Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has hired an Austin-based operative to lead his campaign in Texas.
Corbin Casteel, president of FourOneThree Communications, will serve as Trump's Texas state director, his campaign announced Friday. Casteel has previously worked for the Republican National Committee and the Texas GOP.
Casteel's hire is among the first of its kind for a GOP campaign so far this cycle in Texas. The state's earlier-than-usual primary has kept a steady stream of candidates trekking to the state to raise money and meet voters, but few have yet staked a claim to the action with state-level staff.
Trump's campaign also announced Friday that it had hired state directors in Florida and Virginia, two other states set to hold their primaries in early March.
"We are in this to win it," Trump said in a statement. "These staff additions are the continuation of our plan to have a strategic and significant presence across the country."
Casteel's hire had hardly been disclosed Friday before his past criticism of Trump surfaced.
"I don't know of anyone in the party who looks at him like a fellow Republican. He's an entertainer," Casteel told the San Antonio Express-News in August. "I believe it's a universal view that Donald Trump is a joke."
Casteel and the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment on the criticism, which evoked memories of another GOP operative who mocked Trump before joining his team.
Sam Clovis, who had been working for the flagging Iowa campaign of former Gov. Rick Perry, had expressed doubts about Trump's conservative credentials before signing on as the national co-chairman of his bid for the White House, according to emails obtained by the Des Moines Register.
Trump has visited Texas twice since entering the presidential race. In July, he went on a whirlwind tour of the U.S.-Mexico border in Laredo and returned last month for a massive rally at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Early, scant polling has shown Trump atop the GOP field in Texas since becoming a candidate in June. A Texas Lyceum survey released Friday found Trump in first place with 21 percent support, beating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas by 5 points.
Even Trump has sounded surprised by his strength in Texas, whose primary was once expected to center on which candidate could best capitalize on their personal and political ties to the state. Among those hopefuls were Cruz, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky,Perry and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Have you ever heard of the great state of Texas?" Trump said at the Dallas rally. "We're leading in Texas. How does that happen?"