Politico

Inside the Democrats’ New Plan to Win Texas—by Targeting Its Reddest Areas


In late September, in downtown Odessa, Texas, five cars were parked in front of the Ector County Democratic Party headquarters, which shares a dusty office with the town’s first-ever Hispanic attorney. Driving around deep-red West Texas, it’s rare to see a vehicle that isn’t a pickup truck, but outside the office two of the five cars were hybrids. Inside, where Domino’s pizza lay on a table, awaiting canvassers returning from morning walks, the car lineup was a frequent subject of conversation.

“That red Prius is bold,” said Hannah Horick, the chair of the Ector County Democratic Party. “Not sure I could get myself to drive that here. I had a friend with a tiny car like that and an Obama sticker get driven off the road. And a fiat? No chance.”

The red Prius belonged to David Logan, a data analyst for Jon Mark Hogg, the Democratic house candidate for Texas’ 11th Congressional District, which includes Ector County. Together, Logan and Horick were staring up at a map of Odessa plastered to the wall, precincts overlayed with cross-hatching and stripes, scattered with blue and green pins marking churches. The map was their guide to helping Democrats achieve one of the most elusive goals in U.S. politics. Here, in a run-down office in the second reddest district in the country, they were doing their part to turn Texas blue.

For years, Democratic orthodoxy has maintained that flipping Texas Democratic in statewide races—this year for presidential candidate Joe Biden and Senate candidate MJ Hegar, most prominentaly—means increasing turnout in urban areas and swing suburbs. But that strategy alone hasn’t worked yet—even as favorable demographic changes, especially in urban areas, suburbs, and now even exurbs, have put the state in play. Now, people like Horick and Logan are part of an effort by Democrats to broaden their strategy by targeting the most Republican areas of the state as well. If they can boost Democratic support in places like Odessa just slightly, then, together with the unprecedented early vote surge in cities, Democrats think they might finally get enough votes to flip the state. It’s not about winning in these deep-red counties and districts—it’s about cutting into Republican margins, no matter how large.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton received just 28 percent of Ector’s vote. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke did slightly better, earning just over 30 percent. Horick’s goal this year is for Democratic statewide candidates to receive 35 percent of the vote in the county. She and other local organizers largely hope to do this by increasing turnout in Hispanic communities, as well as by convincing O’Rourke voters who backed President Donald Trump in 2016 to vote Democratic again. On the map on the wall, precincts colored in blue marked Hispanic neighborhoods estimated to be heavily Democratic. While only 35 percent of people voted in those precincts in 2018, Horick is hoping to push that number closer to 50 this cycle. Red stripes marked areas where voters cast ballots for Trump, in 2016, and then Beto O’Rourke.

That Saturday, wearing masks and walking at distance with others, Horick had kicked off in-person canvassing, leaving door hangers in blue neighborhoods. By the end of the weekend in Odessa, Horick and other volunteers would hand out over 2,000 voter registration cards. Meanwhile, around West Texas, other Democratic county chairs were beginning to organize in-person as well—some independently and others in coordination with the state party, which, unlike in previous election cycles, is finally running ads in rural areas and sending more organizers there as well. For many in rural Texas, it’s the first time they’ve seen this level of coordination run through the state party between local, state, and national races. That week, Logan and Horick had driven to Austin to pick up door hangers from the party. They would have liked to get them earlier and without the drive, they told me, but were happy to have the supply in the first place.

“To win statewide in Texas, we believe Democrats must continue to win the large urban counties, run close or win the exurban counties and reduce the big Republican advantages in rural areas and in small towns, at least marginally,” said Matt Angle, a founder of The Lone Star Project, a PAC that consults on Democratic political work statewide. “In 2018 Beto O’Rourke met and slightly exceeded the votes we thought he needed in urban and suburban counties. However, Cruz was able to run up the score to such an extent in the small towns and rural markets that he saved his seat in the Senate.”

