican Greg Abbott by 20 points. But just four years later, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke mounted an “insurgent campaign” against Senator Ted Cruz, losing by only 2.5 points - “an implausible jump” forward in terms of support, says The Texas Tribune’s Washington bureau chief Abby Livingston.

O’Rourke went on to become a candidate in the race to become the Democratic presidential nominee, before dropping out and throwing his support behind Biden.

In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, O’Rourke and Tory Gavito, president and co-founder of the progressive donor network Way to Win, urged Biden to aggressively fight for and win the state.

“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,” they wrote.

“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.”

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