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In Houston, Tim Kaine Seeks To Energize Texas Democrats

Spike Johnson for The Texas Tribune
Virginia Senator and Democratic candidate for vice president Tim Kaine campaigns at the CWA Local Union in downtown Houston on Sept. 23, 2016.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine used a speech Friday here to try to energize long-beleaguered Texas Democrats, reiterating his ticket's commitment to seeing the solidly Republican state become more competitive. 

“We take Texas very seriously — Hillary and I do," Kaine said while addressing state Democrats. The U.S. senator from Virginia added: "We look at what you’re doing … and we’re very, very proud of it. We can feel the spirit, the energy. We can see a state that has been red, a state moving in the best direction."

With polls suggesting a tighter-than-expected race in Texas, the Democratic nominee's campaign has been paying more attention than normal to the state, opening offices and dispatching surrogates. On Friday, Kaine made clear the moves were not for show, building on an optimistic outlook for state Democrats that he first shared during a trip last month to the Lone Star State. 

'You Texas Democrats, you're the underdog'

In Houston, Kaine encouraged Texas Democrats, who have been shut out of statewide office for more than two decades, to keep in mind a philosophy he shares with Clinton: "I'm the underdog until they call me the winner." 

"You Texas Democrats, you're the underdog ... but if you had that in your head — 'I'm the underdog until they call me the winner' — that's the discipline that you need to do the best work," he said. 

In a statement this week on Kaine's Texas visit, the Republican National Committee took aim at the senator spending time away from Capitol Hill to campaign.

“While his Senate colleagues carry on with the important business of governing our nation this week, Tim Kaine clearly prefers performing his role as the Clinton campaign’s show pony to fulfilling his responsibilities as an elected official,”  said Natalie Strom, a spokeswoman for the committee.

Like he did during his previous swing through Texas, Kaine pointed to his home state as an example of a once-red state that turned a bluer tint with hard work. "You're going to see the same thing happen in Texas that we saw" in Virginia, Kaine said.

Kaine, who was introduced by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, was met by a lively crowd at the rally, which was held at a local union headquarters that the campaign is using as its Houston outpost. At multiple points, the audience broke out in chants of "Si se puede!" — or, "Yes, we can," the campaign slogan of the current Democratic president, Barack Obama. 

Kaine's rally came three days before Clinton, the former secretary of state, and Republican rival Donald Trump are set to meet for their first debate. While Kaine warned that the race is volatile, he expressed confidence that she would prevail at the debate, which is being held at Hofstra University in New York. 

"When the spotlights are at the brightest and the pressure is the most intense, that’s when she brings her A+ game," Kaine said.

Since August, Clinton's campaign has further zeroed in on Texas

Kaine last visited the state in August, when he made a two-day trip to raise money in Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth. He also held a volunteer thank-you event in Austin, declaring there that the Democratic ticket is "very serious about Texas."

Since then, Clinton's campaign has further zeroed in on the state. It has sent surrogates for public events in Austin and Dallas, including Kaine's wife, Anne Holton, and Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards. The campaign has also joined with the Democratic National Committee to open at least four offices in the state, with another one on the way Saturday in Dallas. 

Kaine's trip to Texas began Thursday evening, when he landed in Houston for a fundraiser whose hosts included Jackson Lee as well as Democratic megadonors Amber and Steve Mostyn. The event also featured a performance by Grammy Award-winning singer Michael Bolton. 

After the Houston rally Friday, Kaine was scheduled to head to Austin for two more fundraisers. Shortly before Kaine took the stage in Houston, the Clinton campaign announced he will make a previously unscheduled stop in Texas' capital city: an appearance at a news conference hosted by Latino elected officials.

The Texas Tribune provided this story. 

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood and Amber and Steve Mostyn have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.