Before November 3rd, it’s impossible to know whether Republican margins will remain high enough in areas like Odessa to save Texas for Republicans. Early turnout has surged across the state to such historic levels that the country’s best forecasters aren’t entirely sure how to model these new voters, especially without party registration data. Cook recently moved the race to a tossup, however, and Republicans seemed be to sensing this danger as well. In Odessa, gazing at the city map from his desk in September, Logan observed that Republicans seemed to be working harder than usual in the deep red district. “The Republicans have bought $405,000 of ads in the district. Normally they don’t buy media here. They never had to—they just relied on the county party. That tells me they’re worried.”

Texas Democrats sometimes refer to the area west of I-35 as the Red Wall—a sprawling expanse of oil fields and megafarms that contains some of America’s reddest counties. The Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index rates Texas’ 11th district, drawn for Rep. Mike Conaway in 2003’s infamous redistricting at R+ 32. The only district that’s more Republican in the entire country is the Texas 13th, which covers the upper panhandle of West Texas. It is rated at R +33. As a region, West Texas tends mostly to be known for Friday Night Lights and oil, not Democrats, and its poltical characters are plentiful. Ronny Jackson, who recently served as Trump’s presidential physician, won the 13th district’s Republican nomination with a horse doctor as his campaign manager. The day after the primary, in March, local television punditry in Amarillo failed to mention there’d also been a Democratic primary.

For decades, motivated Democrats in West Texas have wished for more attention, resources and public engagement from Democratic Party higher ups, at both the state and national levels, but those party leaders have often balked at pumping more dollars and energy into the region, especially when many Democrats there feel so outnumbered they don’t even bother to vote or organize. Higher powers tend to ask for proof of progress first. It’s hard to make progress, though, without resources and attention in the first place—a Catch-22 that has long plagued Democratic organizers in the region.


This pattern was finally interrupted by Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign. As a Democrat running a statewide, he did something revolutionary: He campaigned in every county in the state, including West Texas, where his performance helped convince party leaders and activists that caring about those counties could actually make a difference. In Lubbock, the largest city in West Texas outside of El Paso, which is often spoken of as a separate entity, O’Rourke received 35 percent of the vote, compared to Clinton’s 28 percent just two years earlier. He also shaved margins in Ector County, earning just over 30 percent, compared to Clinton’s 28—marginal increases that were seen elsewhere in small towns. These numbers were also far better than the 2014 senate race, in which Democratic candidate David Alameel received just 15 percent of the vote in Ector and 19 percent in Lubbock.

O’Rourke also proved that campaigning in West Texas didn’t interfere with fundraising. “It also helped that he raised 80 million dollars,” said Bill Brannon, a longtime consultant to the state Democratic Party on rural issues, who is running for the state legislature this year. O’Rourke’s enormous money haul, Brannon added, allowed his campaign not to worry so much about investing in areas Democrats traditionally considered not worth the expense. But the fundraising was a bit of a chicken-or-egg scenario: The admiration his campaign inspired for its visits to every county—even rural ones where Trump won over 90 percent of the vote in 2016—likely brought in donations.

West Texas organizers point out that, in some of these counties, other Democrats have outperformed O’Rourke’s numbers, as Mike Collier did in 2018, running for lieutenant governor. But it was undeniably O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign that turned Democratic heads—or at least tilted them slightly—to West Texas. It’s hard to have a conversation about West Texas with anyone involved in Democratic politics in the state without them mentioning O’Rourke’s campaign.

When asked about his decision to embrace the state’s reddest areas, O’Rourke frequently credits Stuart Williams, the state party’s lone field organizer in West Texas, based out of Lubbock. Williams, who has worked in Democratic politics in the area since he was a teenager, starting as a precinct chair, is revered by West Texas Democratic organizers. (“He’s so fucking inspiring. And knows everything about politics out here,” Horick told me.) He is Black and gay, but “on the phone,” he says, “I probably sound like some kinda white rancher. And people know me. That’s so important in rural areas.” He’s grown to embrace his accent, an affect that he says can challenge assumptions from both the left and the right.

