The presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is expanding its footprint in Texas, setting up a statewide office and adding to staff with just under four months until the Democratic primary.
In the next few days, the campaign plans to open a Texas headquarters in Austin — among the first known outposts of a presidential campaign in the state besides that of native U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. The office will be located on the city's east side.
The campaign's Texas effort is being overseen by Jacob Limón, a legislative staffer and former official at the state Democratic Party. Limón, who was recently named Sanders' Texas state director, is being joined by six other paid staffers in the state: David Sanchez, North Texas director; Cristina Garcia, Rio Grande Valley director; Theresa Haas, Houston director; Samantha Davis, operations director; Ananda Tomas, San Antonio director; and Sergio Feliciano Cantú, Latino outreach director.
Sanders supporters were introduced to the Texas staff during a meeting Tuesday night in Austin, where they were given a goal of 850,000 phone calls over the next three weeks to identify more Sanders backers. Zack Exley, a senior adviser to the Sanders digital team in Vermont, told the nearly 200 people who showed up to the meeting that they will have to go above and beyond to help him win the March 1 primary in Texas.
"There's only a very small number of staff here in Texas," Exley said. "In Iowa, we have 80 field organizers that your donations are paying for, and so the volunteers come and they get a list of people to call, and they call them and they go home."
"That can't be the story in Texas," Exley added. "You guys have to become organizers."
The Austin meetup was one of seven stops in Texas this week that Sanders' national campaign staff was planning to make to start organizing supporters in the state. Earlier this week, they were scheduled to visit Dallas, Houston and Corpus Christi. From Wednesday through Friday, they are set to go to San Antonio, Brownsville and Fort Worth.
Sanders last visited Texas in July, when he drew 8,000 and 5,200 people to rallies in Dallas and Houston, respectively. At each event, he warned Democratic candidates against writing off red states like Texas and called for a "50-state strategy" to win the White House in 2016.
Early, scant polling has found Sanders badly trailing Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in Texas, where her involvement in state politics dates back to the 1970s. The former secretary of state has not neglected Texas in her second bid for the White House, holding two campaign events in the state — her next one is set for Tuesday in Dallas — as well as several fundraisers. She has also locked up the support of well over a majority of Texas Democrats who serve in the state Legislature and Congress.
While presidential candidates have been paying more attention than usual to Texas due to its relatively early primary, few have opened offices in the state beyond Cruz, whose campaign is based in Houston. The campaign of billionaire Donald Trump has had an office in downtown Austin since Oct. 1. In March, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., launched an outpost of his campaign at the startup Incubator Capital Factory, also in downtown Austin. The Sanders office will be at 1309 E. 7th St.