Texas Democrats, feeling momentum in a state long dominated by Republicans, are unleashing digital, radio and print ads to encourage Latino voters to plan their votes, vote early or show up on Election Day.
The party said it is spending in the high six figures for the ads as part of its yearlong drive to "engage the rising Texas electorate," a significant proportion of which is Latinos and young people.
The launch of the ads on Wednesday, said state Democratic officials, bring the party's investment in Latinos to seven figures. As is general practice in elections, the party did not release exact figures for competitive reasons.
"At the beginning of this election cycle in January 2019, we said Texas is the biggest battleground state in the country," said Manny Garcia, executive director of the state Democratic Party. "That was audacious to some, but to those who have seen growth and change to our electorate and the candidates out there fighting and engaging with people, they all understood it from the get-go."
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The ad spending is separate from an overall spending boost by Joe Biden's campaign in Texas. According to The Dallas Morning News, the campaign has reserved $5.8 million in advertising in the state, including some Spanish-language ads, for the final four weeks of the campaign.
Biden's planned spending is "historic," said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. "It is game-changing. It's the biggest spend any Democrat or Republican has done in the last 25 years in Texas."
Biden and his vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, have yet to campaign in the state, while President Donald Trump has made a couple of visits. On Monday, Harris' husband, Douglas Emhoff, made a trip to Hidalgo County in the predominantly Latino Rio Grande Valley and visited a food bank in San Antonio. He met with religious leaders Tuesday in Dallas.
Texas carries 38 electoral votes, and Trump cannot afford to lose it. Jimmy Carter was the last Democratic presidential nominee to win Texas.
Texas Democrats have been running a coordinated campaign with the Biden campaign, which has recently ramped up staff and activity in the state.
Latinos 'traditionally left out'
Texas has been solidly Republican for years, leading national Democrats to make little investment in the state, where Hispanics could become the largest population group as soon as next year.
But that changed this election cycle. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez more than tripled the national party's investment in the state since 2016. But more importantly, Texas Democrats' fundraising has been "off the charts," Rahman said. The party broke the single-month fundraising record in a week this election cycle.
The party, led by Gilberto Hinojosa as chair, has made engaging Latinos a big part of its effort to flip the state. "For far too long, Latinos have been traditionally left out of the political arena," Hinojosa said in a statement.
The Texas Democrats' ads targeting Latinos show Democratic candidates, including Biden, listing topics in play in the election, including the need for coronavirus-related economic relief, affordable health care and racial justice.
"We think people understand this is about the issues, about what's at stake practically for their families. This is about health care and bringing about change," Garcia said.
The candidates advise voters to look into where they can vote and to decide whether to vote early or on Election Day, and they provide information about early voting, which starts Oct. 13. The ads are being produced in English, Spanish and "Spanglish," party officials said.
There are 5.6 million Latinos eligible to vote in Texas, although not all are registered or show up to vote. Voter registration has been increasing, hitting a record 16.6 million, about 1.5 million more than in 2018, as of September. Monday was the last day for Texans to register.
The ads aimed at Latino voters are scheduled to run in the cities of Corpus Christi, Dallas, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Laredo and San Antonio, along with the Rio Grande Valley region of Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen. Latinos make up more than a third to close to 95 percent of the cities' overall populations.
A Latino voter boost?
With the growth of Latino voters in the state, it is nearly impossible to expand support without engaging Latinos, as Bernie Sanders did in the primaries.
Since the midterm elections in 2018, 387,000 more Latinos have become eligible to vote in the state. Since 2016, when Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Texas by 9 percentage points — the smallest margin of victory by a Republican presidential candidate since 1996 — 730,000 more Latinos have become eligible to vote, said Albert Morales, political director for the Democratic polling firm Latino Decisions.
Morales said Biden "may well pull off a surprise" in Texas. Along with the new voters, Morales said, Biden's advantage among Texas Latinos could net him enough votes to overtake the 2.6-point lead Republican Sen. Ted Cruz held in 2018, when Democrats came close to unseating him. The Democratic performance outdid polls that had shown a gap of about 7 percentage points between Cruz and the losing Democrat, Beto O'Rourke.
Trump doesn't have to win the larger share of votes cast by Latinos. Hillary Clinton won 61 percent of Latinos' votes and still lost.
Trump holds a slim 2.2 percentage-point lead over Biden in Texas in the polling averages calculated by FiveThirtyEight.
A poll of Latino voters conducted in early August by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, which was formed by conservatives but includes Democrats on its board, showed Biden leading Trump by 47.4 percent to 37.9 percent, with 13.2 percent undecided. The poll of 380 Latinos reported a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
A 2019 analysis of Texas registered voters showed that 60 percent were under age 35 and that 38 percent were under age 25.
"Very young usually means a very brown electorate, because that's the young people in Texas," Garcia said.
O'Rourke wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post this month with Tory Gavito, president and co-founder of Way to Win, saying Biden can end the election on Election Night by making a big investment in Texas.