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September 7th, 2020:

UT-Tyler/DMN: Trump 48, Biden 46

Here’s our first post-convention poll from an outfit that has polled the state at least twice so far this year.

Texas remains a toss-up in the presidential race. But Democrat Joe Biden’s modest – and somewhat startling – lead over President Donald Trump has evaporated in the last two months.

From a 5-point edge in early July, Biden now lags Trump by 2 points among likely Texas voters in a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler.

Trump’s lead is 48-46.

That turnaround is sure to gladden the hearts of Republicans, who have no hope of controlling the White House without Texas.

But as Trump has clawed his way back into contention just in time for the post-Labor Day sprint, Sen. John Cornyn has lost ground against Democrat MJ Hegar. His lead now stands at 11 points, down from 13 in early July.

But nearly 3 in 10 voters remain undecided, making for a potentially volatile fall.

“Trump is ahead,” said political scientist Mark Owens, who directed the poll, adding that the fates of the two Republicans at the top of the ticket are closely entwined. “Trump is helped by Cornyn.”

The poll, conducted Aug. 28 to Sept. 2, surveyed 1,176 registered voters. Of those, 901 said they are “extremely likely” to vote in November. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.87 percentage points for the bigger group, and 3.22 points for the subset of likely voters.

The news is better for Biden among registered voters, and since elections hinge on enthusiasm and turnout, it’s worth paying attention to all potential voters and not just those who are already sure to cast ballots.

Biden leads 44-43 with that broader group, though he led by 5 points two months ago.

See here for polling data, which for the first time contains demographic breakdowns of the data. I’ll get to that in a minute. The July poll had Biden up 48-43 among “likely” voters and 46-41 among registered voters. That was easily the biggest lead any poll had shown for Biden, so it seems likely it was a bit of an outlier. The April poll was just RVs and had a tied race, 43-43.

Some fascinating results in the data. Greg Abbott’s approval rating is a solid 54-33, right in line with his July rating. Abbott saw a dip in his approval ratings during the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak in July and August, but there wasn’t that much polling data that included an approval rating for him, so it’s hard to say how much of an effect there really was. Dan Patrick’s approval rating is a much lower 42-45 (he was at 37-37 in July), and Trump has a 40-38 rating, with 22% of respondents, including 22% of Democrats, saying they neither approve nor disapprove. Imagine me sitting here with my mouth hanging open, because that makes no sense at all.

It’s impossible for me to take very seriously a polling result that has both candidates in the 30s and 20s, with 30% or more of the respondents being not sure. Even the “Likely Voter” sample for the Senate race has Cornyn up 39-28, with 28% not knowing. Yet somehow, the result for the question about voting for the “Democratic or Republican candidate for the Texas State House” is 49-48 Dem for RVs and 48-49 for LVs. Seems to me the party preference at this level is going to tell you more about the party preference at the higher levels than anything else.

Interestingly, Biden does better among Likely Voters of color than RVs of color. He’s at 53-26 among Hispanic RVs and 75-10 among Black RVs, but at 58-28 and 87-9 in the LV screening. Make of that what you will. Trump goes from 57-34 among white RVs to 60-35 for white LVs, and 54-41 among white LVs with a college degree, which is better for him than elsewhere in the country, and 68-27 among whites with no college degree. The same thing happens with the “Democratic or Republican candidate for the Texas State House” question – it’s 67-33 Hispanic, 85-15 Black, and 37-56 for Dems among RVs, but 71-28, 90-10, and 36-64 for likely voters. Again, make of this what you will.

There are still many pollsters to be heard from, including UT/Texas Tribune, Quinnipiac, PPP, Fox News, and CBS News. It gets a little trickier tracking the data because now there are more likely voter results, which may or may not also include RV results. We’ll do the best we can. Remember, it’s never one poll result that matters, whether you like that result or not. It’s the aggregate, and as far as that goes, this remains a close race.

Politico profile of Lina Hidalgo

Good stuff.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

In late April, Lina Hidalgo stood at a microphone in the Harris County emergency operations center in Houston and pushed up the teal fabric face mask that had slipped off her nose. Her voice was slightly muffled as she spoke. Next to her, an American Sign Language interpreter translated for an audience that couldn’t see her lips. But there was no need to worry her message would be lost. Soon it would become the subject of debate across the country—and so would she.

Hidalgo, the county judge of Harris County—the top elected official in the nation’s third-largest county—announced that millions of people in the Houston area would be required to wear a face covering in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus. People who didn’t comply would risk a fine of up to $1,000. Behind her, charts and graphs told the statistical story that had led Hidalgo to this moment. Since early March, when the state’s first case of Covid-19 had been identified in Houston, the urban heart of Harris County, the number of infected people in the county had climbed to 3,800. That day, the death toll stood at 79 and Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, warned that number could “exponentially increase.”

Hidalgo had been bracing for the disease for weeks. She had sought advice from officials in King County in Washington state, the nation’s first hot spot. Armed with their insight, she rallied her own emergency management and public health officials to prepare a response and on March 16 ordered the closure of bars and restaurant dining rooms. Initially, state officials followed suit. Three days after Hidalgo’s order, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a public health disaster for the first time in more than a century. Texans huddled indoors. But by early April, pressure was mounting on Abbott to end the lockdown. Hidalgo was pulling the other way.

