EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Jill Biden kicked off a three-city tour of Texas Tuesday, drumming up support for her husband in a state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since Jimmy Carter.
But times have changed and so has the electorate. The Pew Hispanic Center says Latinos are now 30% of eligible voters in Texas. Many of these voters are stewing at President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and at being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The Bidens know this and are courting the Hispanic vote.
On Tuesday morning, Mexican folk dancers, a mariachi band and a giant “Vota Ahora” sign (“Vote Now,” in Spanish) welcomed Dr. Biden to El Paso on the first day of early voting in Texas.
So did local leaders, who spoke about how Trump turned the 2018-2019 immigration surge from Central America into a humanitarian crisis and blame his hardline immigration bluster for inspiring a North Texas man to drive 10 hours to El Paso to “kill Mexicans” he characterized as invading Texas. That Aug. 3, 2019 shooting claimed 23 lives and left another 23 injured.
“Texas is ripe for the taking,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas. “If you look at 2016 when Hillary Clinton ran against Trump, there were zero resources and she only lost by 9 points – that was a slimmer margin than Iowa. Two years later, Beto O’Rourke lost to (Republican) Ted Cruz by 2 points (in the Senate) and we saw two traditionally Republican House seats flip.”
The latest Quinnipiac University and UT/Texas Tribune polls have Trump ahead of Biden in Texas by 5 percentage points.
But, places like heavily Hispanic and Democratic El Paso County have seen a record 486,498 citizens register to vote, including more than 55,000 new voters.
“The fact that they would make the effort to come out here, spending money in El Paso and across Texas means they think they can win it. This is more than I have seen any Democratic nominee for president do in my adult life,” said O’Rourke, who is heading get-out-to-vote campaigns. “They’re doing it because they believe in us and I want to make sure that we return the good will” by helping Biden carry Texas, he added.
What border leaders are asking in return for those votes is more investment in their communities and stronger coronavirus response and relief. According to Brookings Institution research, Latinos have been hit harder economically than other groups by the COVID-19 pandemic because many work in industries like hotels, restaurants and construction that have been badly hit by stay-at-home restrictions.
Escobar has also noted that Hispanics tend to suffer from underlying conditions like diabetes and hypertension that often lead to COVID-19-related fatalities. Likewise, many lack health insurance or are dependent on the Affordable Care Act and would be out in the cold if the new Supreme Court tosses it out.
That’s why Hispanics will vote for Biden, local leaders say.
“El Paso has the votes to make the difference,” said state Sen. Joe Rodriguez, D-El Paso. “So, let’s go out there and make that difference. Call your friends, participate in election forums, be informed about the candidates at all levels.”
Despite the enthusiasm, political observers say Texas remains a conservative state and that the Latino vote is not homogeneous. Hence, record registration or even record turnout doesn’t mean all those votes will go to Democrats.
“Even if you had a record turnout in the Rio Grande Valley and in El Paso I don’t think it would swing the state because you don’t have enough of the rural vote and you don’t have enough of the rich metro areas,” said Richard Pineda, associate professor at the Department of Communications at UT El Paso. “But I think it’s getting close. I think Trump wins Texas, but it’s going to be the closest presidential race in a long time.”
Jill Biden touts husband’s commitment to family, personal courage
Mrs. Biden reciprocated the support. Aware of how Hispanics value their families, she stressed her husband’s commitment to keeping his own family together during hard times. She spoke of Joe Biden’s resolve after the death of his son, Beau, in 2015.
“There’s so many times when I couldn’t even imagine how he did it, how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going,” Mrs. Biden said. “Joe learned to heal a broken family. It’s the same way you heal a nation: with love an understanding and with small acts of kindness. With bravery and unwavering hope. Joe will be a president for all Americans.”
She added her husband will be someone who will “bring out the best in us, someone our kids can look up to” and won’t foster divisions.
“Right now, there are so many who say our nation is hopelessly divided, that our differences are irreconcilable, that our communities are fractured beyond repair,” she said. “But that’s not who we are. In this pandemic, we are supporting each other.”
Mrs. Biden left El Paso for Dallas and was later scheduled to speak in Houston.