AUSTIN (KXAN) — Seemingly every day, the Texas Democratic Party is hosting a virtual campaign event in lieu of the stump speeches and handshakes that ruled campaign cycles before the coronavirus pandemic. But will it be enough to turn a solidly red state blue in November?
Dr. Jill Biden, wife of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, will join a virtual campaign stop with the Texas Democratic Party on Friday, one of many online events coordinated by the state party in recent months in an effort to connect with voters.
“Even before the pandemic, Texas Democrats were focused on meeting voters where they’re at, whether that was in their local community or was online. Those are things that have been strategic imperatives for us to meet voters where they’re at,” said Brittany Switzer, senior brand manager for the Texas Democratic Party. “We definitely aren’t seeing that on the Republican side.”
The Texas Democratic Party Convention was held virtually in June without any major issues, a success Switzer attributes to preparation and investments in infrastructure like broadcasting software and equipment for streaming events.
The Texas State Republican Party Convention suffered several technological setbacks last week, extending the planned three-day convention to five days with a supplemental convention added to handle unfinished business.
“There’s no doubt that the pandemic has upended campaigning for both parties,” said Patrick Svitek, the primary political correspondent for the Texas Tribune. “If you look at the way Democrats have approached it versus Republicans, I think it’s safe to say Democrats were earlier and more aggressive in embracing the virtual approach and also a little more consistent in sticking with it as the pandemic has persisted in Texas.”
Texas Democrats have used virtual events like Democratic U.S. Senate candidate MJ Hegar’s “Victory 2020 Tour” to prop up down-ballot candidates, too. The launch of the tour, streamed live on Facebook, recorded more than 17,000 viewers.
Outgoing Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said “We need to do better,” when asked if Republicans are doing enough to connect with voters virtually during the pandemic.
“I would encourage all Texans to participate and not just participate by voting,” Bonnen told KXAN, noting, too, that some virtual campaigning has included negativity on social media and that people should instead participate in a positive manner. “It’s of great importance that they engage and that they be part of that discussion and that commentary so that their voice is not run over.”
Collectively across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram the Texas Democratic Party holds nearly a 2:1 follower advantage over the Republican Party of Texas.
Dave Carney, a Republican strategist and advisor to Gov. Greg Abbott, said Republican candidates are finding new and innovative ways to campaign, though it may be less obvious than the aggressive virtual approach by Democrats.
“First and foremost, (Republicans) have been active in their communities providing information and services to the citizens in their area,” Carney said in an email. “Supporting food drives, blood banks, and giving away countless PPE supplies throughout. The biggest differences between the two sides on one side brags a lot and our side does a lot.”
A recent Quinnipiac poll of registered voters found Biden has a one-point lead over President Trump in Texas. Texas Democrats are fighting to flip nine seats in the Texas House of Representatives to gain control and secure a voice in the redistricting fight on the way in 2021.
KXAN politics reporter John Engel is breaking down how Republicans and Democrats are approaching campaigns during the pandemic and will have a full report tonight on KXAN at 6 p.m.