While Democratic officials are encouraging Joe Biden to bet on Texas — where the party has not won a statewide election since 1994 — the former vice-president’s campaign has been hesitant so far to do so, citing a more traditional route to the White House through wins in Obama-Trump states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. But a new poll from the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler suggests that unless the president is able to reverse course in the coming months, the Biden campaign would be foolish not to invest in the Lone Star State, where big money can equate to a game-changing Electoral College gain.
In the survey, Biden leads Trump 48 percent to 43 percent, which appears to be driven in part by the pandemic: Trump’s approval/disapproval rating for his handling of the coronavirus is 41/51 percent, compared with 55/42 percent for Texas governor Greg Abbott. Another poll released on Sunday from YouGov showed a more competitive race, with Trump up over Biden by just one percent, comfortably within the margin of error.
If Biden is able to keep the state in contention in November, the prospect of a swing election in Texas has substantial impacts for Democrats down ballot. Aside from its 38 Electoral College votes (the second most of any state in the nation), Democrats are vying for five House seats left open by retiring Republicans; two of them are considered toss-ups by Cook Political Report, while the West Texas seat vacated by Will Hurd is considered leaning Democratic. A race that’s more competitive than the 2016 election — when Hillary Clinton lost by nine points, the closest Democratic showing since Jimmy Carter in 1976 — would also aid the party’s efforts to pick up state House and Senate seats prior to redistricting in 2021, in which the state is expected to gain several national House seats.
Texas has long been expected to transition to a more purple hue in the coming years, with Latinos representing around 50 percent of the state’s population under 18. Since the 2016 election, the state has added over 2.5 million people to its voter rolls, many of whom are Latino voters coming of age or young transplants from California. With Biden in an enviable position for a Democratic presidential candidate four months out, the coronavirus may accelerate the timeline for a competitive national race in Texas. With Trump’s approval rating tied in part to his handling of the pandemic, the current outbreak in Texas — where Houston’s leaders have called for a lockdown to halt the apparent community spread — suggests that the state’s daily case load will need to go down before Trump’s polling numbers go up.