Biden increases Texas staff and resources in bid to win Lone Star State

State & Regional

Former US Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden
(Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

(CBS NEWS) — Everything’s bigger in Texas — including, as of Monday, Joe Biden’s campaign staff.  

On Monday the Biden campaign announced a slate of staff hires aimed at flipping the historically conservative Lone Star State, last won by a Democratic presidential candidate in 1976 by Jimmy Carter. 

The Biden campaign insists its push for the state’s 38 Electoral College votes is real. 

“We are quite serious about putting [Texas] in play,” Jenn Ridder, the campaign’s national states director, told CBS News. “Increasingly we are seeing polls that show that there is real opportunity there for us.” 

The CBS News Battleground Tracker in mid-July showed Biden just one point behind President Trump. 

Six Texas Democratic operatives have already been hired, led by state director Rebecca Acuña, who was raised in Laredo and has worked in various roles in state and congressional politics.  

President Trump’s handling of the pandemic has brought about the focus on the state, according to a Biden campaign official, and that message was broadcast briefly last month via a six-figure ad buy on Texas television.  

“Joe Biden is also going to win Texas in the general election for three reasons,” Texas Congressman Filemon Vela, an early Biden endorser, told CBS News, “First, Donald Trump and Governor Abbott have made tactical decisions in their COVID response that is now killing Texans en masse. Second, Biden will defeat Trump in the Texas suburbs. Finally, from a historical perspective, Biden will outperform past Democratic candidates in the rural counties.” 

Along with suburban voters, the campaign hopes to capitalize on series of competitive congressional races across the state and focus on turning out Latino and African-American voters, especially in the Dallas, Houston and San Antonio markets, a campaign official told CBS News.  

There’s already some evidence of Democratic enthusiasm in the state — a new turnout record was set by the 955,000 Texas Democrats who voted in a recent Senate primary election, which the Texas Observer noted is twice the number that voted in the party’s 2018 gubernatorial primary.  

The Biden campaign official also said what separates its approach to Texas from previous Democratic presidential campaigns is the organizing resources will be directed at turning out Texas voters and not using in-state organizers to contact voters in other battleground states.

The operation will be led by the other Texas campaign leadership, including Jennifer Longoria, Tariq Thowfeek, Mike Collier, Jane Hamilton, and Shekira Dennis.  

New digital ads in English and Spanish are also set to launch on Monday to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the El Paso Walmart, which killed 23 people. Last August after the shooting, Biden in an Iowa speech accused Trump of “fanning the flames” of white supremacy which led to the Walmart shooting.  

No decisions have been made yet about whether or when to buy more TV advertising, CBS News was told. The campaign has been on the air in other states like Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Nevada. 

Biden’s team in Texas will focus on hiring more field organizers throughout August, the campaign official said, in addition to the existing 19 organizers involved in coordinating with the Texas Democratic Party.  

For now, the COVID-19 surge precludes in-person efforts, and organizing remains virtual. The campaign claims it’s seeing higher contact rates, since more people are at home answering phone calls and texts. 

While many Texas Republican leaders like Senator Ted Cruz have warned supporters of growing enthusiasm for Biden and down-ballot Democratic candidates, and the potentially adverse effects this would have on the future of the Republican Party and the conservative cause, several Trump campaign officials and GOP operatives privately doubt the ability of the Biden team to organize effectively enough by November. 

They cite the Biden campaign’s recent six-figure TV ad buy in the state as an example of, as some might say in Texas, all hat and no cattle. One Trump campaign official described the purchase as less effective than a well-distributed press release, given that the state has 20 media markets. 

Before the coronavirus halted in-person campaigning, Biden made several trips to Texas during the Democratic primary. He spoke in San Antonio, addressed the National Baptist Convention’s winter meeting in Arlington in January, and rallied in Dallas on Super Tuesday eve in March, where he surprised attendees with his latest endorsers: former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (who will be utilized to spread the Biden message in Texas, the campaign official said. O’Rourke is slated to speak virtually with Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts next week.

Biden went on to win the Texas Democratic presidential primary by several points over Senator Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg. 

Biden’s last stop in Texas that March night was also a surprise as he made a late-night trip to a nearby Whataburger with the O’Rourkes, where he dug into a burger with cheese and tomato, some fries, and a milkshake. 

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