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Texas Primary, And Its Massive Delegate Haul, Takes Shape For Super Tuesday


Texas - it's a big prize for the Democratic presidential candidates. Its 228 delegates will be up for grabs on Super Tuesday, now just six days away. Texas has a lot more ground to cover than the early states and a lot more voters to reach. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this report on the Lone Star primary.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: In an Oak Cliff parking lot in South Dallas, 50 Joe Biden supporters gather for a photo opportunity and to canvass for their man afterwards. Calvin Bluiett and Jerry Ellison, two retired African American gentlemen, chat by a pickup while waiting for things to begin. Bluiett supports Biden because he thinks Biden has the best chance to beat Trump and likes his politics both.

CALVIN BLUIETT: No matter, I'm not a liberal. I may be liberal on some issues, and that's why I support him. I hope he'll do better and win large in South Carolina, which I think he will.

GOODWYN: The turnout this morning comprises a thoroughly diverse group of Democrats - black, white and Hispanic - although nearly everyone is over 40. It would be overstating it to describe the mood as grim, but it's certainly sober. Here is newly elected State Senator Nathan Johnson trying to fire up the gathered supporters.

NATHAN JOHNSON: No question, he's the best, and the nation needs Joe Biden. And the thing that I find a little frustrating is I thought it was going to be easy. Joe Biden needs us, so the nation needs us to put Joe Biden in office.


GOODWYN: Across town, Mike Bloomberg's headquarters is dark and locked at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning, my car the only one in a big, empty parking lot.


GOODWYN: A bleary-eyed 30-something-year-old organizer comes to the door, the 12-hour workday showing on his face. Since he was hired on January 15, Cary Billings has not had one day off. Nearly 40 paid staff are in North Texas working for Mayor Bloomberg.

CARY BILLINGS: We have 19 field offices across the state, so we're making the most significant investment in the state of Texas that we have seen in modern presidential history, so we're making really good headway. We feel really confident about what we're building here, not only in Texas but across the nation.

SAHARE WAZIRALI: In a small house in a working-class neighborhood in East Dallas, Sahare Wazirali trains volunteers who are here to canvass for Elizabeth Warren.

WAZIRALI: Awesome. OK, so we're at the same spot now. So, basically, this is the list of addresses that we will be contacting.

GOODWYN: It's cool and misting outside, but a steady stream of women, young and not so young, walk up the sidewalk and knock on the front door with the big Warren sign.

MELISSA ODOM: Yeah. This is the first time that I've done anything like this.

GOODWYN: Melissa Odom's (ph) installed the Warren canvassing app on her cell, familiarized herself with the script somewhat and is nervously standing outside, about to go knock on doors by herself.

WAZIRALI: Awesome. How are you feeling? Feel good?

ODOM: Yeah.

WAZIRALI: You're going to do amazing.

GOODWYN: Odom quietly stole away from her house to volunteer for Warren.

ODOM: I did sneak out of the house. My husband voted Trump last time. He is a staunch Republican. We have very few political debates because it always ends up in a fight. So, yeah, I just told him today - I said I have somewhere I need to go. Plus, I said, I'm actually not going to tell you where I'm going. We'll debate it when we get back (laughter). So, yeah, he does not know where I am, but whatever.

GOODWYN: The latest polls in Texas have Mayor Buttigieg in single digits. But like Warren and Sanders, his supporters tend to be very enthusiastic. But if you want to find enthusiastic supporters, all you had to do was watch Bernie Sanders swing through Texas on the night of his Nevada caucus victory.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.

GOODWYN: In El Paso, San Antonio and Austin, his rallies were packed to the gunwales with Democrats.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ladies and gentlemen, the next president of the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders.


BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you, San Antonio.


SANDERS: Don't tell anybody. I don't want to get them nervous. We're going to win the Democratic primary in Texas.


GOODWYN: As much attention has been paid to the first four Democratic contests, the delegates awarded in Texas are a third larger than those four states combined. If their campaigns are to continue, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg must close the gap and win a good share of those Lone Star delegates.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.