October 31, 2020
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Race for Texas Intensifies             10/31 13:24


   McALLEN, Texas (AP) -- Texas' surprising status as a battleground came into 
clearer focus on Friday as Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris 
devoted one of the race's final days to campaigning across America's largest 
red state and early voter turnout zoomed past 9 million --- already more than 
the total number of ballots cast during the entire 2016 election.

   Harris visited three cities, including McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley 
along the Mexican border, which has been ravaged this summer by the 
coronavirus. Part of the California senator's mission was to energize Latino 
voters, whose lower turnout rates have for years helped sink her party's hopes 
of making Texas more competitive.

   "Texas has been turning it out," Harris told a McAllen drive-in rally. 
"You've been standing in line. You've been organizing. You've been making a 
huge difference."

   By showing up closer to Election Day than anyone on a Democratic 
presidential ticket has in years, Harris in some ways fulfilled weeks of pleas 
by Texas Democrats for Joe Biden's presidential campaign to take their chances 
here more seriously. But Biden himself hasn't come, and the campaign has made 
relatively little investment in advertising and staff.

   Texas' heavily Latino border routinely ranks among the nation's lowest in 
turnout, meanwhile, and although early voting numbers were up sharply, 
residents here haven't stampeded to the polls like voters have elsewhere.

   Texas is approaching 18,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Nearly 1 in 5 
are occurring in the Rio Grande Valley, which in recent months became so 
overwhelmed that one hospital transferred coronavirus patients hundreds of 
miles away by helicopter almost daily. The virus is now even raging hundreds of 
miles west along the border, in El Paso. There, officials on Thursday ordered a 
two-week shutdown of non-essential activities --- though not polling places.

   Harris' Rio Grande Valley rally also was not far from where top Trump 
administration officials a day earlier announced they had completely nearly 400 
miles of border wall --- a late attempt to show progress on perhaps the 
president's best-known campaign promise four years ago. The area is the 
border's economic engine, with a population about 90% Mexican American and 
represents one of Texas' youngest and fastest-growing areas.

   Texas' early votes exceeded the 8.9-plus million overall votes four the 
election years ago by Friday morning, according to an Associated Press tally. 
This year's numbers were aided by Democratic activists challenging in court 
for, and winning, the right to extend early voting by one week amid the 
coronavirus pandemic.

   Hawaii also surpassed its 2016 voter turnout, according to the AP tally, 
while Georgia and Washington state were also closing in.

   Texas voters don't register by party affiliation. Turnout has also been 
inflated by the state's booming population. More than 16.9 million people are 
registered to vote in 2020, 1.8 million more than 2016's about 15.1-plus 
million. The number of early votes so far accounts for only about 53% of 
statewide registered voters.

   Still, the fact that Texas exceeded its entire vote total for the past 
presidential cycle hours before the early voting period ended Friday evening 
--- and prior to millions more likely being cast on Election Day --- hints at a 
potential electoral sea change, Democrats say.

   For the party, anything different is likely positive. The party hasn't won a 
state office in Texas since 1994 --- the nation's longest political losing 
streak. It now believes it has a chance to seize control of the state House, 
flip as many as six congressional seats and a Senate seat.

   President Donald Trump carried Texas against Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 9 
points, but that was the smallest margin of Republican presidential victory 
since 1996.

   Texas has the highest share of its registered voters who are either new or 
infrequent voters of any battleground state, according to an Associated Press 
analysis of data from the political data firm L2. Roughly half of its voters 
have either never cast a ballot or done so in half or fewer of the elections 
for which they were eligible.

   So far, 36% of Texas' vote comes from this group of irregular voters. That 
could bode well for Trump, since his campaign has made a point of attracting 
voters who hadn't been engaged in politics, just like he did in 2016.

   Also, because Texas is one of the few states that maintained its 
already-strict rules preventing most residents from using mail ballots during 
the pandemic, some of the lines at in-person early voting locations may reflect 
it being the only way most voters can cast a ballot before Election Day --- 
further potentially inflating the totals.

   Biden's campaign has for months insisted that Texas, with its 38 electoral 
votes, is among the traditionally conservative states it is looking to flip, 
though it has long been more bullish on Arizona.

   Harris on Friday hit Fort Worth, Houston and McAllen, where turnout news 
wasn't all positive.

   Early voting turnout in Hidalgo County, which includes McAllen, was just 
over 44%. That is slightly up from early voting in 2016 but still well below 
Houston, the state's largest city, where turnout is above 54%, and booming 
suburban counties where turnout has already skyrocketed past 60%.

   Joining Harris was former Texas Democratic congressman and presidential 
candidate Beto O'Rourke, who knocked on doors trying to increase turnout. 
O'Rourke also struggled to attract voters along the heavily Democratic border 
two years ago in his narrow U.S. Senate loss, faring worse in some South Texas 
counties than Clinton had.

   He said Rio Grande Valley voters will likely be motivated by the Trump's 
bungled coronavirus response.

   "This part of Texas has borne witness to the cruelty of the Trump 
administration," O'Rourke said.

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