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August 5th, 2020:

Morning Consult: Biden 47, Trump 46

Looks like maybe we’ll get a regular dose of these.

Democrats enter the peak of the campaign season with advantages that make their path to regaining control of the Senate easier for strategists and handicappers to envision alongside a Joe Biden victory, but new polling suggests that even a rout at the top of the ticket is unlikely to result in a filibuster-proof majority for the left in 2021.

Senate Republicans are outperforming their well-funded Democratic rivals in Kentucky and Texas, while the chamber’s most vulnerable Democrat, Doug Jones of Alabama, trails his Republican challenger, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, by double digits, according to the latest Morning Consult Political Intelligence polling of likely voters in four states conducted from July 24 through Aug. 2. In South Carolina, the data shows a virtually tied contest between Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — one of President Donald Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill — and Jaime Harrison, the former state Democratic Party chairman.

The four states are viewed as reaches for Senate Democrats this year, with handicappers rating them as less competitive than high-profile challenges against incumbent Republicans in places like Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina. Democrats need to win four seats held by Republicans, and retain all of their current seats, to take a clean majority, but would need much more to reach the 60-vote threshold that would enable them to push through a policy agenda without changing the chamber’s rules and eliminating the filibuster for legislation.

No Senate candidate is running statistically ahead of his or her party’s presumptive presidential nominee in the four states, mirroring Morning Consult findings from polls in three battleground states — Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina — released last week.

The biggest gap appears in Texas, where Biden and Trump are statistically tied, 47 percent to 46 percent.

MJ Hegar, an unsuccessful 2018 House candidate who recently emerged from a tough Democratic primary, underperforms Biden in the Lone Star State by 9 percentage points, with 38 percent support — 6 points behind Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who roughly matches the president’s vote share in the state with 44 percent support. That gap is driven by independents and Democrats, among each of whom Hager underperforms Biden by double digits.

See here for the previous Morning Consult poll, which had it at Biden 47, Trump 45. In re: the Senate poll, Hegar does a little worse among Dems than Cornyn does among Republicans (81-5 Dems for Hegar, 85-4 GOP for Cornyn), and 27% of the Independent sample is “don’t know”. I would just note that Cornyn is trailing Trump, which in a situation where Trump is in danger of losing the state ain’t so great for him. For what it’s worth, in 2018 I tracked eight polls of the Senate race from the beginning of June through August 2, and the polling average there was Cruz 46.1 and Beto 40.3, basically the same spread as Cornyn-Hegar in this poll. I believe this race is closer than what the public polls suggest, due partly to the closeness of the Presidential race, Cornyn’s inability to run clearly ahead of Trump, and Hegar’s lower profile. I admit, it would be nice to see the polls begin to reflect that belief. As for the Presidential race, the polling average stands at 45.8 for Trump to 45.4 for Biden over all fifteen polls, and 46.0 to 45.6 in favor of Biden for the eleven most recent polls. (The Texas Politics Project has a more comprehensive poll tracker going all the way back to last Feburary, if you’re into that sort of thing.) The next frontier, as noted by NPR, would be Biden getting to or over 50% in a poll of Texas. His high-water mark so far has been 48. But then, so has Trump’s.

We still suck at COVID data

I’m sure none of this is important.

The government’s official data on the coronavirus outbreak is startling: More than 4.6 million cases in the U.S. More than 440,000 in Texas. More than 70,000 in Harris County.

But those numbers don’t include all positive COVID-19 patients.

Texas, unlike 27 other states, excludes the results of increasingly popular, rapid COVID-19 tests from the numbers it reports publicly — obscuring the scope of the pandemic, records and interviews show. The antigen tests are used in doctor’s offices, hospitals and stand-alone clinics and deliver results in less than 30 minutes.

But conflicting guidance from the Texas Department of State Health Services created confusion among local health departments about what test results to report. A reliance on faxed test results has created a paper backlog that makes it impossible for the state to do its own tally.

And while there is no way to independently estimate the scope of the undercount, based on the 11 Texas counties that publish antigen tests results separately of their own accord, the state’s tally is short by at least tens of thousands of cases — but likely far more, a Houston Chronicle analysis found.

And the undercount is about to get worse. The federal government is rolling out a program to use thousands of antigen tests in nursing homes across the country — including Texas.

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, who serves as vice-chair of the House committee that oversees the state’s public health agencies, said the lack of reliable data is hindering the overall COVID-19 response effort in Texas.

