FORT WORTH — As soon as Kamala Harris took the stage outside a bustling church here on her first stop of a Texas campaign trip, she made her intentions for the audience clear.
“So listen, today is the last day of early voting in Texas, and you all have been doing your thing,” she said after taking off the face mask she wore onstage, nodding to the state’s record-breaking early turnout so far this year and polls suggesting that the state is in play.
“What did I hear, was it 9 million people have voted so far?” she said during a speech that implored Democrats to cast ballots in a race that is tighter than is typical for Texas. “People sent me pictures of them standing in line ... waiting to vote. People are committed.”
Harris spoke for about half an hour in at First Saint John Cathedral in Fort Worth to a predominately Black, socially distanced and seated crowd during the first stop of a daylong tour of Texas just four days before Election Day. Her presence itself was remarkable for a state that has long been considered noncompetitive in presidential races. Her message: The Democratic presidential ticket isn’t ceding Texas to the GOP this year. For the first time in decades, Republican dominance here could be at risk.
“There is a clear choice in this election,” she told voters standing outside a Fort Worth church who greeted her with raucous applause and Biden-Harris campaign signs.
“On the one hand you have Joe Biden, who, together with Barack Obama, created Obamacare, which brought health care to 20 million people and protected people with preexisting conditions,” Harris said, standing in front of a Texas flag as she spoke. “[They] understood that health care and access to health care should be a right and not just a privilege of those who can afford it.
“On the other hand, you have [President] Donald Trump,” Harris continued, “who, together with his boy Bill Barr, are in the United States Supreme Court right now trying to sue to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.”
Harris was referring to a Texas-led lawsuit to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Trump has expressed support for the suit.
After visiting Fort Worth, she flew to McAllen and then Houston, where she spoke in front of a backdrop reading, “Harris County is Biden Country.”
Despite pleas from various Texas Democrats, Joe Biden hasn’t visited the state since the March primary. Before Harris’ trip, her husband, Doug Emhoff, and Biden’s wife, Jill Biden visited the state.
Asked why Joe Biden has not visited Texas in the general election, Harris told reporters in Houston that the campaign is “putting a lot of resources into Texas.”
“We understand that first of all, the people of Texas — Texas has so much at stake in this election and they deserve to be heard, they deserve to be engaged by us because we intend to earn every vote,” Harris said, according to a pool report. “That’s why I’ve been here, that’s why Jill has been here, and Doug has been here, and we’re gonna keep putting resources into Texas, because it’s a very important state for a number of reasons.”
Harris tailored her stump speech in some areas to Texas. While railing against states that she said have erected barriers to voting during the pandemic, she singled out Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to limit counties to one drop-off site for people who choose to submit their mail ballots in person.
With so many people in Harris County, Harris said, “there is one drop box. Are you kidding me?”
Harris’ swing through Texas, which awards 38 Electoral College votes, seemed designed to reach out to voters in Texas’ growing communities of color. The Biden-Harris ticket is largely relying on suburban, Black and Hispanic communities to offset Trump’s advantage in more rural swaths of the state.
In Fort Worth, she attracted a crowd of 300, including influential area Democrats like U.S. Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth. She gave a shout-out to U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, while onstage. Prior to Harris’ speech, Bishop Marvin Sapp gave a musical performance.
MJ Hegar, the Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, attended each of of Harris’ stops, and Hegar helped introduce Harris on Friday night in Houston, along with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Tina Knowles-Lawson, the mother of pop star Beyoncé. Hegar argued that Harris’ visit showed that Texas is a “battleground state.”
“No longer will we be ignored and overlooked,” Hegar said.
In a statement Friday morning, Trump Victory spokesperson Samantha Cotten rebuffed the notion that Harris’ visit meant that the state is in play.
“Texans aren’t fooled by phony politicians like Kamala Harris who is making a last ditch effort in the Lone Star State and come November, voters will reject the Democrats’ radical agenda of eliminating the oil and gas industry, hiking our taxes and taking away our 2nd Amendment rights in favor of four more years of President Trump,” Cotten said.
Fort Worth’s Tarrant County is Texas’ third-most populous county, and Democrats believe the former vice president’s path to victory in Texas includes turning the county blue. Although it was largely seen until recently as the last urban GOP stronghold in the state, Democrats see reasons for optimism after former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke carried the county with a margin of victory of 0.62% in his bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.
It is also home to a number of competitive state House seats and Congressional District 24, where Democrat Candace Valenzuela and Republican Beth Van Duyne are running to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell.
Friday wasn’t the first time the California senator made a campaign stop in Fort Worth. In March 2019, Harris was one of the first Democratic presidential candidates to visit Texas during the packed primary, making back-to-back stops in Tarrant and Harris counties. She never accrued enough support in the polls for her run and ended her campaign in December.
Now, as Biden’s running mate, Harris is the highest-profile representative of the Biden campaign to visit Texas in person during the general election. Later Friday, Harris held a similar get-out-the-vote event in McAllen with O’Rourke and Julián Castro, former secretary of housing and urban development and San Antonio mayor.
When asked by a reporter in McAllen why she was visiting the border city, Harris said, it was “because there are people here who matter, people who are working hard, people who love their country, and we need to be here and be responsive to that.”
During her speech at the Edinburg campus of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Harris, who stood behind a podium that read “Todos Con Biden Harris,” reiterated the importance of Texas voters on Tuesday.
“You are going to make the difference. The election is about you,” Harris said before a backdrop that said “Vota Texas.” “We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna do this.”
Harris’ tour through the state comes as polls project a tight presidential race in Texas. A handful of surveys in recent days give Trump a narrow lead or show him mired in a tie with the former vice president. In a few cases, Biden maintains a small lead over Trump.
Although Texas isn’t essential to a Biden victory, Democrats have asked Biden to be more aggressive here. In addition to Harris’ visit, the campaign planned a multicity surrogate bus tour across Texas. In addition, national super PACs and billionaire Michael Bloomberg have poured money into the state at the 11th hour, supporting not only Biden’s presidential bid but down-ballot efforts to flip the congressional districts and gain control of the state House.
“They know when we vote, things change,” Harris said in closing in Fort Worth. “They know when we vote, we win.”
Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.