O’Rourke first met Williams in Lubbock in January 2017, on a tour through the state months before he declared his candidacy. When the congressman asked Williams what the campaign needed to do in West Texas, Williams had a simple reply: “Y’all got to show up!”

As O’Rourke began thinking of visiting every county, he bounced the idea off David Wysong, his chief of staff, and Jack Martin, a longtime Texas Democratic political operative who’d worked for Texas’ last Democratic senator, Lloyd Bentsen. They backed the idea, and O’Rourke took Williams’ advice with their blessing. He not only campaigned in every county in Texas, he also returned to Lubbock multiple times throughout the race.

“I think it’s a false choice,” O’Rourke told me, of the traditional thinking that parties have to choose between targeting rural and urban voters. “You can do both. In Texas, there were really two populations left uncontested—rural red counties written off and urban ones taken for granted.” For Republicans, he added, the same was true, though in opposite directions.

But when I asked whether he received pushback against this strategy in Democratic circles, he almost laughed. “Tons. They all said ‘your vote’s in Houston and the cities.’” West Texan voters were equally surprised: O’Rourke said some voters in West Texas told him they hadn’t seen a statewide Democratic candidate visit since LBJ.

“2018 was the first time in my life that I had seen a U.S. Senate candidate on our side go to Brownfield,” Williams, who ended up working for the O’Rourke campaign, told me, speaking of a small town outside Lubbock. “He gave everyone hope out here.”

In Lubbock, Williams saw that O’Rourke was able to capitalize on an increase in Democratic organizing energy following Trump’s election. Activists had started reaching out to him locally, to see how they could help, and Williams ran successfully for county chair. “I can tell you without equivocation, that when I saw people move toward getting more involved … who changed the game in rural areas was Donald Trump,” said Williams. “Rural people aren’t stupid. The president becomes more of a liability every day.”

Williams often jokes that, before then, the last bright spot he can remember was the week Texas Tech beat UT in football, in 2008, followed by Obama’s election three days later. The next eight years were all downhill, until Trump’s election brought some of that energy back. “It’s really a grassroots kind of a groundswell,” Williams said. “I have grown up in Lubbock, I’ve seen this community. I’ve never seen people more plugged into the Democratic Party than they are now in my 30 years of living here. It may not happen as soon as the suburbs, but people are tuning in.”

With O’Rourke’s performance in West Texas as proof of concept, higher powers in the Democratic Party have began to at least turn their heads towards the deepest red areas of Texas. “We have thousands of precinct captains in rural areas across the state, more state county chairs than ever before,” Abhi Rahman, the state party’s communications director, told me. “We’re putting a thousand field organizers and canvassers across the state, including in many rural areas, and we’ve invested significantly in our rural programs, where we aim to keep the margin down in rural areas so we can flip the state in November. We also set a goal of engaging 100,000 more rural voters, which would be a 5 percent rural turnout increase in 2020.”

On the ground, these changes can be subtle, but organizers notice them. Horick mentioned that a state regional organizing director had recently expand their target area—traditionally between El Paso and San Antonio—up past Odessa and Midland. “Now it’s a bigger region and pretty much all of WTX,” she texted me over the summer. “And we have a field organizer in Texas House Districts 81, 82, & 83.”

She still wants more attention for West Texas—and has plenty of criticism for the state party—but, like Williams, admits she’s felt a change in the right direction. Suffering through some of the most hopeless periods of Democratric politics—2014, in particular, brings a dark laugh among county chairs, when the party failed to meet lofty expectations—even the slightest increase in attention and energy is notable. A dipping of a toe in can feel like a dive.

“We haven’t seen a coordinated campaign like this in Texas in 30 years,” said Williams, referring to the state party’s integration of national, state and local races. His goal for Biden in Lubbock is 40 percent. “It still might not be much to some people, but I’ve been in Democratic politics since 2008, and this is more than we’ve had before.”

