Invoking the killing of George Floyd and the ravages of COVID-19, former Vice President Joe Biden told Texas Democrats that it has never been clearer why he must defeat President Donald Trump in November.
“I said from the beginning: The very soul of this nation is at stake,” Biden said at the party’s state convention Saturday. “That’s why I’m running for president and why I stand united with every single Democrat behind our mission to beat Donald Trump and restore real leadership to the White House.”
Biden said the “horrifying killing” of Floyd has forced the nation to face an uncomfortable truth.
“It’s time for us to face the deep, open wound of systemic racism in the nation,” Biden said, declaring that he’s the candidate who can set the stage for that. “Nothing about this is going to be easy or comfortable if we simply allow this wound to scab over once more without treating the underlying injury. We’ll never truly heal.”
Biden is expected in Houston on Tuesday for Floyd’s funeral.
His remarks built upon a speech he made four days earlier in Philadelphia as racial injustice and police reform have redefined a presidential race that polls show has tightened even in Texas, which no Republican presidential candidate has lost in 44 years.
Trump questioned Biden’s commitment to criminal justice reform earlier in the week, reminding Americans that Biden’s work on the 1994 crime bill sent more black people to jail.
On Friday, Trump invoked Floyd’s name in calling for all people to be treated fairly by police.
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“Equal justice under the law must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement, regardless of race, color, gender or creed,” he said at a briefing at the White House. “They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement.”
While Trump and Republicans have used the past two weeks to pivot to a law-and-order message to rally conservatives, Biden and Democrats have used it as a call to action for their supporters to champion communities of color.
“If we can make our country work for the most vulnerable Americans; if we can unrig our economy so that it benefits every single person and not only a select few, then we can live up to the promise of America,” former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro told Texas Democrats before Biden spoke.
Castro, who endorsed Biden earlier in the week, has joined forces with the former vice president to work on police reforms. Earlier in the week, Biden in Philadelphia called for a national ban on police chokeholds and the creation of a “model use-of-force standard” for all law enforcement agencies — proposals Castro made a centerpiece of his own presidential campaign last year.
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Biden took his message Saturday beyond the racial injustice the black community has faced, also shaming Trump for damaging Hispanic communities with his rhetoric and tough immigration policies.
“Since day one of this administration, there has been a relentless attack on the Latino community,” Biden said. “We saw the results last August in El Paso, as El Paso was targeted by a hateful attack. Donald Trump’s anti-Latino, anti-immigrant agenda has targeted Latinos with dire consequences.”
Biden was referencing the shooting last August in El Paso, where a 21-year-old from Allen is accused of targeting Hispanic shoppers at a Walmart, killing 23 people.
But for Biden, the speech was delivered like most of his speeches during the COVID-19 outbreak — in isolation. Instead of having a rousing ovation in a packed arena in San Antonio as originally planned, Biden delivered the message by video from the back porch of his Delaware home.
Trump’s re-election campaign ridiculed him for hiding out from a nation in turmoil.
“While Joe Biden hides in his basement, rather than constructively add to the national conversation, President Trump is leading Americans through the pandemic and restoring law and order,” Trump Victory spokesperson Samantha Cotten said.
Biden’s address comes as public polls have shown him in a virtual dead heat with Trump for the state’s 38 electoral votes in November — second-most in the nation. Biden thanked the state party for Texas’s fast-changing role in the presidential race. Biden said there is a real shot this year for Democrats to win Texas, once a solidly red state.
“I think we have a real chance to turn the state blue because of the work all of you have done,” Biden said. “We’re building a diverse coalition to win up and down the ballot in the fall.”
Election Day is now less than 150 days away, with just over 100 days until the first ballots are sent to military and overseas voters.
A Democratic presidential candidate has not won Texas since 1976, when Jimmy Carter pulled off the feat against Republican Gerald Ford. But Democrats point to tightening election results in 2016 and 2018 as evidence that they have a shot in 2020. In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost to Trump by 9 percentage points, the closest a Democrat has come to winning Texas in two decades. And in 2018, U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, came within 3 percentage points of beating incumbent Ted Cruz, a Republican.
The last five public polls of Texas voters since the start of April have all shown the Trump-Biden race within 6 percentage points. The most recent poll, released last month by Quinnipiac University, showed Trump with a 1 percentage point lead — a virtual tie, given that the margin of error of the poll was 2.9 percentage points.
But Trump’s campaign has been bracing for 2020 for months and vowing to not take Texas for granted, holding virtual day-of-action events aimed at engaging its top volunteers early.
By doing that, the campaign hopes to boost turnout for Trump in Texas come November. Trump’s campaign has said it is convinced that it is in a position to grow its share of the vote in the state.
“Texans want results, not lip service from the Democrats, and they will make that clear when they re-elect President Trump in November,” said Cotten, the Trump Victory spokesperson.
Republicans cannot afford for Texas to be in play. If Trump cannot hold the state’s 38 electoral votes, to help offset Democratic states such as California and New York, it would be virtually impossible for him to get the 276 Electoral College votes he needs to win re-election.
O’Rourke, who also spoke at the virtual convention Saturday, said Biden has to win Texas to ensure that the race is not close in November. If Biden wins Texas along with other Democratic swing states, it would be an overwhelming victory and reduce doubt about the results.
“It will be absolutely seismic, it will stop Donald Trump in his tracks forever and will change what is politically possible in America,” O’Rourke said.