Joe Biden narrowly leads Donald Trump in Texas, early returns show. Many historically conservative counties haven’t yet reported.

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Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop in Dallas on March 2, 2020. Credit: Cooper Neill for The Texas Tribune

Joe Biden leads early returns in the Texas presidential race as polls showed him in a surprisingly tight race with Donald Trump in a state that has not elected a Democratic presidential candidate statewide for over three decades. A majority of the state’s 191 rural counties — which have historically leaned conservative — are not represented in these returns.

By early Tuesday evening, Biden held a marginal lead over Trump — 50.7% to 48% — based on returns from early voting, Decision Desk data showed. Early returns don’t include votes cast on Election Day itself. Polls suggest that Republicans are more likely to vote in person on Election Day than Democrats.

Biden, speaking to reporters this afternoon in Wilmington, De., after hours of campaigning in Pennsylvania, acknowledged the surprising nature of recent statewide polls that put him in a close race against Trump.

“You can’t think of an election in the recent past where so many states are up for grabs,” Biden said. “The idea I’m in play in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida — I mean, come on.”

Decision Desk called Florida for Trump relatively early on Tuesday evening.

Biden’s marginal lead on Tuesday night came after several election prognosticators argued Texas was a swing state for the first time in decades. Various polls over the last month showed Biden narrowly winning the state and others with Trump up by single-digit margins. In 2016, Trump won Texas by 9 points — the smallest margin of victory for a Republican nominee in the solidly red state in two decades.

The presidential race had excited the state’s Democrats, buoyed by polls showing Biden with small but durable leads in Texas. A Democratic presidential candidate has not won statewide in Texas since 1976. While few in the party anticipated Biden would win Texas on Tuesday, they expressed hope that a close enough margin could help down-ballot candidates and lay the foundation for future Democratic gains across the state.

Unlike 2016, neither presidential candidate made an all-out play for Texas: Neither Trump nor Biden visited the state before Election Day, and Trump didn’t spend any money on TV ads in the state. Biden, meanwhile, had a small on-the-ground presence and sent surrogates to Texas to campaign on his behalf in October. Over the weekend, Biden’s running mate, California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, visited McAllen, Houston and Fort Worth; Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez completed a statewide swing through Texas on Monday.