As Trump falters, Democrats aim to flip Texas in November
Texas attorney Monica Haft voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and regretted it almost immediately. Now barely 100 days before a critical US presidential election, the lifelong Republican insists she won't repeat her mistake.
She expects other disillusioned conservatives to join her in helping Democrat Joe Biden flip Texas -- for decades a reliably Republican bastion -- come November and end what she describes as a horror-show presidency.
"We have to get him out," Haft, 51, told AFP in this conservative city north of Dallas, citing Trump's failed response to the coronavirus crisis and his general lack of fitness for office.
"I can't even imagine what would happen to our country after four more years of this."
Americans who supported Trump, but may not do so again, hold the 2020 election in their hands.
Haft predicted there are enough "disgusted and embarrassed" Republicans like her to help a Democratic nominee win Texas for the first time since 1976.
She has "taken some heat" from relatives and been unfriended on social media, but Haft sees a clear shift away from Trump.
"I have several friends and colleagues who voted for him who now regret it, or are Republicans who didn't vote in the last election and now are going to vote for Joe Biden," she said.
Republicans for decades have enjoyed a baked-in advantage in Texas, where voter registration favors the GOP.
But demographic changes are shifting the ground beneath Trump's feet.
Never Trumper Claire Young, a teacher from conservative Bee Cave near Austin who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, said she sees fellow Republicans transitioning away from the president.
"Trump's COVID response has really pissed a lot of people off that used to give Trump the benefit of the doubt," said Young, 43, adding that several of her relatives who backed Trump are now committed Biden voters.
- 'Persuasion game' -
Winning Texas, the country's most populous state after California, would be a massive coup for Biden.
The former vice president leads in national polling, and is also ahead in major swing states Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Polls show the rivals are neck and neck in The Lone Star State, a hotspot with over 4,500 coronavirus deaths and where voters have soured on Trump's pandemic response.
A Quinnipiac University Poll of Texas voters released Wednesday puts Biden at 45 support with Trump at 44 percent.
While Biden has yet to commit to a full-on multi-million-dollar ground game in Texas, many Democrats, like strategist Jane Hamilton of Dallas, are pushing team Biden to do so.
"Everything that is happening now is a perfect storm," said Hamilton, who was Biden's statewide director during the primaries.
"If Texas goes blue, then frankly there's no path" for Trump's re-election, she added.
Experts see the state as a true battleground in 2020.
"The numbers don't look good for Trump" on his pandemic response, said University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus.
He pointed to the state's sprawling suburbs, where Latino and women voters hold increasing sway.
Winning over those frustrated voters is "a persuasion game, and the persuasion game happens in the suburbs," he said.
- 'Work to do' -
Those suburbs include Fort Worth's Tarrant County, population 2.1 million and a must-win for Trump.
Tarrant's Republican Party chairman, Rick Barnes, acknowledged Texas will be won or lost in the suburbs.
"We've got work to do between now and then, we know that," he said, adding that Trump "does have to answer for the decisions" he made related to the pandemic.
But Barnes expressed confidence that Texas, driven by conservative rural voters, will reject the "socialism" peddled by Democrats.
"Texas can't afford to take that risk," he said.
Diehard Trump supporters like retired engineer Joel Downs, 73, believe the president's coronavirus response will not drive voters away.
Republicans willing to cross party lines and vote for Biden "are a severe minority," Downs, wearing a Trump 2020 baseball cap, said at a Republican meeting in Forth Worth suburb Euless.
"I haven't talked to anybody who doesn't think that Trump would make a better president" than Biden.
And yet they exist. Bible study instructor Anna Griffith, living in nearby Colleyville, has voted Republican for decades but finds it impossible to back Trump.
The 81-year-old, wearing a Texas-themed shirt, will be voting for Biden in November.
Evangelicals are hypocrites for supporting a man "so arrogant that he does not deserve to be a president," Griffith said.
"The good Lord hates arrogance."