Texas Democrats in the U.S. House split on presidential nominee

Joe Biden has more endorsements from the Texas congressional delegation than either Texan in the race.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2017.

WASHINGTON — The two Texans running for president aren’t getting much help from their congressional delegation as they attempt to project strength in their strategically important home state.

Just three of the state’s 13 Democratic members of Congress have endorsed a Texas candidate — one for former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and two for former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. Both trail Joe Biden in Texas endorsements. The former vice president has the support of three U.S. representatives from Texas, giving him the most Texan congressional supporters.

Seven out of the 13 Texas Democrats in Congress made official endorsements for the 2020 presidential primary election. The other six — nearly half of the delegation — have stayed neutral so far.

O’Rourke’s lone endorsement comes from freshman U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, the member of Congress who replaced him in 2018. Castro, meanwhile, counts his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, as one of his two Texas congressional backers. The other is freshman U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas.

Just last month, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, switched his endorsement from Castro to Biden, aligning with U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, who has been active in the Biden campaign.

“America needs Joe Biden,” Vela said in a statement. “Joe Biden will restore our nation’s spirit and make America feel good again. Joe Biden will use his enduring record of fighting for the working and middle-class Americans and reinvigorate America’s soul.”

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, also endorsed Biden.

“During my tenure in Congress, I’ve seen firsthand Vice President Biden’s commitment to getting real work done on behalf of all Americans,” she said in a statement. “Now, our nation is at a crossroads. We, more than ever, need a leader who can bring people together and get our country back on the right track. This is why I am proud to endorse my friend, Joe Biden, for President of the United States.”

The only other Texas endorsement comes from U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, who endorsed California Sen. Kamala Harris.

In previous elections, congressional endorsements played a bigger role in determining the Democratic nominee. Democratic members of Congress, along with some other elected officials, are given “superdelegate” status at the Democratic National Convention, meaning they can back whichever candidate they want for president. But in 2020, superdelegates will largely be barred from casting ballots in the first round of delegate voting, meaning they'll likely have far less sway.

However, congressional support could have more psychological benefits. O’Rourke and Castro have both, to varying degrees, sold themselves as candidates who could play well in Texas; support among top Texas Democrats could help make that case.

But both candidates are languishing near the bottom of the polls — far behind the leaders, Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren — and are at risk of not qualifying for the upcoming November debate. Castro has threatened to drop out of the race in the past if he didn’t receive the donations he needed. As of late Thursday, his campaign said he was $20,000 short of the $800,000 he needs.

Many of the Texas endorsements were announced before Congress began an impeachment inquiry into allegations that President Donald Trump asked the Ukrainian government to investigate the business dealings of Biden’s son. Although the inquiry is centered on the actions of the president, for some it cast a negative light on Biden.

That, along with a hectic session in Congress, leaves little incentive for lawmakers to align themselves with candidates.

“I haven’t made [an endorsement], but right now that’s not my focus,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston.