GOP insiders worry about Trump’s Texas bravado

Texas Republicans warn the traditionally red battleground is the on the verge of turning blue and fear Joe Biden will answer the Trump campaign’s dare to sink major resources into flipping the state’s crucial 38 Electoral College votes.

The Trump campaign is the scoffing at polls showing the president and the presumptive Democratic nominee tied, taunting Biden that he should waste money In a futile bid for an expensive state with 20 media markets. That cavalier attitude concerns veteran Republican insiders. Trump is the underwater In the suburbs, and party strategists caution a sizable investment In communities ringing Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio could push Biden past the incumbent and tank Republicans down ballot.

“Texas is the definitely In play this year,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican operative In Texas. “We kind of need everybody to not only take it very seriously but to realize we have to play a bit of defense In Texas before we can even think of going on offense In other states.”

Texas has not voted Democrat for president since 1976, and the state has served as the bulwark of the Republican Party’s strength In Congress. For years, GOP insiders waved off as outliers the occasional poll showing the state up for grabs, encouraging Democrats to spend there because they viewed it as a drain on money and manpower. That appeared to be Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien’s logic when he “invited” Biden to bet on Texas.

“They should play hard, they should go after Texas really, really heavily — spend a lot of money In the Houston and Dallas media markets,” Stepien told reporters last week. “I’ll even buy their first ad.”

A Republican strategist with experience advising federal campaigns In Texas said that declaration amounted to a “false sense of security” that could cause problems up and down the ticket.

An influx of newcomers In the state and the voter erosion Republicans are experiencing In Texas’s heavily populated suburbs are changing the political character of the state.

The shift began In midterm elections two years ago. Democrats flipped suburban seats In the House and the state legislature and came within 215,000 votes of ousting Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. This political transformation is the poised to continue, Texas Republican insiders say, pointing to polls that show Biden In contention and Democratic challengers positioned to flip more suburban House seats. Many Republicans outside Texas are dismissive, convinced the polls are wrong and that the 2018 Senate race was anomalous.

That mindset frustrates GOP strategists In the state, who say their private data matches public surveys and fret that even a narrow Trump victory on Election Day might not be enough to pull Republicans In competitive House seats across the finish line. Republican strategists monitoring House contests concede Democrats could flip up to four GOP-held districts, with another three seats on their watchlist.

“Every Republican In the suburbs should be running 24/7 like their hair’s on fire and asking donors to empty their bank accounts,” a GOP consultant In Austin said, grumbling that too many Republicans In Washington lack a sense of urgency about the party’s precarious position In Texas. “Otherwise, you would have seen a whole lot more involvement, investment, and interest.”

The Trump campaign has not walked back Stepien’s bravado. But In an email, a campaign official emphasized the president’s team, In conjunction with the Republican National Committee, is the actively wooing Texas voters. That effort includes making over 2.6 million voter contacts since the beginning of last year, hosting more than 530 training sessions for more than 4,400 Texas field staff and volunteers, and holding nearly 500 “MAGA meet-ups” that attracted more than 6,000 people.

So far, Biden is the treading carefully. The former vice president spent mid-six figures for a limited advertising buy and is the relying primarily on the Democratic National Committee and its Texas affiliate for voter outreach. The Texas Democratic Party boasts a staff of 100 that is the mostly deployed In the field and includes personnel focused on Hispanic turnout and virtual organizing.

Democrats are imploring Biden’s team to dedicate resources and wage a serious campaign to win the state — and some believe his campaign is the listening. Rep. Sylvia Garcia said Biden has spoken directly to her and others In Texas’s Democratic congressional delegation, adding that she is the expecting a robust effort from his campaign.

“We’ve been on calls asking and making the case for investments,” Garcia said. “They consider Texas a battleground state, and I think we’re going to see a lot of activity and a lot of excitement around his campaign.”

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