EDINBURG — Democrats sent the big guns to South Texas on the last day of early voting for a star-studded event that included vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, the Castro twins, and Beto O’Rourke, and though they were greeted by hundreds of supporters outside the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, they also collided with the Trump train.
California Sen. Kamala Harris landed at McAllen Miller International Airport at about 3:30 p.m. Friday and spent nearly 30 minutes trying to rally Valley voters outside the university, where she outlined some of the major points her party has been stressing.
“What’s up Rio Grande? It’s so good to be with you. It’s good to be in the Valley,” she said as she walked around the stage in white Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers that donned a 2020 logo on them. “You are going to make the difference. This election is about you.”
Harris likely repeated a variation of that sentence at least two more times that day while making similar stops in Fort Worth and Houston.
Democrats believe they can flip Texas blue and are spending their last-minute efforts focused on doing so.
When Harris was asked about the sudden focus on Texas and whether it could be flipped, she replied, “Our focus is on every state, and the reality is, Joe and I feel very strongly that we have to earn the vote of the American people, and that means being responsive to their needs and being everywhere that we could possibly be.”
When asked specifically why South Texas made the cut, Harris spoke of the people.
“Because there are people here who matter, people who are working hard, people who love their country and we need to be here and be responsive to that. So that’s why we are here, because there are a lot of important people in South Texas,” Harris said.
Still, the attention the region has received from the Democratic Party during this election has been rare in the past, and many believe it may have something to do with the growing support for President Donald Trump along the border.
That enthusiasm was palpable Friday as hundreds of Trump supporters tried to drown out speeches from behind a fence a couple hundred feet away. Police, however, stopped protestors from reaching the grounds.
Harris began her speech by talking about COVID-19 and the health disparities among Latinos.
“Honk if you know anybody who has diabetes. Honk if you know anybody who has high blood pressure, lupus, breast cancer,” she said, prompting a raucous response from the crowd.
“Any real leader must acknowledge the racial disparities that exist in America and deal with them, deal with what we need to handle in our public healthcare system when African-Americans and Latinos are three times (more) likely to contract COVID and twice as likely to die from it,” she later said.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who took the stage before Harris, once again noted the Valley makes up about 4.8% of the state’s population, but accounts for about 18.5% of all of its COVID-19 deaths.
“That is unacceptable, my people,” Gonzalez said.
Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio congressman, spoke candidly about his family’s experience with the disease.
“My dad dropped off my stepmom at the hospital on his 80th birthday, on June 14th of this year, and that was the last time that he saw her. She passed away a few weeks later,” he said. “And when his wife passed away, nobody could be with him cause he was COVID-19 positive. And you know this kind of story very well because there are many families here in the Rio Grande Valley who sadly have been among the almost 230,000 families that have been affected by a death in their family because of COVID-19.”
And though immigration is a hot-button issue in the region, it took Harris more than 20 minutes to mention it.
“When this administration has orphaned 545 children because of a policy that has been about separating children from their parents at the border, everything is at stake,” she said. “When we are looking at the fact that 200,000 of our frontline workers have been Dreamers who were promised DACA protection, everything is at stake.”
Her colleagues, however, made sure to drive that point home when they addressed the crowd.
“It is also our communities, here in the Valley and in my hometown of El Paso, that have borne the worst of Trump’s cruelty: kids in cages,” O’Rourke said. “Little babies torn from the arms of their mothers, literally, separated without ever knowing when or if they will ever see each other again. Hundreds of families still unable to find each other and that’s why Biden-Harris, when they’re president and vice president, are going to make it priority number one to reunite those families.”
Harris touched on everything from racial injustice to criminal justice reform to climate change, urging voters to support their agendas.
“So Rio Grande … there’s a lot that we need to deal with, and these are many of the issues that are in play during this election,” she said, later adding, “This moment will pass. And one day in the future our children, our grandchildren, others, are going to look in our eyes and they will ask us, ‘Where were you at that moment?’ And what we are going to tell them is, ‘We were hanging out at UT Rio Grande Valley this Friday afternoon on the last day of early voting.’”