by Beto O’Rourke and Tory Gavito
Joe Biden can end the election on election night. All it takes is an investment in Texas. Texas is the state where big, late money and showing up could put an end to the suspense about whether President Trump will concede defeat Nov. 3. That’s because Texas’s 38 electoral college votes are the most up for grabs of any swing state.
Yes, Texas is a swing state in this election. Biden has consistently polled better in Texas than has any recent Democratic candidate — according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average, Trump leads Biden in Texas by 1.6 points, a statistical tie — and polls have consistently underestimated the actual results for every recent Democratic candidate on Election Day. It’s a strategic opportunity Biden must seize because if he wins Texas, he wins the election.
Thanks to Republican efforts to suppress voter turnout, Texas did not expand vote by mail in midst of a global pandemic. As a result, we will know the winner of the Texas presidential election on election night. If Texas turns blue that night, and its 38 electoral votes go to Biden, then Trump would have no viable path to victory, and the election would be over that night, before Trump’s lawyers can get through the courtroom doors to stop the vote counts in other states. If Biden wins Texas along with the likely blue states of Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota and Virginia, he would still win the White House even if he loses all the swing states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida. Trump, on the other hand, cannot win without Texas.
You might be saying: “But the polls show Biden with a comfortable lead in Pennsylvania, so why focus on Texas?” Here’s the answer: Pennsylvanians are going to vote by mail in huge numbers, and it will take days, if not weeks, to certify the results there. Biden may very well win that state, but we might not know for sure until it is too late, after Trump has already had time to create election chaos and doubt about the results. The same could be said about the swing states of Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Florida.
Biden, his campaign and Democrats in general need to make it clear: We are competing in Texas, and we’ll invest whatever it takes to turn out the state’s true electoral majority and flip Texas once and for all. Although winning in Texas, more than any other state, would end Trump’s hopes of holding onto the Oval Office (by hook or by crook), 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. 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.
For months, Biden’s polling average has consistently been within the margin of error in Texas. And the race continues to tighten. But what is important to understand is since the 2008 election, polling of the Texas electorate has significantly underestimated Democratic performance because, unlike demographically declining states, Texas has a growing, dynamic electorate with many new voters who are younger, more likely to have college degrees and more likely to be people of color — and often difficult to poll. As a result of this rapid demographic change, Texas is not only more racially diverse and urban than most other swing states, but also more rapidly trending Democratic. Unlike the Rust Belt, where the polls underestimated Trump’s strength on Election Day, the polls in Texas underestimated Hillary Clinton’s performance by 4.9 percent.
That gives us reason to believe polling in Texas this cycle masks a potential Biden victory. He has consistently been running better than any Democratic candidate in decades. You would have to look back to 1976 — the last time a Democratic presidential candidate won Texas — for a race this tight. Even Barack Obama, on average, trailed John McCain by 13 points in 2008 in the polling leading up to the 2008 election, closing the final results to about an 11-point difference. But since 2008, every Democrat has also done better in the actual election than the Texas polls predicted — as did one of us, Beto O’Rourke, in the 2018 Senate race. This pattern of underestimating Democratic candidates shows Biden can win Texas.
In 2018, O’Rourke came close to unseating Sen. Ted Cruz (R), earning 48.3 percent of the vote to Cruz’s 50.9 percent. In the last weeks leading up to the election, though, the polls put Cruz ahead by an average of six points. Two years later, Biden enjoys consistent, higher polling averages than O’Rourke did in 2018. If the way Texas Democrats have outperformed polling in the last four presidential election cycles is any guide, the Trump campaign — and his Republican Party — have every reason to be worried.
The repeated failure of polls to accurately predict voters’ actual choices not only reflects pollsters’ difficulty in sampling a rapidly changing electorate, but also the years of organizing by tireless activists on the ground in Texas to turn out less-than-likely voters, particularly Latino, Black, Asian and young voters. That work continues today. This cycle, groups such as Powered by People, MOVE Texas and the Texas Organizing Project have contacted tens of millions of voters and registered over 240,000 new ones. Just since 2016, Texas has added 1,516,349 voters to the registration rolls, nearly double Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 of 807,179 voters. While third party candidates took about 4 percent of the vote, or about 350,000 votes in 2016, they are expected to receive much less of the votes in 2020, improving Biden’s chances.
The power of Texas’s changing electorate has had an impact in the state’s megametros, home to more than 75 percent of Texas voters, with demographically diverse suburbs moving in the Democrats’ direction. Harris County (which encompasses Houston) is the center of this shift, and with more voters than the state of Nevada, the county carries a heavy influence in statewide Texas results. Harris County Democratic officials, who won power in 2018, are now using their executive authority to expand voting rights and increase voter participation. These election officials have created 24-hour polling locations and added an additional week of early voting on top of what the state has already allowed. Democratic officials administer the elections in the megametro counties and are creating the conditions for high voter turnout, even as they encounter Republican resistance. That means Biden has an opportunity to make investments that could energize the turnout of a powerful base of voters of color and young people who represent the present and future of not only Texas but also the nation.
We have a plan to win. One of us, Tory Gavito, runs a data-driven voter empowerment fund that has a track record of expanding the electorate and winning elections. Targeted new investments in the final leg of the campaign, along with strategic appearances, from Biden to connect with Texas voters, especially Latino voters, will show Texans that Democrats are working hard to win their support. That will energize the base that has been showing up in consistently higher numbers each election — the key to Biden beating the polls and Trump in Texas.
Biden has the national polling lead, the lead in other swing states and the cash to go on the offensive in Texas. In light of Trump’s plans to suppress voters and challenge mail-in vote counting in other swing states, it is necessary for Biden to open as many paths to victory as possible in case other paths get blocked. Texas is the quickest route to victory in this election. At a minimum, an investment here would force the GOP to continue to spend massive amounts of cash to defend the state, while also supporting Texas Democrats’ effort to flip several suburban House districts and, crucially, gain control of the state House of Representatives in time for redistricting in 2021. With the state projected to get numerous new congressional districts after the 2020 census, it is imperative Democrats get a say in redistricting. That will set the stage for what is possible for Texas Democrats for the next decade and beyond. If we invest in Texas now, it will reverberate up and down the ballot, securing Democratic victories statewide and in federal elections over the long term.
Republicans see the same data we see. The Texas GOP won’t admit they’re scared, but that’s why the incumbent Republican president’s campaign diverted precious swing-state dollars to bankroll a bus tour of Texas, including senior campaign officials, to shore up support. It’s clear Trump is in trouble in Texas. Given the high stakes in the presidential election and strategic opportunity in Texas, Biden has no better investment than turning out voters in the Lone Star State. This is not the cycle for Democrats to wonder if Texas is going to flip. This is the election to make it flip — and end the national nightmare on election night.
Beto O’Rourke is a former Democratic member of Congress and now leads the voter registration and voter contact organization Powered by People. Follow @BetoORourke
Tory Gavito is the president and cofounder of Way to Win and the former executive director of the Texas Future Project. Follow @torygavito