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Biden-Harris not quite all-in in Texas

Austin American-Statesman — By Jonathan Tilove Austin American-Statesman

Oct. 16-- AUSTIN, Texas-On MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" on Wednesday night, Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris revealed that she was about to launch an in-person campaign swing across some crucial electoral terrain.

"I'm going to be in North Carolina and Ohio and Pennsylvania and, I think, Texas," Harris said.

Harris thought correctly. Texas was on her itinerary for this weekend, much to the delight of Texas Democrats, who would love for their state, in recent decades the cornerstone of the Republican electoral majority, to be viewed and treated by its national ticket as the biggest battleground state of the 2020 election.

But, by daybreak, plans for a Harris visit had been dashed, at least for the time being. The campaign had learned late Wednesday that Harris' campaign spokeswoman and another aide had tested positive for COVID-19, and while they weren't in the kind of close contact with the California senator that would require a quarantine, the campaign was erring on the side of caution and canceling, or at any rate postponing, the live tour.

For Texas Democrats it was the latest lift-then-letdown.

On Oct. 6, news broke that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's campaign had reserved $6.2 million in Texas television time for the final weeks of the campaign, not a huge investment in a state the size and expense of Texas, but it still was seen as a telling token of commitment.

But, according to ad-buying agencies, the campaign subsequently canceled a lot of that TV ad time. Before it's over, the campaign could still end up spending more than $4 million on Texas media-or much less.

"The Biden campaign's Texas media spending has been like a predator circling a larger but wounded target," said Nick Everhart, the founder of Medium Buying, which buys air time for campaigns. "They are close, watching, and prepared to strike for the kill, but so far have been cautious to wait until they are certain the opportunity is there."

"Most of the Biden spending in Texas has been niche-Spanish language-and in select markets-San Antonio and El Paso, for example-and seems aimed at helping Democrats down-ballot ... more than it seems focused on helping him actually win the state's electoral vote haul," Everhart said. "When you look at the path to an electoral vote win for Biden, it doesn't have to include Texas, so those dollars seem to have been deployed to other, less expensive, traditional GOP state targets like Arizona, Georgia, Ohio and Iowa."

The Biden campaign does have a statewide TV ad buy placed for the Cardinals-Cowboys game Monday night.

"The Biden Texas strategy is just one more example of many, on the chess versus checkers ad strategy going on at the state-by-state presidential level, and to be blunt, that stark contrast is driven more than anything by Biden being flush with cash while (President Donald) Trump is running on fumes," Everhart said.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said the $6.2 million was just enough to whet the appetite of Texas Democrats, starved for that kind of commitment, but not enough to have a big effect.

"You know, $6 million spends pretty quick in Texas in a statewide campaign," Henson said.

Chuck Rocha, the founder of Nuestro PAC, a super PAC working to turn out Latino voters, said his pro-Biden Latino super PAC had a plan for a $10 million campaign to mobilize Latinos for Biden in Texas.

But, he said, without Biden committing to go all in in Texas, funders didn't give the green light because they prefer paying for more focused efforts, like targeting Puerto Rican voters in Pennsylvania.

Rocha said that Biden is doing well with Latinos in Texas but he needs to do far better if he is to have a chance of winning the state. According to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, released last week, in which Biden is lagging 5 points behind Trump in Texas, Biden leads Trump with likely Latino voters, 54% to 37%. He needs to be closer to 70% to carry Texas, Rocha said.

According to the RealClearPolitics average of six Texas polls between Sept. 15 and Oct. 6, Trump leads Biden by 4.4 points.

Rocha said that, "as of July 31, the top 10 Biden super PACs had raised $500 million. Today that number is probably close to a billion dollars. At same time, Latino-focused (Biden) super PACs have only been funded at $5 million as of July 31. Five hundred million dollars invested in white persuadable voters and $5 million invested in Latinos."

It is what Rocha characterizes as a failure to devote more resources to Latino outreach that has Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School at the University of Texas, only "purplish" on Texas.

"That's why I don't say blue,'" DeFrancesco Soto said. "For me, it's purple if the elections are within the margin of error. I think that Trump will probably win Texas, but he is going to win by under 5 percentage points."

But in an appearance on MSNBC Friday afternoon, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic Party's 2018 candidate for U.S. Senate, said, "In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary (Clinton) was down in most Texas polls by double digits, she lost by 9%, the narrowest margin for a Democratic nominee in decades. On the eve of the 2018 election against Ted Cruz, I was down in most polls by 7, 8, 9 points. I lost by 2{."

"So Democrats tend to regularly outperform those polls by 4 or 5 points," O'Rourke said. "Biden down by 4, I think that means they are neck-and-neck in Texas, and that's certainly how it feels."

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O'Rourke said the special virtue of the Biden-Harris ticket going all in on Texas is that, because Texas is not as reliant as many other states on mail-in ballots, the result in the state should be known Election Night, and because of its heft and political history, a Biden victory in Texas would mean "mathematically it is impossible for Donald Trump to claim victory, and this country can then move on and get past Trump."

"Grateful for what Biden has done here so far," O'Rourke texted The Austin American-Statesman after his MSNBC appearance. "More than any previous nominee. But he could do more, and the payoff would be ending the election on the night of Nov. 3."

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