Texas Is a Tossup. So Why Won’t Trump or Biden Campaign There?

A victory by the Democrats would herald the arrival of a formidable multiracial coalition in the country’s largest red state.

By Jonathan Martin

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — When Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spoke with President Trump on the phone last week, he congratulated the president on his debate performance, nudged him to keep driving policy-oriented attacks against his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and relayed one more message.

“We have a fight” in Texas, Mr. Cruz said he told Mr. Trump, warning him that the country’s second-largest electoral prize was in play and that he should take it seriously. In an interview, Mr. Cruz said he expected the president to win here — but that he also saw the same surging liberal energy in his state that had propelled Beto O’Rourke to a closer-than-expected defeat against him two years ago.

“There’s no doubt that it’s a real race,” said the senator, echoing a similar case Mr. O’Rourke made to Mr. Biden earlier this month in their own phone conversation.

But it’s not clear if Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden fully believe it.

They may be on opposite sides of the partisan divide, but Texas Republicans and Democrats alike believe the long-awaited moment has arrived: The state is a true presidential battleground, and either candidate could prevail next week.

Although a Democrat has not carried Texas since 1976, recent public and private polls suggest a highly competitive race, with some surveys showing Mr. Biden up narrowly and others showing Mr. Trump enjoying a small lead.

Yet even as leading figures in both parties urge their respective presidential nominees to take Texas seriously, the campaigns are still reluctant to spend precious remaining time and money there. Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Biden is expected to appear in the state before the election, the president has not spent a cent on television commercials, and until this week Mr. Biden had resisted advertising in Texas’ two largest markets, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Though the state isn’t essential to a Biden victory, Democrats have been more aggressive here. Mr. Biden is dispatching his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, to Texas on Friday, and Democrats have also planned a multicity bus tour across the state. A pair of Democratic billionaires, Dustin Moskovitz and Michael R. Bloomberg, have separately poured money into the state at the 11th hour.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican facing his own difficult race against M.J. Hegar, said Wednesday that “the thing that worries me the most” is the Democrats’ late spending, predicting that he would be “outspent by more than 2-to-1.”

The stakes here are, well, Texas-sized.

A Biden win would doom Mr. Trump’s chances for re-election. More significantly, it would herald the arrival of a formidable multiracial Democratic coalition in the country’s largest red state. That would hand the Democrats an electoral upper hand nationwide and all but block Republicans from the White House until they improve their fortunes with college-educated white voters, younger people and minorities.

It’s those demographics that are imperiling Mr. Trump in Texas.

Recent polls, soaring early vote participation in the state’s most populous counties, and more than 50 interviews with Texans in three pivotal regions point to an increasingly competitive race because of a spike in turnout by an electorate that is diverse, loathes the president and makes a mockery of his pistols-and-petroleum stereotype of the state.

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