Leave it to AOC to tee up for someone to jab the Trumps. Spoken in Spanish…nonetheless.
The recent wave of progressive primary victories rolled into Texas on Tuesday evening, with Candace Valenzuela and Mike Siegel pulling into strong leads against centrist opponents for the chance to flip Republican-held suburban districts. In the Travis County district attorney race, José Garza, an immigrant rights activist and former public defender backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, ousted incumbent Margaret Moore. The Democratic national party’s pick for Senate, M.J. Hegar, meanwhile, found herself locked in a much closer fight than expected with Royce West, though by the end of the night, she appeared headed for a general election race against Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
With well more than half of the precincts reporting, Siegel was leading physician Pritesh Gandhi by 9 percentage points and declared victory around 10 p.m., Texas time. Valenzuela was up nearly 20 points over veteran Kim Olson, and also declared victory.
Computer engineer Donna Imam was leading Christine Mann, a physician who backed single-payer health care, by almost 14 percentage points in a race where the ideological lines were less clearly drawn.
The wins would be well-timed. Simply winning a handful of House races each cycle is nowhere near enough to change the structure of Congress fast enough to stave off cataclysmic climate change tipping points, to rescue the economy from a tailspin, or to address the unfolding health care crisis. But if the window for big legislative maneuvering opens in 2021, and House Democrats feel that their seats are in jeopardy if they don’t go big, the consensus within the party of what the most strategic move is could shift left.
SIEGEL, A CIVIL rights attorney who supports a Green New Deal and Medicare for All, first ran in 2018, when Democrats considered the district out of range, but surprised officials back in Washington by winning 47 percent of the vote. That blood in the water drew new candidates, notably corporate attorney Shannon Hutcheson, who was backed by EMILY’s List and was clearly the establishment favorite, even though she did not have the official backing of the DCCC.
But a super PAC backing Gandhi, 314 Action, spent heavily pounding away at Hutcheson, and she failed to make the runoff. The super PAC has continued to spend big — dropping close to $600,000 on the race — in the runoff. The PAC presents itself as pro-science, but endorsed John Hickenlooper, a champion of fracking, in Colorado, and Gandhi has called the Green New Deal and Medicare for All “fool’s gold.” 314’s main line of attack against Siegel is that his loss last cycle proves he is unable to win the general election. Ironically, of course, it was his surprisingly narrow defeat that coaxed Gandhi and Hutcheson into the race. The parallels with Levin’s 2018 race are notable, as Applegate, like Siegel, helped make the district competitive the cycle prior, and 314 Action helped power Levin over Applegate.
Sen. Kamala Harris had endorsed Gandhi, while Siegel had the backing of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Siegel’s outspoken civil rights record was a boon throughout June, as protests erupted after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Siegel noted that the district is more than just a stretch of suburbs, zeroing in on the closure of three rural hospitals in the district over the past 10 years. “We are in a district where the legacy of Jim Crow racism hangs heavy,” he said, noting the recent five-year anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland in the district.
The wave of protests also helped Valenzuela, who surged significantly following the March 3 primary. Last week, a survey, which was commissioned by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and conducted in July by Data for Progress, revealed a significant shift in the race, showing that Valenzuela was climbing, leading Olson by an 11-point margin. Early voting data from her campaign suggests that the surge was fueled by higher turnout among voters of color. If elected, Valenzuela would be the first Afro-Latina in Congress. And as someone who grew up homeless, at one point “sleeping in a kiddie pool outside a gas station,” Valenzuela would also be bringing this economic perspective to Congress, where many of the lawmakers are millionaires. She noted in her victory speech that, thanks to a newborn and another young child, “the majority of our campaign was run out of our master bathroom.”
Leading up to the March primary, Olson led the rest of the field in fundraising and as a retired Air Force colonel, fit the mold of the party’s preferred candidate. But her record, specifically that Olson was charged with war profiteering in Iraq, had the potential to be too big of a political liability in the general election, so the House Democrats’ campaign arm stayed out of the race. EMILY’s List, which doesn’t typically weigh in on races between two pro-choice women, backed Valenzuela.
Valenzuela also won endorsements from the Congressional Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Progressive Caucuses, and lawmakers like Warren and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. In the most recent fundraising quarter, The Intercept reported last week, Valenzuela outraised Olson, $465,000 to $438,000, with a smaller average campaign contribution.
Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project, ran on a progressive platform that focused on transforming the criminal justice system to decriminalize poverty. He was endorsed by Sanders, Warren, Julián and Joaquin Castro, the Austin DSA chapter, the Center for Popular Democracy Action, and the Working Families Party. One of the major highlights of Garza’s platform was a vow to treat substance abuse as a public health crisis and end the prosecution of low-level drug offenses, which he defined as the sale and possession of a gram or less of narcotics.
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