McALLEN, Texas — 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 was 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.”
Joining Harris was former El Paso Democratic congressman and senate and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who knocked on doors trying to increase turnout.
He said Rio Grande Valley voters will likely be motivated by President Trump's bungled coronavirus response.
“This part of Texas has borne witness to the cruelty of the Trump administration," O'Rourke said.
Texas' early votes exceeded the 8.9-plus million overall votes for the election four years ago, according to an Associated Press tally on Friday.
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.
And 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.
Harris’ tour through the state comes as polls project a tight presidential race in Texas. A handful of surveys in recent days give Trump a narrow lead or show him mired in a tie with the former vice president. In a few cases, Biden maintains a small lead over Trump.
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.