ELECTION 2020

Texas’ Big Super Tuesday Presidential Race Remains Uncertain

Mar 3, 2020, 11:26 PM
EL PASO, TX - MARCH 03: Poll workers turn in election material at the El Paso County Court House on...
EL PASO, TX - MARCH 03: Poll workers turn in election material at the El Paso County Court House on March 3, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. 1,357 Democratic delegates are at stake as voters cast their ballots in 14 states and American Samoa on what is known as Super Tuesday. (Photo by Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)
(Photo by Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden were locked in a close Texas primary on Super Tuesday, a Democratic contest in the nation’s largest red state that has a big say in deciding who President Donald Trump will face in November.

The statewide outcome in Texas, which remained uncertain hours after polls closed, could determine which candidate emerges as the national delegate leader. Although Sanders, a Vermont senator, won an even larger prize in California, former Vice President Biden racked up more state primaries on the night — including all of the others in the South.

In Texas’ Senate race, Democrat MJ Hegar awaited an opponent after advancing to a May runoff in a crowded field of a dozen candidates. The winner will try to unseat Republican incumbent John Cornyn, who is seen as a heavy favorite in a state where a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat since the 1970s.

This year’s race hasn’t mustered the same energy or attention as Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s barnstorming run in 2018 against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz that became a launchpad the former congressman’s short-lived White House run.

“As a combat veteran, I am concerned about the values of this country that are under attack,” Hegar told supporters in Austin. “And as a working mom, I’m concerned about the future if we keep it in the hands of people like Sen. John Cornyn.”

Sanders was banking on young and Latino voters in booming Texas to accelerate his path to the nomination, while Biden’s resurgent campaign made a dramatic late mark on the Lone Star State, rolling out a late endorsement from former Texas rival Beto O’Rourke.

Four years ago, Sanders lost Texas nearly 2-to-1 to Hillary Clinton. But now he had a foothold in the Lone Star State, where his rise emboldened progressive challenger elsewhere on the ballot that were also looking to advance Tuesday.

“Things are looking awful good,” Biden told supporters in Los Angeles. “For those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign.”

The primary put Texas’ fast-changing politics to the test. Democrats are making gains in the nation’s biggest GOP stronghold and have a shot in November at taking control of the Texas House for the first time in 20 years a — reclaiming of power that would swiftly change the landscape of one of the GOP’s most crucial states.

It’s an outcome that some conservative voters had on their minds as they went to the polls in Texas. Shelby Schnefke, a stay-at-home mother of two, said after casting her ballot in Dallas that the GOP needs to stay on guard against Democrats making further inroads.

“I feel like recently it’s been proven that it could happen,” Schnefke said. “I think that’s why it’s more motivating now than ever for Republicans to come out and vote because I think a lot of times in Texas you’re like ‘Oh, we’re safe.’ But we definitely aren’t safe.’”

In Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, elections officials rushed to send additional voting machines to polling places where voters reported long lines.

With the hotly contested presidential race topping the ballot, long lines at polling sites encouraged Democrats who are counting on record-shattering turnout across the state this fall. Sanders, who has given rise to a handful of progressive challengers in Texas, looked to pull away from the field. But Biden sought to ride a wave of new momentum.

It wasn’t a smooth Super Tuesday everywhere.

Coronavirus fears resulted in a number of poll workers and elections judges not showing up for work in Austin, where there have been no confirmed cases. And in San Antonio, technical stumbles caused delays at some polling sites.

In Houston, Rebecca Taylor tried voting in one of the city’s historically black neighborhoods where voters waited up to an hour. So she planned to go elsewhere to cast a ballot for Biden after also considering billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who made Houston a centerpiece of his half-billion dollar gambit to win the nomination despite skipping the first four states.

Elizabeth Warren has also vowed to press on and her supporters say she’s positioned to nab delegates in Texas.

Taylor said she thought Sanders would scorch other Democrats on the Texas ballot in November if he’s the presidential nominee, and she expressed skepticism about whether he could deliver on his promises.

“I just don’t believe he can get in there and do what he says he’s going to do,” she said.

Democrats need only nine seats this fall to flip the Texas House, a goal that is paramount for the party in 2020, particularly because flipping the state outright still faces long odds.

Sanders was positioned to seize a significant delegate lead after Texas and 13 other states voted in primary elections Tuesday. Texas is a bonanza with 228 delegates at stake, second only to California, which also was voting Tuesday.

Sanders, a democratic socialist, has raised deep concerns within the party that he is too liberal to beat Trump in November. That angst has particularly spilled into public view in Texas, where Democrats who’ve been shut out of power for two decades can finally taste a return to relevance.

But Sanders has shown a foothold in Texas, and his success is emboldening a crop of insurgent challengers on the left, challenging the Democratic playbook that suggests ending GOP dominance requires broad-appeal candidates who can attract more voters. Among them are Jessica Cisneros, 26, who Sanders endorsed and is trying to become the youngest member of Congress in a bid against Rep. Henry Cuellar on the Texas border.

___

Associated Press writers Juan A. Lozano in Houston and Jake Bleiberg and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.

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Texas’ Big Super Tuesday Presidential Race Remains Uncertain