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Democrats Hope To Compete In Deep Red Parts Of Texas This Year

May 22, 2018
Originally published on May 22, 2018 8:27 pm
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As voters go to the polls in Texas this year, they're seeing something they haven't encountered in a generation - a Democratic Party that's making an effort to win all across the state. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Sometimes a wave election looks like a candidate running his campaign off a laptop in a coffee shop.

STEVEN DAVID: I ran actually because of the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

DETROW: Steven David is the Democrat running against Republican Kevin Brady in the Texas 8th. It's one of the most Republican-leaning districts in the country, and usually Democrats don't bother to field a candidate. But this year, the party has someone running in every single Texas House district. David conducts performance and financial audits for the city of Houston.

DAVID: And so I go into these departments. We sit down. We figure out what they do, why they do it, what legislation affects what they do. But also, how do you spend your budget? Are you doing it as efficiently as possible? And are there ways to squeeze?

DETROW: Looking at the facts, dealing with financial limits, the kind of things David says Congress and the federal government have long abandoned. Analyzing his own statistical realities, David knows it's a long-shot effort.

DAVID: At the lowest level, what I want is I want a dialogue that Kevin Brady absolutely has to respond to.

DETROW: In order to win, David would need to convince a disproportionate amount of Democrats to be motivated enough to show up and hope an equal number of Republicans don't bother voting. The thing is in certain types of wave years, that's exactly what happens.

JOE TRIPPI: There may be more surprises in November '18 than we've seen in the past elections.

DETROW: Joe Trippi is a longtime Democratic strategist who helped orchestrate one of the most dramatic upsets in recent memory, Democrat Doug Jones' 2017 Senate victory in Alabama. He says just bothering to field candidates in deep-red districts goes a long way for Democrats. Representative Ben Ray Lujan runs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He says Democrats have been surpassing expectations in special election after special election and insists some of the long shots like Steven David could pull off an upset.

BEN RAY LUJAN: We saw out in western Pennsylvania Conor Lamb won in a district that President Trump won by 20. We saw in a special election in Arizona, where President Trump won in a district with over 21, that came down to a five-point race.

DETROW: Lujan's optimism doesn't cost much when it comes to districts like the 8th, where all he and other national leaders have to do is cheer on grass-roots campaigns. The test is more in districts like the Texas 31st. Republicans typically win by 20 or 30 points in the district stretching north from Austin, but it's made the list of official Democratic competitive districts. That means the party is devoting resources, staff and money to trying to win there. Lujan insists it's doable.

LUJAN: It's in the suburbs. It's growing fast. And it's causing demographic shifts. There's also a sizable minority population.

DETROW: The Texas 31st is one of several reach districts Democrats have added to their extensive list of battleground seats. At a time when Republicans feel like they're regaining confidence and as President Trump's approval rating keeps ticking up, the broadening Democratic battleground map could come back to haunt the party kind of like how in October 2016 Hillary Clinton found the time to campaign in traditionally red states...

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HILLARY CLINTON: Hello, Arizona.

DETROW: ...But ended up losing in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Lujan says it's important to compete against Republicans in as many districts as possible. For months, sign after sign has pointed to a big Democratic victory this fall. As Republicans begin to feel like they're clawing their way back into a competitive race, Lujan and other top Democrats are sticking to their optimism, and so are the party's long-shot candidates. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.