“The only way people will be inspired to act right without government mandates is if they have the information they need to make smart choices,” Hinojosa told the Chronicle. “And that has been just impossible to come by.”

The problem, apparently, is that the state considers a positive antigen test to be a “probable” positive for COVID-19, not a definite positive. I mean, I figure a couple of data geeks could work out a decent solution for this in less than a day’s work, so color me baffled by the confusion here. And if you’re confused for other reasons, please note that antigen tests are different from antibody tests, which determine if you have had COVID-19 in the past, and thus should be in a separate category. It would be nice if we could get this all straightened out. The Trib has more.

Biden’s team in Texas

Get to it, y’all.

Joe Biden’s campaign is naming its first hires for the general election in Texas, where polls continue to show a close contest between the presumptive Democratic nominee and President Donald Trump.

Biden’s state director will be Rebecca Acuña, a veteran of the Texas Capitol and Democratic campaigns in the state. The deputy state director will be Jennifer Longoria, who led Elizabeth Warren’s campaign in Texas during the primary. Biden’s communications director in the state will be Tariq Thowfeek, a former Texas Democratic Party spokesman who has since worked for Facebook.

The team also includes two advisers who were involved early with Biden’s campaign in Texas during the primary. Mike Collier, the 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, will serve as senior adviser, while Jane Hamilton, Biden’s Texas state director during the primary, has been named strategic adviser.

The initial round of hires is rounded out by Houston political consultant Shekira Dennis, who will be director of coalitions.

The hires mark another sign of Biden’s commitment to Texas as the state increasingly looks like a November battleground. Trump carried the state by 9 percentage points in 2016, which was the smallest margin for a GOP nominee in Texas since 1996. All recent polls indicate the race will be much closer this time, and the Biden campaign has already made some moves to show its interest in the state, including airing its first general-election TV ads in Texas last month.

Yes, a state with such competitive polling plus a Senate race and much more deserves a real commitment from the candidate. I seem to recall basing my primary vote in part on the candidates’ willingness to invest in Texas. That turned out not to be a decisive factor, as multiple candidates seemed willing to make that commitment. I may regret saying this later when we’re all up to our noses in campaign ads, but it sure feels good to be in a state that the Democratic Presidential candidate is actively trying to win.

Our vaccination rates are down, too

I wish I had a snappy intro for this, but I just don’t.

The summer months are typically the busiest of the year in Dr. Kenya Parks’ office, a steady flow of parents trotting in their little ones to receive immunizations required for school attendance.

But the numbers are way down this year, one more casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s quite noticeable,” said Parks, a pediatrician with UTHealth and UT Physicians, the practice of doctors at the University of Texas’ McGovern Medical School in Houston. “Parents who usually pack our offices around now instead are putting off or canceling or just not showing up for appointments. They’re scared.”

Such fear is a primary reason for an average 44 percent drop in the number of doses administered in the Texas Vaccines for Children program during the early months of the pandemic, according to a new state report. The trend puts Texas at risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, a potential disaster when school starts up.

The drop is particularly high for immunizations for measles — 55 percent — the highly infectious disease declared eradicated in the United States 20 years ago but now experiencing a resurgence. The drop in doses administered is slightly higher in the Houston area, site of a measles outbreak in 2019 and identified in a study the same year as one of the nation’s hot spots, vulnerable to an even bigger outbreak.

The overall Texas trend is concerning because the state’s vaccination rates were bad even before the pandemic. The state last year failed to meet minimal national goals for eight of 11 immunizations and barely squeaked by for the three it did meet.

“It’s like we got an F in eight classes and a D- in three, and now things are getting worse, when we can least afford it,” said Allison Winnike, president of the Immunization Partnership, a Houston-based vaccine advocacy organization. “That’s why it’s crucial parents call their pediatricians, get their kids in for their vaccinations if they’re not up to date.”

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that this doesn’t seem to be the result of changing attitudes about vaccinations. It’s about fear of the virus, which is something we can be a bit more hopeful will change in the not-too-distant future. But this is also a real risk factor for reopening schools, which I haven’t seen any official acknowledgement of. Risking a COVID-19 outbreak to force in-person school at a predetermined date is bad enough. Risking a measles outbreak on top of that is even worse. You can blame the parents if you want for the decisions they’ve made – I for one would be more compassionate, but you do you – but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a thing that will need to be dealt with, and that’s likely going to require some time. Are Greg Abbott and the TEA even thinking about this?