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As early voting turnout reached historic highs in Texas, Kamala Harris, the only candidate on either presidential ticket to visit the state in the final pre-election push, spent Friday making a case to the state’s women voters.
Harris addressed voters in Fort Worth, McAllen and Houston. All are areas where Democrats hope a sizable turnout could help break the Republican party’s decades-long stronghold on the state.
As of Friday morning, more than 9 million people had voted early in Texas — 53 percent of the state’s registered voters, and more than the state’s entire 2016 vote total. The state is expected to surpass 60 percent in terms of registered voter turnout for the first time in decades. And though recent polling suggests President Donald Trump is holding onto a slim lead, national analysts are now calling the state a toss-up. Electoral experts also note that, without Texas, Trump’s path to victory is virtually impossible.
“I want you to focus on the impossible dream: No one thought that Texas could turn blue,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, an introductory speaker at the Houston speech, told the audience.
In her remarks, Harris appealed directly to women voters, invoking the nation’s struggle for equal voting rights, highlighting this year’s 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — including its limitations for Black women, who didn’t benefit from its passage — and highlighting the legacy of John Lewis, the former congressman and civil rights activist who died earlier this year.
“It is important to honor those who fought for this precious right, understanding that, like Coretta Scott King told us, the fight for civil rights, equal rights, human rights — this fight for justice must be fought and won for generations,” Harris said from Fort Worth. “You cannot take them for granted. We must be vigilant.”
Her speech also pointed to issues that are often neglected on the campaign trail and that disproportionately affect women — including the cost of child care, paid family leave, schooling in the pandemic, access to mental health care, pay equity, and the nation’s hunger crisis.
All are issues that have become more salient in the past eight months. Right now, women are shouldering the burdens of caring both for children and elder relatives, and are more likely to be managing virtual learning and facing larger mental health burdens as a result. Though the Trump administration previously pointed to child care and paid family leave as priorities, the president has campaigned on neither issue.
Meanwhile, the COVID economy has unleashed a national crisis of food insecurity, with the burden falling disproportionately on women and families.
“One in five mothers who has a child under the age of 12 is describing her children as being hungry,” Harris said. “We’re in the middle of a hunger crisis in America — they’re not covering it enough,” she added.
Hunger experts say that if children aren’t receiving enough food, that means parents — and particularly mothers — are also going without.
Harris also emphasized two issues that women voters have termed top priorities: the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people, as well as Biden’s plan to expand access to health care, protect people with pre-existing conditions and address high prescription drug costs.
In McAllen, a South Texas city where extraordinarily high health costs and poor health outcomes famously inspired many of the Affordable Care Act’s reforms, Harris directly addressed voters — who attended the socially distanced rally from their cars — about the salience of pre-existing conditions.
“Honk if you know anybody who has diabetes!” she said. “Honk if you know anybody who has high blood pressure! Lupus! Breast cancer!”
The crowd, which frequently chanted Harris’ name — “You said it correctly!” she once laughed — honked each time.
Houston and Fort Worth represent two of Texas’ largest media markets. But Harris’ presence in McAllen is particularly noteworthy. It’s a predominantly Latinx area that’s also reliably Democratic. But turnout along the border city hasn’t yet surged the way it has in other parts of the state. Latina voters, some experts believe, could play a critical role in determining how many contested states swing this election.
In all of her speeches, Harris touched on other issues relevant to women voters: the Trump administration’s controversial policy to separate immigrant families at the border, his efforts to halt the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and his repeated refusals to condemn white supremacists. In Houston, family members of George Floyd — a Black man who previously lived in the city who was killed by a policeman this summer — attended Harris’ speech.
Both his immigration record and Trump’s history of racist remarks have alienated some of the White Christian women who helped fuel Trump’s 2016 victory, but who are having second thoughts this year.
Turning Texas blue would rely on a multiracial coalition, in which women voters would play a critical role. Polling suggests that Joe Biden and Harris lead among women voters in the state, as well as among Black and Latinx voters across genders.