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Polls close, results uncertain after record vote in Texas

By PAUL J. WEBER Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Polls closed Tuesday in Texas after Election Day voters piled onto an already record turnout in the most unpredictable election in decades in America’s biggest red state.

President Donald Trump expressed confidence about Texas — which Republicans have carried in every presidential race since 1976 — but polls down the stretch suggested that Joe Biden still had a chance as Democrats saw unusual opportunity up and down the ballot in a state where they’ve been shut out for a generation.

A number of Texas congressional races were also battlegrounds, but there were no early surprises. Among them was Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a rising star in the GOP, winning a second term near Houston.

Nearly 10 million people had cast a ballot early even before Tuesday, and few problems were reported at polling places as scores of voters continued turning out. In Harris County, a crucial battleground home to more nearly 5 million people, election officials reported that at least another 190,000 more votes had been cast.

James Price, a 55-year-old fork lift driver from the suburb of Tomball, voted for Biden and believed that Democrats were on the brink of making a breakthrough in Texas after years of irrelevance.

“But it don’t matter whether it turns blue or red, green, purple. If these elected officials … cannot work together, this is not going to work. It don’t matter who flips what,” Price said.

Democrats, shut out of power in the Texas Capitol for a generation, were within reach of seizing the majority in the state House chamber for the first time in nearly 20 years — an outcome that would mark a new era in what has been America’s foremost factory of conservative legislation.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn was also taking seriously a challenge from Democrat MJ Hegar in what was coming down to a second surprisingly close U.S. Senate race in Texas in as many years. Even progressive congressional challengers who back the Green New Deal were presenting serious challenges to longtime GOP incumbents in districts that run through some of Texas’ most conservative counties.

Voters in Texas made their pick for president while holding negative views about the country’s direction, according to an expansive AP survey of the American electorate. AP VoteCast found that nearly three-fifths of Texas voters said the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction and about two-fifths said it is on the right track.

In Dallas, retired antiques dealer Cheryl North, 71, said she voted for Trump and every other Republican on the ballot.

“They didn’t have a place on the ballot where you could vote straight Republican but I just went through one at a time,” she said.

She said her biggest motivation to vote was “fear of my country becoming socialist and (I) just didn’t want that to happen.”

Texas has already surpassed the number of ballots cast in the 2016 election. Elections experts predicted the number of votes could surpass 12 million, which would amount to more than 70% turnout — a striking level for a state that was among the worst for turnout in 2016. Turnout among registered voters has not been above 60% in any presidential election sine 1992.

The avalanche of votes reflected high enthusiasm and signs that Texas, where Republicans have coasted in lopsided elections for decades, was rapidly transforming into a battleground.

In Hidalgo County, along the Texas-Mexico border, officials kept voting centers open an extra hour due to “laptop check-in issues” that delayed lines earlier.

The heavily Latino border lagged in early voting turnout behind other parts of Texas, and Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said his party’s decision to not knock on doors for much of the campaign because of COVID-19 worries hurt outreach efforts. Contacting voters by phone, Hinojosa said, is “only so effective.”

The road to Election Day in Texas was littered with legal battles over voting access in the middle of a pandemic. Whereas the vast majority of states are allowing widespread mail-in voting because of coronavirus fears, Texas is only one of five that refused, choosing instead to expand early voting by one week.

On Monday, a federal judge rejected a last-ditch effort by GOP activists to toss out nearly 127,000 votes in Houston that were cast at drive-in polling centers. Later Monday night, a federal appeals court panel denied the group’s request to halt drive-thru voting in Harris County on Election Day.

Polls suggested a closer-than-normal race in Texas — which Trump won by 9 points in 2016 — although the president gave little indication of outward concern. He didn’t campaign in Texas down the stretch, focusing instead on tossup battles in Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Biden did not campaign in Texas either — frustrating Texas Democrats who pleaded with the former vice president to make a bigger push with his chances here looking remarkably viable. He instead ran a relatively small campaign in Texas, and while vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris devoted one of the race’s final days to a swing through Texas, Biden left the heavy lifting to millions of dollars that Democrats poured into down-ballot races to oust vulnerable GOP state lawmakers and members of Congress.

Democrats need to flip just nine seats to take control of the state House for the first time since 2002. Doing so would give them a blockade against Republican measures on abortion, immigration and voting rights that have roiled the Texas Capitol for years. It also would give Democrats a say in the redistricting process.

Their targets include nine Republican-held districts in the Dallas, Houston and San Antonio areas that Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried in his narrow U.S. Senate loss in 2018.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.