Canada

If Joe Biden wins Texas — he wins, period

HOUSTON—Hannah Snyder was driving along I-10 on her way home from yoga practice Saturday, when she saw a convoy of “black metal, military-grade Hummers and tankers,” festooned in Trump banners and U.S. flags. They were filled with people, “no doubt all of them armed,” Snyder says, “preparing” for confrontation. A realization about this presidential election sunk in for Snyder.

“That whole motorcade really brought it home,” she says, sitting in Market Square Park in downtown Houston a day later. “The main concern for me at this point is not who’s going to win. It’s actually what the aftermath is going to be like.”

What she thinks will happen is that President Donald Trump is going to win. She’s fine with that: “I don’t think, at this point, either party is really making a difference.” But she fears his reelection will “aggravate what’s been going on”: the Black Lives Matter protesters and the pussyhat marchers and the rest of the #resistance will fill the streets in protest. And the AR-15-wielding defenders of Trumpism are going to go out to meet them.

And then: oh boy.

You don’t have to come to Texas to hear some version of this prophecy spoken. But in Texas, you do hear it a lot.

“There’s gonna be a lot of chaos. The Democrats and the liberal media have really been pushing for this idea that if Trump wins, it’s like cheating, or there’s some type of corruption involved,” says Luis Gutiérrez. He says if he’s forced to choose, he leans toward Trump — the “reality TV star” over the career politician — though he himself won’t vote this year. “If I did, I’d vote for Kanye, you know.”

By not voting, Gutiérrez is bucking the trend in Texas, where more than a week out from election day, 43 per cent of registered voters had already cast a ballot in early voting — fully 80 per cent of the total 2016 election turnout. Here in Houston, where the gleaming glass energy and aerospace office towers and hipster food truck markets sit in proximity to the thousands of homeless people congregating under highway overpasses and in downtown bus shelters, people have been setting early voting records — as they have in Dallas, and Austin, and San Antonio.

What those places have in common is that they are cities and suburbs, where a rapidly increasing population, and an increasingly young and diverse one, may be redrawing the Texas electoral map. This is a state that’s been a rock-solid Republican stronghold since Ronald Reagan won it over Jimmy Carter in 1980 — a giant red anchor for the Republican Party’s Electoral College coalition. Trump won it by 13 per cent in 2016.

But in the 2018 midterm election, Democrat Beto O’Rourke came surprisingly close to unseating Sen. Ted Cruz in a statewide race. This year, Democrats suddenly have hope that the state is winnable in the presidential election. For weeks, Biden has been within the margin of error in some head-to-head polls in Texas versus Trump — and this week, one new poll had him ahead by three percentage points (while another had him down by four percentage points).

The Trump campaign scoffs at the idea of losing Texas, and officials said Sunday neither the president nor the vice-president feel the need to visit before the election to shore up the vote. But the Biden campaign thinks its chance is real enough that vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris will visit this week, on the Friday before election day.

If nothing else, it shows they’re feeling secure enough about the traditional battlegrounds to take a flyer on Lone Star votes. This is a state where in most recent election cycles in many congressional districts, Democrats didn’t even bother fielding a candidate. If Biden wins Texas — he wins, period.

Between bites of pizza on a bench downtown, Revered Griffin of suburban Greenspoint says he dearly hopes it happens. “I don’t want the president we got in there now. He’s trying to cut away all my — I can’t get no medicare insurance or nothing.” When early voting opened, he said, he and his daughter were among the first in line. “You’ve got people losing their jobs, their homes, only because of Trump,” he says, citing the pandemic response. “Everybody’s not rich.”

There were long lines last week at a polling station at a community services centre in the historic Second Ward in Houston’s East End. It’s a neighbourhood where charmingly shabby wood-plank bungalows are surrounded by high, locked fence gates and yards stuffed with flowering trees, elaborate Halloween decorations and old appliances. The blocks are dotted with still-active industrial sites and new-build luxury condo townhouses. Dogs and cats roam freely in the streets, and late Sunday morning a rooster in someone’s yard was crowing every few minutes.

A former police deputy providing security at the polling site introduces himself as “everyone just calls me Smokey.” He says after the long lines of the initial voting surge, the action this weekend was more of a steady trickle.

After casting her ballot, Claudia Saladino says she felt it was more important than usual to vote this year. She voted for Biden, because she thinks Trump has mishandled COVID and the economy, and is on the wrong side of two issues close to her heart: health care, which is desperately needed by her epileptic grandchild, and immigration. “I have friends that are immigrants, and you know, I want them to have the opportunity. They are here to work. They give a lot to the community. Not everybody is bad people, right, like the president says.”

Lakiesha Burke, a nurse who lives in the area, says a lot of factors went into her decision to vote for Biden. As a nurse in a pediatric ward, Burke says seeing an infant admitted to her hospital with COVID just underlined how out of step the president’s dismissive approach has been. “His rhetoric about, you know, COVID not being a big deal. Seeing that baby really just kind of had an impact on me. It is a big deal.” Even as she was speaking, at least five members of Vice-President Mike Pence’s staff had just been diagnosed with COVID, and he announced he’d continue the “essential” work of campaigning rather than quarantine.

As an African-American, Burke also felt that Trump had mishandled the reaction to this summer’s racial justice protests, and the election was an important way to weigh in. Members of her family are police, so she says she understands there are lots of good cops, but she also said the need to address the bad ones is real. “At the end of the day, it still boils down to if something were to happen, I’m just another Black person on the street. And, you know, I can be shot down just like somebody else, like George Floyd, or anyone else could.”

Back in downtown Houston, Andrew Kadavy sums up the election by framing the choice many voters articulated very bluntly. “Some people like Donald Trump, some people don’t like Donald Trump. That’s really all it is. That’s the question.” And Kadavy says, “I’m not a big fan of him.”

Kadavy works in the oil industry, and I ask if Biden’s promise to transition away from it — which Trump is hyping in the stretch to the election as a major threat to jobs — is a concern for him.

“It really doesn’t matter one way or the other, for the oil industry. We’re gonna make as much oil as people need to burn to power their houses and to power their cars,” he says.

Biden’s hopes in Texas — still a long-shot, but a hope that didn’t even seem a possibility a year ago — depend on voters like these in places like Houston and the other big cities. Phillipe Beltran commutes as a Ph.D. student to the campus at Texas A&M in College Station, and he says that at either end of the trip there are a lot of liberal Democrats. But in between, he travels through places where virtually every house is covered in Trump paraphernalia.

Still, as a Biden supporter, he’s feeling hopeful. He’s heard the concerns about chaos, but after casting his ballot, he’s confident. “I think a lot of people are kind of worried about what’s going to happen, regardless of which side wins. But I feel like the process will be good. I think they’re handling it very well, as far as organizing and getting all the votes out. I know, this is a pretty historic election, in the sense of a lot of early voters have already cast their vote. So I’m feeling pretty good about it.”

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