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Can Democrats Win Texas This Year?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Early voting is underway in Texas, and the Democrats have sent a star surrogate to the state in the form of Jill Biden. On Tuesday, she sent a message that Democrats could do the once unthinkable - turn Texas blue. Polls show President Trump leading in the state by a razor-thin margin. From Dallas, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

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WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Under a stunningly blue desert sky, Jill Biden was welcomed to the University of Texas, El Paso, by J.J. Martinez, leader of the campus' young Democrats.

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JJ MARTINEZ: My friends, please help me welcome the next first lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden.

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JILL BIDEN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

GOODWYN: Winning Texas has been a dream of Democratic organizers since President Obama's former national field director Jeremy Bird founded Battleground Texas in 2013. Seven years later, it still has the feel of a carousel's brass ring - just out of reach. Jill Biden's message was, the time is now.

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BIDEN: For the first time in a long time, winning Texas is possible...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah.

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BIDEN: ...Not just for Joe but for the Senate and the statehouse as well. And if we win here, we are unstoppable.

GOODWYN: The Biden campaign has gotten no small amount of heat from Texas Democratic and Hispanic leaders for being slow out of the gate in wooing the more than 5 million Latino voters in the state. Former El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke has been organizing to help. After his close Senate race against Ted Cruz, O'Rourke remains very popular with young Texas voters and liberals. His group, Powered By People, is routinely able to muster hundreds of volunteers who can then make a million phone calls and text messages in a week. What do they all want? - Joe Biden.

BETO O'ROURKE: We want him to do more. I think it would mean the world to the voters in Texas for Joe Biden to come to this state. And they're spending money. They're sending surrogates. And the vice presidential nominee, Sen. Harris, is coming. All of that is wonderful. If they will take this next important step of sending the nominee himself to Texas, that would be so powerful.

GOODWYN: Texas polling places in its cities were packed yesterday with lines out the door and around the block. Voters waited hours. Take Houston in Harris County, for example. The previous first day early voting record with 67,471. Yesterday, more than 128,000 voted in person. Add another 41,000 mail-in votes for a total of 169,523 votes yesterday in Harris County.

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GOODWYN: But it's a bipartisan passion. In Greenville in East Texas, President Trump supporters gather in the parking lot next to the farmer's market to organize a Sunday Trump train. There are pickups and Harley Davidsons outfitted with train horns and adorned with colorful Trump flags snapping in the hard wind. Rusty Vanderveer (ph) is a maintenance worker.

RUSTY VANDERVEER: He's just a good businessman. Well, he's gone bankrupt several times, but he's always come back and made just as much money, if not more.

GOODWYN: There is nothing but overwhelming confidence here that Trump will win the election. Monica Fronterhouse (ph) is a manager at a nearby concrete contractor.

MONICA FRONTERHOUSE: Sometimes, we take the kids on just evening rides before we go to bed if there's nothing really to do. And you look around, and all you see are Trump signs. I think we've saw maybe two Biden signs this whole time, and we've been all over my county. And you see Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. It's never Biden.

GOODWYN: Polls show a range from a five-point Trump lead to a one-point Biden lead in Texas. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Internet poll showed a low number of undecided independents, somewhere between 7- and 10%. With three weeks left until the election, Texas might be Trump's to lose. But with the president's lead in the low single digits, the smart money play is probably to keep your Benjamins in your wallet.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.