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This is our most “run everywhere” election ever

We already knew this, and have quantified it in a number of ways, but it’s still worth taking a moment to marvel at the surge of Democratic candidates this year.

Lisa Seger

Before she could talk about her campaign for the Texas House of Representatives, Lisa Seger needed to check on her goats. Seger, who lives with her husband and 30 goats on a farm 40 minutes outside of Houston, had a doe in the maternity stall that was due any minute. “Spring is kidding season,” she explained.

If elected, the 47-year-old Seger, a sustainable agriculture proponent who got into farming after reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, would likely be the only member of the legislature with her own brand of yogurt. But what makes her so unusual in the state’s third district isn’t her background, it’s her party—Seger is the first Democratic candidate to run for the seat since 2010, when the Republican incumbent Cecil Bell Jr. was first elected. Seger’s state senator also ran unopposed in her last election.

“I couldn’t remember the last time I was even able to vote for a Democrat in one of our elections here,” Seger says.

In West Texas, two millennial friends, Armando Gamboa, a 25-year-old from Odessa, and 24-year-old Spencer Bounds of Midland, decided to run for neighboring state house districts where Democrats have been AWOL for at least a decade. No one has run in Gamboa’s district since 2004; Bounds’ opponent is a 50-year incumbent who last faced a Democrat in 2008.

Seger, Gamboa, and Bounds are part of a trend. Call it the “Virginia Effect”: A little more than a year after the inauguration, Democrats in deep-red districts are running for office at a historic clip, determined to find and turn out progressive voters in places where no one has competed in years. It’s a sign that the enthusiasm that swept progressive activists in the first year of the Trump administration and led the party to big gains in the Old Dominion and elsewhere in 2017 is still burning heading into the midterm elections. These local races, flying mostly under the radar, could also give a party struggling for relevance in large swaths of the country a quiet boost this fall.

I should note to begin that my wife is friends with Seger, and we are regular buyers of her farm’s goat cheese. Let’s be clear that Seger, Gamboa, and Bounds are running in really tough districts – Donald Trump got 75.2% in HD03, 70.3% in HD81 (the one in Odessa), and 75.7% in HD82 (Midland, and yes that’s Tom Craddick’s district). I don’t know what set of circumstances might be needed to win one of these races, but it would not be something I would expect. That said, there are three obvious reasons why what these folks are doing is important:

– Their odds of winning may be minimal, but they are still greater than zero. You can’t beat something with nothing, and having no candidate to run is the definition of “nothing”.

– Having local candidates to vote for – remember, everyone will have a Democratic Congressional candidate on their ballot this year as well – gives people in these “can’t remember the last time I had a Democrat to vote for” places a reason to show up and vote. Beto O’Rourke is doing a great job getting out to places that seldom if ever get visited by a Democratic candidate, but it’s still the case that someone in Odessa or Midland or the nether regions of Montgomery County is more likely to have their door knocked by one of these three. If we want Beto and maybe some other statewide candidates to win, they’re going to have to do better in these places than previous Dems have done as well as better in the big cities.

– Long term, of course, things can and do change – remember, Republicans were once an extreme minority in Texas. They built up their base one election at a time, competing and eventually winning in places where they had once not existed. There’s no reason why Democrats can’t do well in the not-quite-as-big cities like they do in the big cities, but it’s not going to happen by itself.

That latter point about the medium-sized cities is one I’ve mentioned before – I mentioned it and covered a lot of this same ground in that Rural Dems post – and one I think deserves a lot more thought and effort, but I don’t want to sidetrack this post. What I do want to do to finish this up is to note that right now, Democratic legislative candidates are not doing so hot in fundraising. Some of that as I noted before is due to late entrances, some is due to the zealous focus on the Congressional races as well as Beto’s butt-kicking in that department, and some of it is because the rest of us aren’t paying much attention to State House races. Which, not to state the obvious, we need to do a lot more of, since the Lege is where the really bad stuff will happen if the Republicans have the numbers and the wingnut concentration to run amok again.

So let me put forth a modest suggestion to the big-money types that exist in Democratic politics here: Put together a pool of money to distribute to these lower-profile candidates running in unusual places, so they can at least pay for some campaign materials and maybe hire a manager or the like. I’m thinking something like $50K per candidate, which once you subtract out the incumbents and the candidates in higher-profile races who are already on track to raise plenty of their own money, would probably require $3-4 million all together. That’s actually not much at all in the grand scheme of things – I mean, Sen. John Whitmire could pay for that by himself, twice over – but it could make a real difference in the performance of these candidates as a group, which again would be a boon for Beto and probably more than a few Congressional hopefuls. If nothing else, it would be a loud signal that we’re not screwing around this year. Everyone likes to talk about the examples that Virginia and Alabama set for us in recent months. It would be nice if we did more than just talk about it.

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3 Comments

  1. Flypusher says:

    “– Their odds of winning may be minimal, but they are still greater than zero. You can’t beat something with nothing, and having no candidate to run is the definition of “nothing”.”

    Also you never know which incumbent may implode next under scandal. Not to in anyway take away from all the hard work put in by people in Lamb’s campaign in PA-18, but it all started with the incumbent getting exposed as a vile hypocrite (married pro-life dude wanting his mistress to get an abortion if she was pregnant) and resigning in disgrace. Also not to claim that Dems are pure as the driven snow, but the GOP isn’t even bothering to put the usual fig leaf on the hypocrisy. Lots more skeletons in their closets right now.

  2. Mainstream says:

    As other examples of the maxim that you have to play to win:

    1. in JP 5 in western Harris County, Republicans will choose between Mike Wolfe, a non-lawyer, and incumbent Jeff Williams, a lawyer who has irked powerful social conservatives. I believe in 2016 the presidential contest was nearly a tie between the two major parties in that district. But Democrats failed to field a candidate.

    2. I am old enough to remember when Beverly Clark won a Houston city council position just by being on the ballot after her opponent imploded with racist comments.

    One feature of the crop of Democrat candidates which I think gets overlooked: each candidate brings some set of friends, fellow church members, neighbors, co-workers out to the polls who might not have otherwise participated in voting that cycle, but want to help their friend. Added together, these additional voters can have impact in other closely balanced contests.

  3. mollusk says:

    Methinks that many R skeletons have wandered out of the closet and found their way out into the front yard, where they’re now whistling, doing handstands, and waving at traffic. This could be a side effect of feeling 10 feet tall and bulletproof due to decades of increasing domination.