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Trump Fends Off Biden in Texas, But Too Many States Are Still Up for Grabs for a Verdict

November 4, 2020by Todd J. Gillman, The Dallas Morning News
President Donald Trump speaks during election night in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., early on November 4, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump survived a scare in Texas, though Election Day ended without a verdict on whether his tumultuous presidency will continue for another term — or the huge blue wave that Joe Biden’s supporters had hoped for.

The former vice president held a substantial lead in national polls before the polls opened but that didn’t translate into any upsets, certainly not enough to force the contest to a quick conclusion.

Results in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin would be critical, and those were slow to come.

Texas looked neck and neck for hours after polls closed, a point of pride for Democrats in a state that has sent its electoral votes to Republicans, and only Republicans, since 1980.

Trump eventually pulled ahead, winning by about 5.5 percentage points, faring far worse than he had in his 9-point win in 2016 and lagging Sen. John Cornyn, an ally who won a fourth term Tuesday night. That was enough to scoop up the 38 electoral votes that he couldn’t win the White House without.

As recently as six years ago, Democrats were getting trounced in 20-point wipeouts in Texas, though.

“It’s remarkable that a Democratic presidential candidate is this close in Texas this late into the evening … . It really is a new era in Texas politics,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D- Texas, calling it “just incredible” to see Biden within a few points.

But he said, “We always knew it was going to be tough.”

When early vote tallies were released Tuesday night, it became apparent the “blue wave” Democrats had sought never materialized. Trump topped Biden by 275,000 votes out of 9 million early votes.

Biden also fell short in the Rio Grande Valley compared to the 2016 nominee, Hillary Clinton, who enjoyed far deeper ties with Latinos in that vote-rich part of the state.

A Democratic upset in Texas would have smashed Trump’s hopes.

“You can’t think of an election in the recent past where so many states are up for grabs. The idea I’m in play in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida — I mean, come on,” Biden told reporters earlier in the day at a community center in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

“Winning is easy, losing is never easy — not for me, it’s not,” Trump said during an afternoon visit with campaign aides.

The night held few surprises.

Biden held Illinois and Virginia, where Trump made a half-hearted foray, along with Maryland, New Jersey and other reliably Democratic states. And he led in Arizona, a key battleground.

Trump held Florida, another state that was crucial to his path to victory. And he held narrow leads in North Carolina, where Biden seemed to have a chance but neglected in the final week, and Georgia, where Biden had invested a fair amount of time and money.

Emotions were running high. Law enforcement and businesses around the country braced for potential unrest. A record 100.3 million Americans cast ballots before polls opened on Tuesday. Early voting in Texas topped turnout for all of 2016.

The COVID-19 pandemic hung over the race, reshaping the economy and forcing unprecedented adaptations to campaign playbooks and drastic changes in election procedures.

When polls opened on Tuesday, the nation’s death toll stood 231,477 with 9.3 million people infected since March.

Most states encouraged mail-in voting to avoid crowding at the polls.

Trump spent months insisting that such ballots were rife for fraud on a massive scale, repeatedly claiming that Democrats were trying to rig the election and steal the presidency on a pretext of public health.

“A lot of shenanigans, a lot of bad things happen with ballots when you say, ‘Oh, let’s devote days and days.’ And all of a sudden the ballot count changes,” Trump insisted Tuesday. “The whole world is waiting, this country is waiting.”

Texas’ tight 2018 Senate race, when Sen. Ted Cruz edged past Beto O’Rourke by just 2.6 points, showed that demographic shifts, backlash against Trump and the right combination of candidates could put Texas in play.

Biden never did show up, despite private and eventually public pleas from O’Rourke and others.

He didn’t entirely ignore the state, either, and supporters will wonder if a bit more effort might have been enough.

Harris was dispatched for a day of events last Friday. The campaign spent several millions on ads and outside Democratic groups poured in even more.

Trump made two campaign visits, to Dallas in June and to Midland- Odessa in August.

But he also made Texas something of a centerpiece in his argument that Biden posed a huge threat to the economy. At almost every rally everywhere else in the country, he invoked Texas as he asserted — falsely — that Biden wanted to immediately ban fracking, crushing energy sector jobs in Texas, Pennsylvania and other states.

Before the outbreak, Trump intended to pitch a second term on the basis of a booming stock market, robust growth and low unemployment. Within weeks, it all collapsed.

Biden framed the election as a referendum on Trump’s response to the crisis — undermining and ignoring top government experts on public health, and pressuring states to lift restrictions meant to curb the outbreak.

“Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden asserted at the second debate.

Exit polls showed that voters had more confidence in Biden’s ability to tackle the pandemic, and in Trump’s ability to rebuild the economy.

Trump had long downplayed the contagion. Like others in his inner circle, he was stricken after a ceremony to unveil his pick for a sudden Supreme Court vacancy.

Suddenly the White House itself was the worst COVID hotspot in the capital, an embarrassment that Democrats used to amplify their criticism of his leadership.

The swift confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett fueled enthusiasm on both sides, infuriating Democrats and delivering a huge win to conservatives pleased with Trump’s success in shifting federal courts to the right.

And Trump bounced back remarkably fast after a three-night hospital stay, returned to the stump with more vigor than Biden ever showed_routinely delivering 70-minute rally speeches a couple of times a day and in the final flurry, far more.

The rallies themselves laid bare the fractious politics of the moment.

When governors and state and local public health authorities invoked restrictions on mass gatherings, the Trump campaign began describing them as “peaceful protests”_trolling detractors who hadn’t put up a fuss about demonstrations aimed at police brutality and racial injustice.

The president used these events to showcase and generate excitement, and project a return to normalcy that public health experts deemed premature and ill-advised.

Biden took a much different tack, shunning rallies in favor of small gatherings with hardly any attendees and enduring taunts from Trump for “hiding in his basement.”

Biden, who will turn 78 on Nov. 20, is already older than Ronald Reagan on his last day in office, and would be the oldest person ever elected president, a distinction that Trump, 74, already holds.

Trump warned hyperbolically that his opponent would “turn the country over to the liberal mob” and transform the United States into a socialist haven. He accused his rival of being mentally feeble and corrupt.

“He’s protecting our Second Amendment rights. He’s anti-abortion. He’s strong on my issues,” said Keaton Few, 19, after proudly casting a Trump vote at Irving City Hall, his face covered by the visor of a motorcycle helmet.

Biden offered a return to a traditional, predictable style of national leadership, one without late night tweetstorms, berating of Cabinet members, threats to put political enemies behind bars, or pressure on foreign leaders that might merit articles of impeachment,

Biden has never inspired adoration the way Trump has, or before him Democrat Barack Obama, who worked hard to pull his vice president across the finish line.

But Democrats have been grimly determined to oust Trump, whose policies on immigration and the environment they find abhorrent, and who they view as inexplicably cozy with dangerous adversaries such as Vladimir Putin.

Nineteen-year-old Kevin Villatoro, who is taking online college classes while working in a warehouse, cast his first presidential vote on Tuesday.

“I was voting for change. I’m looking for a new president,” he said outside Irving City Hall. “There’s so much anger right now, so many people hating each other.”

Claudia Perez, 32, whose parents are from Mexico, said racism has worsened under Trump.

“It’s really bad,” she said.

___

Staff writer David Tarrant contributed to this report from Irving.

___

(c)2020 The Dallas Morning News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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