Bill Brannon, the longtime adviser to the state party on rural politics who is running for state rep this year, described even greater change.

“The TDP is doing tons more work in rural areas than it did in 2016. There really is no baseline to compare this effort to. For all practical purposes this is the first completely coordinated campaign that has been run in Texas,” he wrote in an email, “and the TDP has been in the lead.” He pointed to the party’s bump in regional staff and organizers; a County Services department that provides various kinds of assistance with voter information and organizing strategies; better, more targeted data; and more ad buys. “For the first time the TDP is placing digital and radio advertising in areas of the state that are not specifically in targeted districts,” he wrote. “The expansion of DCCC targets has pulled a bunch of rural counties into hotly contested congressional races—again coordinated with the TDP.”

Still, party higher ups could sometimes be vague on specific investment numbers in dollars. When I tried to push the state party for more details on the increase in ad buys in rural areas between 2016 and 2020, Rahman told me me he couldn’t give specifics out of concern for the sensitivities of particular donors. The last day I called, after the final debate, Rahman was dealing with panicked calls about what exactly Biden had meant about a “transition” away from the fossil fuel industry—a matter of deep consequence in the Permian Basin.

He offered a shorter summary.

“How’s 100 percent increase in rural ad spending sound? We’re going from not spending to actually spending.”

In West Texas, much of the uphill slog for Democrats is undertaken by down ballot candiates, who often can have positive upballot effects statewide. In a district that went 80-20 in 2018, Jon Mark Hogg is one example. As of the last federal reporting, up to October 14, Hogg had raised $125,000 for his campaign—higher than many expected for an 80-20 region in oil country typically ignored by Democrats.

“Of course I want to win,” said Hogg, who ran unopposed as a Democrat in the primary, while the Republican field filled with 10 candiates, after Conaway announced his retirement. “But I also want to reintroduce people to Democrats out here. They don’t always assume we’re around. It’s about getting something started.”

I was following Hogg down a street in a Hispanic neighborhood of Odessa—one of Logan and Horick’s target areas—while he dropped off door hangers for voter registration. Serving on the city council in San Angelo, he’d seen his fair share of drama in local Texas politics, including being appointed as mayor temporarily after J.W. Lown left the position abruptly for Mexico to be with his lover. Hogg was emphasizing the opposite: a low drama, moderate campaign, focusing mostly on health care and education.

He stopped to hand out a registration form to a couple in the front yard. The husband was voting for Biden, the wife for Trump, and the two began teasing each other.

“Who are you for?” the woman asked.

“My name’s Jon Mark, and I’m running for congress,” Hogg replied, extending his hand. “I’m for Joe Biden.”

The woman responded that everyone was too obsessed with solar power these days. That was a problem for West Texas.

“What about global warming?” the husband challenged her.

“What’s Joe Biden gonna do about energy?” she turned back to Hogg.

Jon Mark told her Biden had a plan, and the woman changed the topic, and then headed back indoors. Hogg continued on, and began to talk about O’Rourke’s campaign. The global warming debate in the front yard brought to mind policy challenges that Democrats face campaigning in the region. Hogg noted that, when O’Rourke had toured West Texas, he hadn’t campaigned on progressive issues. It’s a claim you often hear made by rural Texas Democrats, but one that’s only partially true. O’Rourke rarely led with divisive ideological issues on his campaign stops in rural areas, but he never shied away from his more progressive positions either—like gun control—when asked.

“I’d talk about gun control in Austin to cheers,” O’Rourke told me, “and to small gatherings in rural counties. You had all this milquetoast campaigning in the past by Democrats afraid to say anything, and I think people see right through that.”

