Dem presidential candidates target Texas, seeking delegate ‘gold mine’ on Super Tuesday

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several Democratic presidential candidates have already established a presence in the Lone Star State, and the investment in Texas is only growing as Super Tuesday draws closer.

Fourteen states cast ballots on March 3. It’s a “treasure trove” of delegates up for grabs, and Texas represents a “gold mine” for candidates, said Sherri Greenberg, a clinical professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Candidates are already pouring millions of advertising dollars into Texas TV markets, and several have opened or plan to open campaign offices in Austin and around the state.

“In recent history,” Greenberg said, “what we had seen is nationally, people not being interested in Texas, not coming here to campaign in a presidential primary, not having offices, and asking Texas to send their money outside other states, where these folks were campaigning.”

That’s changing this year, in part because the field is still so crowded.

“There will probably be more candidates than we are used to seeing still in the running,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT. “That’s going to make a big hunk of delegates like Texas very important and very valuable, and I think that as soon as we are through South Carolina, Texans should expect to see a lot of campaign ads and probably a lot of campaign visits.”

Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden
From left, Democratic presidential candidates former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, shakes hands with former Vice President Joe Biden as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., watches Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, before the start of a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC News, Apple News, and WMUR-TV at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Office space

Bernie Sanders’ campaign opens its Austin office Thursday, one of five locations the Vermont senator is staking out in Texas this week. His campaign tells KXAN there are 10 paid Sanders staffers on the ground in the Lone Star State, and volunteers have held more than 600 events (phone banks, canvassing, etc.) since the campaign kicked off.

His team is also kicking off a $5.5 million TV buy throughout Texas. Austinites might not be seeing Bernie’s ads just yet, but his campaign says they’re coming soon. Sanders will be in the Dallas area Friday for a rally.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently wrapped up a Texas swing following the Iowa caucuses; in September the candidate rallied support in Austin.

Elizabeth Warren
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during a rally on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

She has four offices in Texas, including one in Austin. More than two dozen senior staffers and organizers are working in the state, her campaign told KXAN, on the ground since August.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, meanwhile, is betting big on Texas. “Bloomberg, of course, is just a whole different game,” Greenberg said.

His campaign told KXAN they’ve opened or are planning to open 19 offices around Texas, including two in Austin. He skipped the early states altogether, opting to dump millions of advertising dollars and other resources into Super Tuesday states instead. Bloomberg planned to be in Houston Thursday evening.

Michael Bloomberg
FILE – In this Feb. 3, 2020, photo, Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, talks with supporters during a campaign stop in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Bloomberg’s Texas operation is 158 staffers strong, his campaign said, but analysts wonder whether his unconventional strategy is a winning one. “Just how far he can take this remains to be seen,” Henson said.

Thursday, his campaign announced it would be ramping up its Texas operations starting next week, sending 24 paid staffers to the state to kick off events in Austin and three other cities this weekend.

Bloomberg was slated as a special guest speaker at the Harris County Democratic Party’s Johnson Rayburn Richard dinner on Thursday night. Former candidate Julián Castro, Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who has thrown his support behind Warren, is also a scheduled speaker. Entrepreneur Tom Steyer, also a 2020 Democratic candidate, is a co-sponsor of the dinner.

Steyer opened a campaign field office in Houston on Thursday.

“We are opening offices across the state, but we are so excited to be opening up our Houston office today,” Steyer’s Texas State Director Omar El-Halwagi said Thursday morning. “Houston is the largest city in the state, it is the most diverse city in the state, but regardless of where we are opening offices in Texas, I think this is just one of many that showcase Tom’s commitment to Texas and Texans.”

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg doesn’t have an office in Austin, but he does have a regional organizing director here. He also gets a boost from Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a close friend who introduced him at his campaign kickoff rally.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign is sending staffers to many of the Super Tuesday states. In a statement, a campaign spokesperson told KXAN, in part: “our team is seeing a major upswing in fundraising and momentum, including in Texas, where we plan to continue ramping up operations in the state.”

KXAN also reached out to the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden but as of this writing had not heard back about his state operations.

Pete Buttigieg, Steve Adler
In this April 14, 2019, photo, Pete Buttigieg, right, is joined by Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, as announces that he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination during a rally in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The diversity question

Texas’ diversity will be another factor in how the primary race plays out. Iowa and New Hampshire, both with vast majorities of white voters, are not good bellwethers of the Lone Star State. “We don’t look like an Iowa or a New Hampshire,” Greenberg said.

Biden and Sanders poll well among minority voters, for instance, where Buttigieg does not. The next two states to vote (Nevada on Feb. 22 and South Carolina on Feb. 29) will be better indicators of where candidates are likely to rank in Texas on Super Tuesday, Henson and Greenberg said.

Amy Klobuchar
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks at her election night party, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

“I want to see what happens in Nevada,” Greenberg said.

Like his UT colleague, Henson was not willing to predict the outcome of the March 3 vote, or how campaigns might target Texas following the next two primaries. Recent success for Klobuchar and Buttigieg in New Hampshire and Iowa may mean their campaigns raise more money to spend in places like Texas, and that could shake up the math in the next two and a half weeks.

“I think we still need to see how the first four contests overall play out,” he said.

Early voting in Texas starts Tuesday, Feb. 18. Election Day is Tuesday, March 3.

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