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Analysis

Biden could win by just flipping a single state. Suddenly it’s in play

Joe Biden campaigned in Texas in March.
Joe Biden campaigned in Texas in March.Ron Jenkins/Getty

Ever since Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, Democrats have studied maps and data, strategizing on the most efficient way to defeat him in 2020.

As that election showed, Democrats could win the majority of votes in the country, but still lose the election in the Electoral College.

There are some complicated paths for victory for Democrats, some of which involve flipping as many as four states that went for Trump in 2016.

A simpler one is for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden to win all the states that Hillary Clinton won and then flip Florida and Arizona, which would get him 272 electoral votes and victory.

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But there is one scenario that only involves flipping one state — and then Biden is the next President of the United States. That state would be Texas. If Biden wins all of the states Clinton won and just flipped Texas, he would have exactly 270 electoral votes.

The Texas scenario is rarely talked about for a reason. Democrats haven’t won the state in a presidential election since 1976. And Clinton’s 9-point loss was the closest margin in 20 years. Nine points is a lot!

But ladies and gentlemen, Texas is now in play.

First, came a series of polls last month showing the head-to-head contest between Trump and Biden within the margin of error for the state’s 38 electoral votes.

Then came the announcement on Tuesday that Biden’s campaign was actually going to spend money to put television ads up in the state. It was a sign that Team Biden thinks the state is actually up for grabs. After all, talk is cheap, but where they actually spend their money actually shows what they are thinking.

The campaign said the minute-long ad, which is focused on the coronavirus response, has a modest six-figure buy of broadcast and digital ads in Texas along with similarly worded ones in Arizona, Florida and North Carolina. All of those states have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

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However, the fact that the campaign is now investing any money in Texas is raising eyebrows. The other states have long been established as swing states this cycle.

While Texas appears to be a close contest now, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be this fall. After all, the past month has been a particularly rough time for Trump in polls everywhere.

By the way, it is not just Trump’s unpopularity that is making Texas competitive. The Lone Star State has been becoming more Democratic over the last few election cycles. Democrat Beto O’Rourke lost by only 3 points to Republican Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections. And also that year, the Democratic nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general lost by less than five points to their Republican opponents.

Fueling this Democratic surge was both the growing number of college-educated white voters in the state’s major cities combined with a growing Hispanic population, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

But if Biden is able to make the state remotely competitive, a narrow loss could still have huge implications on national politics. Consider that next year Texas is expected to gain three new seats in Congress after the 2020 Census, the most of any state. Democrats are just a handful of seats from regaining control of the state Senate, which would give them significantly more power deciding where these districts should go.

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All of that said, there is a larger truth about Biden’s play for Texas. Namely, while he could just flip that state and be president, that is likely not to be what happens. After all, he is competitive in Texas at a moment when he is up by double digits over Trump nationwide.

Translation: if Biden does find a way to win Texas, that means he likely found a way to flip a whole lot of other states as well.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.