You know what happened from there. You should read the whole thing, it’s mostly stuff you already know but it’s deeply satisfying to see someone who’s been right about the virus in all the ways that matter and who’s been the target of some vicious, racist insults as a result of her being right about it get her due. I’m going to highlight two other bits here:

“The perils of straight-ticket voting were on full display Tuesday in Harris County,” the Chronicle’s editorial board clucked. “Longtime County Judge Ed Emmett, a moderate Republican who’s arguably the county’s most respected official, was ousted by Lina Hidalgo, a 27-year-old graduate student running her first race.”

“We hope she succeeds,” the editorial continued, “but residents can be forgiven for being squeamish about how Hidalgo will lead the county and, by extension, the region’s 6 million people, through the next hurricane.”

I can understand the initial apprehension about a political newcomer taking over as County Judge, and I can understand some unease at it happening as part of a partisan wave. But I guess I’m just going to die mad about all the pearl-clutching over straight-ticket voting, which casts a whole lot of people as mindless automatons instead of individuals who made a choice. That choice in 2018 was to vote for change, and to vote against Donald Trump. One can admire Ed Emmett for his competence, his compassion, his deep concern for Harris County and its residents, and still disagree with him on principles and priorities, and want to see our county government move in a different direction. The sheer condescension in that first paragraph will never not annoy the crap out of me.

“I expect for some Texans it’s a little hard to take that a young Latina who earned her citizenship, as opposed to being born here, has the level of authority that she has,” one of her advisers, Tom Kolditz, told me. “She absorbs every criticism, she listens to every racial dog whistle, she puts up with ageist comments about what her abilities are or are not.”

[…]

Re-opening schools has emerged as another battleground. Hidalgo has taken a position that is consistent with her aggressiveness throughout the pandemic. On July 21, she ordered all school districts in Harris County to delay opening schools for in-person learning for at least eight weeks. Wearing a floral face mask at a recent press conference, her curly hair longer than normal due to the pandemic, she urged the community to work together “until we crush this curve.”

“Then, we can responsibly bring your kids back to school,” she said. “Right now, we continue to see severe and uncontrolled spread of the virus and it would be self-defeating to open schools.”

A familiar chorus of criticism from state and federal Republicans followed quickly. Rep. Crenshaw, among others, has beat the drum that schools must open. And a week after Hidalgo’s announcement, the Texas attorney general said that local health authorities can’t close schools to preemptively prevent the spread of Covid-19. The Texas Education Agency, which oversees public education in the state, announced it wouldn’t fund schools that closed under such orders.

Kolditz, Hidalgo’s adviser and a retired Army brigadier general, has framed the pandemic like a war that can’t be won without a common objective and unity. When Hidalgo was empowered to call the shots in Harris County the pandemic was relatively under control, he said. Since Abbott undermined that, “it’s been a disaster.”

“We’re going to wake up from this pandemic and be stunned by how many lives were wasted by bad leader decisions, and she is not a part of that,” he said.

Hidalgo has largely tried to avoid making the pandemic into a political fight, but she is not naïve about the political implications of every decision. “If we do the best we can and, politically, that wasn’t appropriate for people and I’m not re-elected in two years, I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll be able to sleep at night.”

I mean, we could listen to the person who’s been consistently right, or we could listen to the people who have been consistently wrong. Seems like a clear choice to me, but what do I know?

How are things at college these days?

About as can be expected.

Students at a Baylor University dormitory are required to “reside in place” after a spike in positive coronavirus cases in a campus dormitory.

Baylor officials wrote in a letter to the community that the number of positive COVID-19 cases within Martin Hall increased from five to 21 cases within three days. All Martin Hall residents on the two affected floors — about 80 of 250 students — were notified about the next steps and university officials asked students to not leave their respective floor for four days.

Other Texas campuses also saw an increase of positive cases following the return to campus in mid-August.

Two people living in on-campus dorms have tested positive at the University of Texas at Austin, according to UT spokesman J.B. Bird. Since the beginning of August, 37 positive cases have been reported at UT.

[…]

Since dorms opened on Aug. 20, eight students and five UT faculty and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, but it is unclear how many of those individuals live in on-campus facilities or are working on campus.

The UT flagship has reported 493 COVID-19 cases since March 1 on its dashboard, which tracks the number of cases of the virus.

Baylor now plans to conduct daily rapid testing and assessment of symptoms and complete contact tracing. All positive cases have been isolated and are no longer in the dorm, university officials said. And residents on other floors were asked to not visit any of the upper floors and to contact Baylor Health Services to schedule COVID-19 testing.

In the meantime, Baylor also hopes to “tailor its response” to the outbreak without requiring a full quarantine for the residence hall. The university launched “weekly surveillance testing” Monday, which will conduct ongoing testing of 5 percent of the campus at random.

Additionally, officials reminded its campus community to wear face coverings, maintain social distance, upkeep hygiene and hand sanitizing, and to monitor for any COVID-19 symptoms.

The outbreak is just a fragment of the 645 positive cases at Baylor since the beginning of August, according to the university’s dashboard. The dashboard, updated daily at 3 p.m., showed that of those cases more than 450 are still active, and about 400 of those cases were produced in the last week.

It’s just two schools, so we shouldn’t rush to conclusions, but other schools around the country have had major outbreaks and caused all kinds of disruptions. The fact is, you’re bringing a lot of people into a relatively small geographic area, into mostly indoor spaces, with loads of opportunities for in-person gatherings. What did you think was going to happen? To be sure, if I were a college student, I’d rather be on campus with my friends and hope for the best, rather than continue to quarantine somewhere and pay tuition for online classes. As with everything else, if we’d done a better job – or, really, any job at all – combatting the virus at the national level, we’d be in a much better position today than we are. Ain’t happening with the current President, or the current Governor. Someday, hopefully soon, but not now.