This debate about ideology and messaging in places like West Texas never seems to find resolution. “I don’t think that some of the messaging we’re doing in the urban areas comes across in the rural areas,” said Betty Richie, chair of the DNC’s Rural Council, at the Texas state convention. Some have argued O’Rourke’s progressivism doomed his campaign, while others view ideology as less important than authenticity. For O’Rourke, the former was trumped by the latter, and most Texas Democrats I spoke to for this story—even if they advocated for moderate messaging tailored to rural areas—agreed that speaking plainly and honestly was more important than specific policy positions. Hogg was one of them, and so was Williams. “A lot of times in rural areas it’s not what you say but how you say it,” Williams told me.

“I think it’s about being genuine more than anything,” Hogg said while walking.

But some party leaders think Democrats are still losing the messaging game to Republicans too dramatically in red districtsa frustration that came up over the summer during a rural caucus event on Zoom for the state party’s convention. “One of my pet peeves is I say to people ‘when you believe the branding the Republican Party has put on Democrats—that we don’t believe in God, that we wanna take everybody’s guns, and you go and vote for Republicans, you’re voting to close your schools, you’re voting to close your hospital,’” said David Langston, a former Democratic mayor of Lubbock. “The reality is—and this is the branding again—the Republican Party cares nothing about ending abortion. Nothing. And you can tell that every time one of ‘em gets his mistress pregnant and tells her to go get an abortion. It is strictly a political issue used by Republicans to get folks to vote to close their schools and close their rural hospitals.”

On the call, complaints about overcoming the branding were constant. At one point, Langston quoted Bible scripture, calling out Republicans for violating it when governing. Democrats were the ones fighting for better rural health care schools—the core of rural communities—he insisted; they needed to keep reminding voters of that.

In recent years, the DCCC has had success backing candidates heavily who run on on such issues in rural swing districts, like New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, which shares Permian Basin oil country with West Texas, and these same issues were on display in the Ector County chair office. “Christians for Biden” signs were propped up against a wall, along with signs opposing proposed nuclear waste storage nearby—a local issue Democrats could run on. Still, the stigma around Democrats is hard to overcome.


“Some people won’t put out yard signs because they’re afraid to piss off their landlords,” Horick said. Or they worry about vandalism. Or social ostracization. Horick and others noted that running a successful business in town often required a public display of being Republican, or at least not being a Democrat. It was hard to function as a socialite otherwise. Sometimes, Horick felt the pressure herself. She worked at Crisis Center of West Texas, which provides services to victims of domestic abuse, and she often raised money from Republican donors. “They know my raging liberal agenda,” she told me on, laughing. But she was careful not to push it clumsily or in alientating ways. When Trump visited to fundraise, Horick chose not to protest, hesitant to antagonize Republican community members she worked with closely in other settings. Instead, she and other activists delivered with Meals on Wheels of Odessa, while Trump held a $2,800 per plate lunch fundraiser. Then they printed out bumper stickers: “I didn’t eat lunch with Trump.”

Organizing as a Democrat in Odessa requires some bravery. It’s probably not an accident, Horick explained, that a fair number of organizers in West Texas are openly LGBTQ. If you can come out as gay in West Texas, you’ve probably got the same courage and comfort in yourself to campaign for Democrats. “A friend of mine told me it was harder to come out as a Democrat than it was to come out as gay,” Horick said over lunch in the office. Chuckles and nods filled the room.

In Odessa, the organizers take pride in that resilience, though they often joke about political frustrations with dark humor. Many want party higher ups to invest more in local races in West Texas and point to Democratic county commissioners as proof that Democrats can still be elected in areas beyond the Red Wall. Williams said he wished that Texas 84, the state seat surrounding Lubbock, had gotten more attention. Others complain there’s not enough locally tailored messaging, and that it can be hard for organizers to stick around. Over lunch, a few of the young canvassers spoke of leaving Odessa. Some already had, to neighboring New Mexico, which, unlike Texas, has expanded Medicaid under Michelle Lujan Grisham, a popular progressive governor.

