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The 2020 race heats up in Texas as votes pour in

Nearly 7 million Texans have already cast their 2020 ballots—that’s around 70 percent of overall voter turnout in 2016. With races heating up at both the state and national level, KERA reporter Bret Jaspers joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the fight for the Lone Star state house, the tight Senate race and more, as part of our series, “Roads to Election 2020.”

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As part of our on-going series "Roads to Election 2020" we take a look at the Lone Star State of Texas where races there are heating up. There's been unprecedented turnout among early voters with 6.4 million Texans already casting their ballots as of last Thursday, according to the Texas secretary of state.

    I recently spoke with public media partner KERA reporter Bret Jaspers, who joined us from Dallas.

    Bret, I just have to check myself before I ask this question, is Texas actually close right now?

  • Bret Jaspers:

    Well, if you're a poll person, the latest poll is even in the presidential race. We've also had a lot of early voting. The early votes that have come in already, early and mail votes are 70 percent of the total turnout from 2016.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Do we know who these folks are that have come out?

  • Bret Jaspers:

    People who were or had voted in Democratic primaries more heavily turned out in the first few days of early voting. But then people voted in Republican primaries have caught up. Although there's quite a bit of new registered voters, like 1.8 million newly registered voters this time.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Let's look further down the ballot. Senator Cornyn's seat is up, there's, lots of representatives obviously are up again.

  • Bret Jaspers:

    Right. Senator Cornyn, who's been in the Senate for 18 years, is a Republican incumbent. His opponent is Democrat MJ Hegar. She, she's raising a lot of money in the last couple of months. In terms of the output that they're spending, it's relatively neck and neck, and she's really giving him a run for his money.

    The analysts, some say that Cornyn, his race, they think, will kind of track a couple of points difference maybe from the presidential race, but it'll track pretty closely to it.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What about on the state legislature level?

  • Bret Jaspers:

    That is actually the biggest political story in Texas this year, is the race for the state House for control of the state House.

    So back in 2018 Democrats gained 12 seats. Now, in order to re-take the state House they need to win another nine seats and retain all the ones that they have. So if the Democrats get that control of that chamber in the next round of redistricting, they'll actually have some influence or some ability to block the gerrymandering of the Republicans, which was so influential in 2010.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, the past couple of weeks it's been kind of a bizarre scenario of stories about how people in Texas are actually going to vote. If they wanted to put a ballot in, where would they go? It was kind of back and forth. One court after another overturned each other. Where do things stand today?

  • Bret Jaspers:

    Most of the lawsuits seem to have concluded. There was a challenge to the extended early voting period that was lost, so the Republican Party in the state wanted to push back against Governor Abbott's extension of early voting. They lost that lawsuit. But other lawsuits Republicans have, have won.

    For example, Governor Abbott restricted the number of places that a voter can drop off a ballot. He restricted that to just one place for the entire county, for example, Harris County, which has millions of people. That's where Houston is. And so that county is restricted to just one drop-off box.

    Whether or not that's going to be enough to kind of dampen people's spirits of voting, it's unclear. I talked to a woman earlier this week in Fort Worth, which is in north Texas, who said, you know, I'm going to get a couple of bottles of water and I'm going to bring some crackers and some chips and I'm going to sit, you know, go step by step until I actually get to my to the polling station. I don't care how long it takes me, I'm going to get there early on Saturday. So people are thinking about their plan to vote.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Well, it's good.

    What's driving most of the voters right now? Is it the presidential race, is the pandemic, the economic consequences? What's on top of mind?

  • Bret Jaspers:

    The pandemic is, has been quite important here. We did have an earlier time in the very, very beginning but then in June, there was a spike that people were really alarmed by.

    I would also say, healthcare is a big issue here. Texas has the largest uninsured rate in the country. The people who run the state have decided not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And that's an issue that comes up constantly, should we expand Medicaid? And I think those two issues together are motivating people quite a bit.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Bret Jaspers, KERA. Thanks so much.

  • Bret Jaspers:

    Thank you.

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