Nearly six years ago, then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine was headed to Las Cruces, New Mexico — a battleground state in the 2010 midterms commanding national attention.
The city was less than an hour's drive from El Paso, and at least one staffer, western states director Ed Espinoza, was pushing for Kaine to make a detour to help Linda Chavez-Thompson, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. In Espinoza's telling, his bosses balked at the idea, but ultimately the proposal made its way to Kaine's desk.
Kaine chose to go.
"The decision was solely his, and he did it over objections from the staff above me," recalled Espinoza, now the executive director of the liberal group Progress Texas. "It was a time when the state wasn't feeling a lot of love from national Democrats."
It's stories like those that fill Texas Democrats' memories of Kaine, now a U.S. senator, as they prepare to welcome him to the state in a new role: the running mate for their presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Kaine is headlining the Clinton campaign's first major fundraisers in Texas since she wrapped up the nomination, with events planned Tuesday in Austin and Wednesday in Dallas and Fort Worth.
“To donors, he is a familiar guy, and when he was chair of the DNC, he showed up in Texas," said state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, a former mayor of Texas' capital city who has known Kaine since he was the mayor of Richmond, Virginia. "People got to see him, got to know him."
Back in 2010, Kaine went on to attend two events in El Paso, a campaign office opening and a canvass. Chavez-Thompson ultimately lost to GOP incumbent David Dewhurst by a massive margin, but party loyalists like Espinoza did not forget Kaine's help. Two years later, Espinoza was among the Texas Democrats who hosted a fundraiser in Austin for Kaine's Senate campaign.
This time around, the stakes are a bit higher. Clinton may have healthy leads on Trump in national and battleground polls, but her campaign is alerting its senior fundraisers about Trump's $80 million haul in July, including in an internal memo obtained by The Texas Tribune.
"This was far more than anyone expected - and should be a wake up call to all Hillary supporters," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook wrote in the memo, which was first reported by Politico. "We must redouble our efforts in the coming weeks."
Mook went on to urge fundraisers "to take seriously the threat that Donald Trump could outraise us," warning that his small-donor operation is only getting started and has plenty of room to grow. Mook also noted how Trump, a billionaire, "has the capacity to write his campaign an eight or nine figure check, which could single-handedly tilt things in his favor."
Clinton's top Texas fundraisers are getting the message.
"There’s still a lifetime in politics, even though it’s less than 100 days," said Dallas lawyer Regina Montoya, who has seen the memo. "No one can be complacent. You’ve got to work hard.”
Montoya is a "Hillblazer" in Texas, or a supporter who has bundled at least $100,000 for the primary and general election. As of June 30, Clinton's campaign was up to 27 Hillblazers in Texas out of a few hundred across the country and some overseas.
Trump has also been busy filling his campaign coffers with Texas dollars. After making a two-day fundraising swing through the state in June that raked in close to $8 million, he is due back Aug. 23 for finance events in Fort Worth and Austin, according to invitations.
Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., spent a day in the state last month in one of his first solo fundraising missions for his dad's campaign. The younger Trump, who raised almost $2 million between two fundraisers in Dallas and Houston, is expected to return before Election Day.
When Kaine touches down Tuesday in Texas, it will not just be to tap the ATM that Texas typically serves as in general elections. He will also hold a semi-public event in Austin to thank Clinton volunteers and promote her jobs plan, a somewhat unusual move that has some Texas Democrats buzzing that campaign sees an opening — however small — in typically beet-red Texas.
"We really feel like their combination, and of course their opponent, could lead to some seismic changes in Texas," said Austin architect Elliot Johnson, another Hillblazer. "I think that also carries over to the fundraising. I think you see a lot of people who weren’t involved in the primary are starting to donate."
“You have a lot of Republicans who really don’t know what to do with Donald Trump, some moderate Republicans," Johnson added.
Montoya said she has no doubt Kaine can lead the fundraising charge in Texas, especially when it comes to hearing out donors one-on-one. She recalled how Kaine, earlier this year at a Clinton phone bank in Nevada, "spoke in flawless Spanish to everyone there" – including at length with her 92-year-old dad.
"This is a guy that just oozes gentleman-ness," Montoya said, "just oozes the ability to listen to people."