Logan’s decision to work for Jon Mark Hogg made him an outlier: Young Austinites don’t usually want to move to Odessa. But there’s good reason to leave the bubble, Logan argued. Counties like Ector have been so depressed in turnout that there’s more vote to exploit, and media markets are cheap.

“I started working in CD 21 six years ago and it was red as all heck back then. It wasn’t on anyone’s list,” Logan said, referring to a congressional district that’s now heavily competitive, west of Austin and San Antonio. The campaign targeted voters by sending out hand-signed postcards from the candidate to “faith and family” Democrats. It was low investment but outperformed expectations of voter turnout, he said, because almost nothing had been attempted before.

“All we’re doing is spending money in suburbs,” Logan said, “and that’s because that’s where the battleground is. But I’m curious: If we spend two grand in a tiny little county that hasn’t been targeted, what happens? There’s 50,000 people that aren’t voting in this district—what happens if we do target them? Because trying to get 50,000 votes out of CD 21 is so much money, and trying to get 50,000 out of here is 100,000 dollars. There’s way more juice to squeeze here for less money.”

National analysts have noted this potential as well, but the state party’s data can be unreliable in these areas. For Logan, comparing vote share expectations from party sources to his own analyses was illuminating. Logan believed the state party’s data was excellent in urban areas, but when it came to untargeted rural areas, the Democratic Party’s models were off his by orders of magnitude, overestimating potential support. In late 2019, the state party set a vote share goal of 45 percent for Ector county, which was wildy unrealistic when compared to Horick’s hope for 35 precent. Logan did note that the state party’s estimates have improved closer to the election.

But this was also one of the reasons Logan likes working for Hogg; in an 80-20 district, he could experiment with almost any strategy he wanted, with no interference from higher ups. That pride of doing it on your own was common among organizers I met in West Texas, though often closely followed by frustrations of neglect.

“Of course I always want more resources, but, you know, there’s also a sense of accomplishment in doing things yourself out here,” Williams told me.

Sometimes, though, the lack of attention can sting. In Brownfield, a small town of 9,000 about 40 minutes outside of Lubbock, Geronimo Gonzales, the town’s Democratic mayor, described the atrophy he’d seen over the last decade of local Democratic politics. Ten years ago, many who worked in city government stopped identifying as liberals, worried that doing so would make it impossible to run for office. When trying to organize, he found people never showed up, not even people he knew were Democrats sympathetic to the cause. For his kickoff breakfast, not a single person showed up.

“It was just me and my girlfriend drinking mimosas alone,” he told me.

But Gonzales pushed though, organizing well enough to win the election, in 2018. The state Democratic Party tweeted a congratulations. The shoutout was a start, he said, but there’d been no follow up.

“Haven’t heard anything from them since then,” he told me.

On the ground, praise for the party’s reemerging focus on rural areas often comes with such critiques. Even O’Rourke’s campaign can sometimes draw criticism. “The volunteers who came out are mostly still around, and that’s great, but the data wasn’t really passed on,” Horick told me. As a result, they’ve often had to work with old, outdated databases full of fax numbers and disconnected landlines; one set of 1,000 numbers provided by the state party to Horick this past year contained 700 faulty numbers. The only way to regather the data was through repeating the same canvassing and phonebanking they’d done during the O’Rourke campaign. Outdated info could also affect the safety of canvassers; knowing which doors might greet you with a shotgun is, to say the least, useful information.

County chairs in West Texas also have to fight against larger national misperceptions about their districts. Williams often stresses that places like Amarillo, Lubbock, Odessa, Midland and San Angelo are often mistakenly perceived as completely rural. “They think we’re all a bunch of yee-haws around a campfire. I always try to tell people we’re the same size as Arlington,” Williams told me, referring to greater Lubbock. It’s a point that’s often lost on people who have never visited; places like Lubbock are urban, but not in the same ways as cities like Houston or Dallas. It’s more accurate to describe the Lubbocks and Amarillos of the world as population centers that serve rural areas—cities that take on some of the characertistics of their surrounding rural areas, Williams explained. And if you don’t look at counties zoomed out as simply red or blue, you can still find majority Democratic precincts in places like Lubbock.


