With polls showing a tight presidential race in Texas, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro exhorted Latinos "to come out and vote" while also urging more national Democratic investment in the state.
Castro, speaking on a pre-debate video conference call and in an NBC News interview, said the election is changing the electoral map, with the 78 electoral votes of Arizona, Texas and Florida at the center of it, including 38 from Texas, which he said is undergoing a "metamorphosis."
"What may emerge after this election is a new electoral map where Latinos are in the driver's seat like never before," Castro, who was the only Latino presidential candidate in the 2020 race, said in the interview.
That would mean a stronger voice for the Latino community, but it also ups the responsibility for Hispanics to turn out.
"I want to challenge the Hispanic community of Texas to get out there and to vote. If you live in my hometown of San Antonio, if you live in the Rio Grande Valley, if you're out here in North Texas, wherever you are at, the Hispanic community has so much at stake in this election that we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines," Castro said.
"Too many people are out of work. Too many small businesses are closed down. Too many immigrant families have been terrorized by the Trump administration. We have to get off the sidelines, and we have to go vote now," he said.
The state's official tally shows that as of Thursday, more than 5.88 million Texans had voted early, either in person or by absentee ballot. Texas allows only people who are sick, who will be out of town on Election Day or are over 65 to vote by mail. The state has been involved in several disputes over voting, including an attempt to end drive-thru voting, which was implemented to ease fears of Covid-19.
A Morning Consult poll released Thursday showed the race split in Texas, at 48 percent for Joe Biden and 47 percent for President Donald Trump. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday showed the candidates tied at 47 percent.
Castro has spoken for years of the Democrats' future traveling through the nation's Sunbelt, connecting with more diverse voters in Arizona, Texas, Florida and Georgia.
On the conference call, Castro said he hopes there will be more investment in Texas in the final 12 days before Election Day on Nov. 3, "because this is it."
"It's crunch time," he said.
The Biden campaign reserved $6 million in TV advertising time in Texas, and it has also been spending on mailers and digital advertising in the state. The state party, which got more money from the national party this year than it had in several other years, has been spending not just to support Biden but also to assist candidates in several competitive congressional races and in an attempt to flip the Legislature.
Castro said he recognizes the importance of locking down the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and he said those should be the priority. But with the tight presidential race and Democrats leading in some down-ballot races in traditionally Republican Texas districts, "that's too much to ignore," he said.
"The resources and investment ought to be made in this state," he said, "because to win Texas is not to win an election. It's to win on the issues that matter in this election, it's to send a strong message that Donald Trump can't deny, and it will remake the electoral map to the benefit of Democrats everywhere."
The investment would be not only for winning the presidential race but also to remake the electoral map with a majority that would carry the Democratic Party for decades, he said.
No Democrat holds statewide office in Texas, as has been the case for more than a couple of decades.
Republicans in Texas could generally rely on winning 30 percent to about 44 percent of Latino votes, depending on the race. As soon as next year, Latinos could be Texas' largest population group; because Hispanics are younger than the rest of the population, the number of Latinos eligible to vote grows every year.
Democratic former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who lost a tight race to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, advised Biden on the call with Castro: "Tell us you're coming to Texas."
"I think that would electrify this state, again, that is performing so well," he said.
Castro has been active in campaigning for Biden, attending 30 events and fundraisers since June, conducting numerous national interviews as a Biden surrogate and recently recording ads that are soon to be released.
Much of what Castro has done has been virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic, but he returned to the campaign trail last weekend and was headed back to Arizona and Colorado this weekend.
Castro said he expects to be traveling in Texas and hopes to travel in the Rio Grande Valley and the Interstate 35 corridor, as well.
On Wednesday, former President Barack Obama campaigned for Biden in Philadelphia, slamming Trump in a fiery speech that also emphasized the multiracial makeup of the party's base — and the sort of coalition that won Obama two terms in the White House.