AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Democratic presidential candidates are turning to Texas to score voter support and delegates on Super Tuesday. The two earliest state primaries in New Hampshire and Iowa were heated contests between former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. A new poll of Texas voters tells a different story.
Sanders jumped up to first place in a recent poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, with support from 24% of registered Texas voters in the upcoming Democratic primary, which is up from 12% in October.
The poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden at 22%. Meanwhile, the poll shows Buttigieg fifth with 7% support, behind Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren at 15% and former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg at 10%.
Doubling down on Super Tuesday in the state, the Sanders campaign opened up five new campaign offices in Texas this week, including one in East Austin.
Bloomberg’s aggressive spending on campaign ads has also shaken up the field. The candidate has spent millions of dollars in online and television advertisements in the past few months according to campaign finance data.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project and director of the latest poll, said Bloomberg’s latest numbers are remarkable considering the candidate has yet to appear in any debate and lacks a historical presence in Texas.
“He’s on an upswing and he’s got unlimited amounts of money.” Henson said. “It’s an interesting illustration…in a somewhat academic but also a practical sense of what money can get you.”
If the presidential election happened today, Trump would win Texas against every single Democratic candidate in a head-to-head matchup according to the poll, narrowly defeating Sanders 47-45%, with a 2.89% margin of error. Other matchups like Bloomberg, Warren, Buttigieg and Klobuchar were all similarly decided by 3-5%. Henson said whether this can be considered a victory for the president is a matter of perspective.
“On one hand, the president is leading every Democratic candidate that we’ve matched them up against,” Henson said. But on the other hand, Henson said the Republican incumbent would be expected to have a larger lead in Texas. He said the current numbers reflect just how divisive President Trump is among voters.
Senate candidates share health care ideas
Getting and paying for health care is a challenge for many Texans. It’s one of the key issues for voters in the March primary.
In the past few months, State of Texas has been featuring interviews with leading Democrats in the race for U.S. Senate. Each has slightly different ideas on ways to improve the health care system.
Two candidates told us they support Medicare for all, which would mostly eliminate private insurance.
“That will guarantee that every person will have health care and healthcare as a human right, as well as ending the for-profit health care system,” said Sema Hernandez.
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez also comes out in favor of Medicare for all. She says it’s particularly important in Texas.
“As long as we’ve had a health care industry that has profited, where private insurance companies have profited off of our pain, our suffering and illness, it has resulted in the most expensive health care system in the world with some of the worst outcomes of any industrialized nation,” Tzintzún Ramirez said.
Other candidates told us they support a public option, but also the option for people to keep private health insurance plans.
“There are those that like their private insurance plans and I don’t want to see them taken away,” said former Congressman Chris Bell. “But for others who have really found this whole system to be a nightmare, I do think they should have the ability to buy into a public option.”
Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards says she supports fixing the Affordable Care Act to give people more health care options.
“You can either have an affordable public option or employer-based coverage as it currently stands today,” Edwards said. “We want to preserve and listen to the things that people complained about and then actually proffer solutions to some of those challenges,” she added.
State Senator Royce West said many of the decisions on health care will depend on who wins the race for president. But he views fixes to the Affordable Care Act as the best way to go.
“I’m still a person that believes that if a person wants to have choice in terms of health care, they should be able to have that,” West said. “Persons who want to be able to get involved in a government sponsored program should be able to do that.”
Air Force veteran MJ Hegar points to the military as an example of health care that works. She talked about the uncertainty she felt when she was pregnant and losing her job.
“I was terrified and I thought back to when I was taken the best care of and it was when I was in the military under Tricare, which is basically Medicare for military,” Hegar said.
“I want all of my neighbors and my family and my friends to have access to Medicare,” Hegar continued. “But we can’t forget that we’re a nation and a state of freedom and choices and we should leave that as a choice for people.”
Early voting in the Texas primary kicks off on Tuesday, February 18. The early voting period runs through Friday, February 28. Election day is March 3.
“Mama” Garcia jumps in U.S. Senate poll
The Democrats running to challenge Republican incumbent John Cornyn for U.S. Senate have been on the campaign trail for several months. With the election day less than one month away, a candidate who joined the race recently has jumped near the top of a recent statewide poll.
Annie “Mama” Garcia filed as a Democrat early in December. She is an attorney and founder of nonprofit OpHeart, which she created to save infants born with heart defects.
Garcia had a strong showing in the latest poll from the University of Texas at Tyler. The poll of likely voters showed her tied for second with 6% support along with State Senator Royce West. Air Force veteran MJ Hegar leads with 9%. More than half of respondents answered “not sure” as to who they support in the upcoming Democratic primary.
Garcia said her decision to run for U.S. Senate began in an emergency room in Spain in 2014. Doctors discovered her then six week-old daughter was suffering from an undiagnosed heart defect.
“We did not have insurance,” Garcia said. “So for 12 weeks she was in the ICU and ultimately she underwent two open heart surgeries, dozens of medications and procedures.”
Garcia’s daughter recovered, at the cost of $1.5 million in medical bills.
“That should have wiped us out financially, but she was lucky,” Garcia said. “She was born in Spain and we didn’t need insurance.”
Garcia said she would like the U.S. to adopt a system similar to Spain’s universal healthcare system. She said her idea is different from the Medicare-for-all model.
“We need to create a system where we don’t have coinsurance, co-pays, out-of-network costs, all of the different ways in which people are essentially fleeced when they go into the hospital,” Garcia said.
Despite the recent gains, Garcia is not slowing down on the campaign trail, in fact, she wants to walk it all herself. She set out to cross Texas on foot Sunday, starting in Houston and ending at the Walmart in El Paso where 22 people were killed in a mass shooting in August. She said for two weeks she will be walking all 420 miles, 30 miles each day, to meet voters and tell them about her campaign.
“I want to show people that I’m different,” Garcia said. “So this was the one thing that I could come up with that is completely within my power, putting one foot in front of the other.”
New lawmakers take the Oath of Office
Three new Texas House representatives took the oath of office after each won special elections in their respective districts.
Texas House representatives Gary Gates and Loraine Birabil took the oath of office at the Texas State Capitol Tuesday. Anna Eastman took the oath in Houston at Waltrip High School.
Gary Gates won a high profile special election in Texas House District 28 in Fort Bend County against Democrat Eliz Markowitz. The race drew national attention, with presidential candidates Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, and Elizabeth Warren all endorsing Markowitz. Former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke campaigned in the district to endorse the democratic candidate.
Gates easily won by 16 points. This marked his third time running for state office. Gates previously lost elections in 2014 and 2016.
“I will be a better representative because of the struggles it took to get here,” Gates said during a speech after taking the oath of office. “When sitting in that seat, I will remember each of you when deciding how to vote.”
Gates will finish the term of John Zerwas, who stepped down from the District 28 seat to become the executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System.
Democrat Lorraine Birabil was sworn in as the representative for District 100. The special election was called after former representative Eric Johnson was elected as the mayor of Dallas.
“I’m really proud to represent my neighborhood,” Birabil said. She told the audience in the chamber that she worked on “the issues that matter: education, justice reform, voting rights, health care, making our community safer.”
Before taking office, Anna Eastman was a board member for the Houston Independent School Districts. She said she ran for office to improve Texas public schools.
Eastman, Birabil, and Gates still have work on the campaign trail. They all face opponents in the March 3 primary. They also need to win in November in order to serve during the 87th Texas Legislative Session next year.