AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Joe Biden ended a triumphant Super Tuesday by edging out Bernie Sanders in Texas, a disappointing loss for the Vermont senator even after he snatched a larger delegate prize in California.
The win capped a resounding and resurgent string of victories across the South for the former vice president, who won at least nine states. But none was bigger or more symbolic than the red state of Texas. Just 24 hours earlier, Biden displayed a show of force within the Democratic Party’s moderate wing by announcing endorsement by former rivals Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar in Dallas.
The outcome in Texas could help decide the national delegate leader after the biggest day of the primary season. Although Sanders won California, Biden racked up more state primaries on the night.
In Texas’ Senate race, Democrat MJ Hegar awaited an opponent after advancing to a May runoff in a crowded field of a dozen candidates. The winner will try to unseat Republican incumbent John Cornyn, who is seen as a heavy favorite in a state where a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat since the 1970s.
This year’s race hasn’t mustered the same energy or attention as Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s barnstorming run in 2018 against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz that became a launchpad the former congressman’s short-lived White House run.
“As a combat veteran, I am concerned about the values of this country that are under attack,” Hegar told supporters in Austin. “And as a working mom, I’m concerned about the future if we keep it in the hands of people like Sen. John Cornyn.”
Sanders was banking on young and Latino voters in booming Texas to accelerate his path to the nomination, while Biden’s resurgent campaign made a dramatic late mark on the Lone Star State, rolling out a late endorsement from former O’Rourke.
Four years ago, Sanders lost Texas nearly 2-to-1 to Hillary Clinton. But now he had a foothold in the Lone Star State, where his rise emboldened progressive challengers elsewhere on the ballot that were also looking to advance Tuesday.
“Things are looking awful good,” Biden told supporters in Los Angeles. “For those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign.”
The primary put Texas’ fast-changing politics to the test. Democrats are making fast gains in the nation’s biggest GOP stronghold and have a shot in November at taking control of the Texas House for the first time in 20 years a — reclaiming of power that would swiftly change the landscape of one of the GOP’s most crucial states.
It’s an outcome that some conservative voters had on their minds as they went to the polls in Texas. Shelby Schnefke, a stay-at-home mother of two, said after casting her ballot in Dallas that the GOP needs to stay on guard against Democrats making further inroads.
“I feel like recently it’s been proven that it could happen,” Schnefke said. “I think that’s why it’s more motivating now than ever for Republicans to come out and vote because I think a lot of times in Texas you’re like ‘Oh, we’re safe.’ But we definitely aren’t safe.’”
In Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, elections officials rushed to send additional voting machines to polling places where voters reported long lines.
With the hotly contested presidential race topping the ballot, long lines at polling sites encouraged Democrats who are counting on record-shattering turnout across the state this fall. Sanders, who has given rise to a handful of progressive challengers in Texas, looked to pull away from the field. But Biden sought to ride a wave of new momentum.
It wasn’t a smooth Super Tuesday everywhere.
Coronavirus fears resulted in a number of poll workers and elections judges not showing up for work in Austin, where there have been no confirmed cases. And in San Antonio, technical stumbles caused delays at some polling sites.
In Houston, Rebecca Taylor tried voting in one of the city’s historically black neighborhoods where voters waited up to an hour. So she planned to go elsewhere to cast a ballot for Biden after also considering billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who made Houston a centerpiece of his half-billion dollar gambit to win the nomination despite skipping the first four states.
Elizabeth Warren has also vowed to press on and her supporters say she’s positioned to nab delegates in Texas.
Taylor said she thought Sanders would scorch other Democrats on the Texas ballot in November if he’s the presidential nominee, and she expressed skepticism about whether he could deliver on his promises.
“I just don’t believe he can get in there and do what he says he’s going to do,” she said.
Democrats need only nine seats this fall to flip the Texas House, a goal that is paramount for the party in 2020, particularly because flipping the state outright still faces long odds.
Sanders had shown success emboldening a crop of insurgent challengers on the left, challenging the Democratic playbook that suggests ending GOP dominance requires broad-appeal candidates who can attract more voters. Among them are Jessica Cisneros, 26, who Sanders endorsed and is trying to become the youngest member of Congress in a bid against Rep. Henry Cuellar on the Texas border.