In progressive circles of wokeness, courting rural voters can also produce eyerolls, with activists complaining that the party panders too much to backward white people at the expense of urban organizing. But Williams is critical of such perceptions of rural America as being defined by whites in the upper Midwest. The rural southwest, where significant portions of the population are Hispanic, looks nothing like this, and organizing these communities has become a central goal of people like Williams and Horick.

The rural Hispanic block in the southwest is also complicated, and it’s hard to understate how mistaken it is to treat it as a monolith. The coalition can often feel conservative: Many are Catholic, work in oil and agriculture, and Republican narratives around traditional family values can attract them. Others theorize that machismo has drawn voters to Trump and Republicans. There’s also a strain of nativism that’s unique to older families in the Southwest whose ancestors settled areas of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California long before Anglos arrived. It’s not uncommon to hear people identify as Spanish, not Mexican, to emphasize this fact, along with the whiteness it can imply. Others are more recent arrivals, first and second generation immigrants. Democrats, who have recently grown concerned about Biden’s Hispanic support, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, may be justified in their worries. “People sometimes claim the Hispanic vote in Texas is a done deal. It’s not at all. It’s still being contested,” Logan said.

Williams agreed. Recently, at a Hispanic church in a Democratic neighborhood of Lubbock, local Republicans showed up to campaign against abortion, following the announcement of a reopening a Planned Parenthood in town. That kind of outreach was rare for Republicans in Lubbock, Williams told me, and he viewed it as a sign of Republican nerves. In the past, with vote margins so high in their favor, they rarely bothered expanding demographically. Now they seemed more cognizant of possible erosion, especially long term. In Texas, the fight for Hispanic votes has only just begun.

A few weeks later, 10 days from the election, I checked in with Williams and Horick, and they hadn’t changed their target goals for their counties: 35 percent for Ector, and 40 percent for Lubbock. More money was flowing into Texas; the Biden team had finally announced an ad buy in the state, and public figures like O’Rourke and Julian Castro were still urging more spending. Democrats were increasingly bullish on winning the state house, which will be crucial for redistricting. Turnout was through the roof. The Biden campaign’s “Soul of the Nation” bus tour had visited Amarillo and Lubbock. But typical of most Democratic organizers in West Texas, they couched their optimism with caution, their praise of new party support with caveats, their idealism with reality.

“I was really surprised, frankly, but we got a lot of supplies from their Coordinated Campaign,” Horick texted me. “Being the regional distribution office for Joe Biden merch has meant that we got way more than I ever anticipated. The follow-through here at the end has been much better [than previous cycles]. We have PPE, Signs, stickers and literature for not just Ector, but outlying counties. I’d love to have this energy from the moment we know the nominee, but it meant we could do more with the money we raised instead of having to scrape together resources to buy things like signs. I’m nervous that none of it will be sustained until after the 2022 midterm, but I have so much stuff now that I don’t have anywhere to put it and that’s never been a problem before.”

Horick was watching early voting closely. “The voter registration drive has been game-changing. Ector County broke 80k registered voters for the first time ever and we’ve seen so many new voters and registered folks in the areas we canvassed. I’m optimistic that those numbers will climb as we get closer to Election Day. I never anticipated so many folks voting early, but we are just shy of 20,000 early and mail votes.”

But she again couched the observation in caution, worrying that local infighting among Republicans on the city council might drive turnout among Republicans, in addition to Trump. And within 24 hours of putting out signs the Coordinated Campaign had sent Ector, many had been defaced. “Pedo” had been written on the back of a sign, likely a reference to Trump-fueled QAnon conspiracies around Democrats.

“The silver lining is that I raised $1,000 off their little art project,” she said. “I’ll take my wins and run with them.”

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