Collin County Democrats are singing the blues — but will voters still see red?
The heated patio at the Blue Goose Cantina in McKinney was packed with Democrats.
Candidates for statewide and local office worked the tables at a recent “McKinney-Area Democratic Club Happy Hour,” shaking hands as people sipped frosty margaritas and munched on chips and queso.
Early voting for the primaries in Collin County starts Feb. 20. Most Collin County Democrats are running uncontested in their primary — and Democrats say that should benefit them in the long run.
The same can’t be said for the Republicans. Almost all of the incumbents from the area have at least one primary opponent. The party is grappling with an internal battle: Attorney General Ken Paxton has endorsed candidates running against incumbents who voted to impeach him. And Gov. Greg Abbott is backing incumbents who supported his failed school vouchers plan.
The Democrats say the dissonance amongst Republicans is their gain.
“They’re just busy fighting amongst themselves,” said Darrel Evans, the only Democrat running in the Democratic primary for the Texas District 89 seat.
“What we're seeing right now is it's the party that has that complete death grip on power being unable to govern itself,” said David W. Carstens, who’s the sole candidate running for the Texas House District 66 seat in the Democratic primary.
Nunn, Washington, Evans and Carstens aren’t your typical politicians. They haven’t held or run for elected office before. The only Democratic nominee for the statehouse with that kind of experience is Representative Mihaela Plesa. She was the first Democrat elected from Collin County in 30 years when she won in 2022.
Plesa worked as a legislative director at the statehouse before she ran for office. The other Democrats running in Collin County don’t have Plesa’s resume. But Liz Michel, the candidate recruiter for the Collin County Democratic Party, said that’s an asset, not a hindrance.
“They want to represent the people of this county and not political interest groups,” Michel said. “I know because I recruited them. These are everyday people.”
Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said there have been instances where a candidate who doesn’t fit the political mold has prevailed.
But Jillson said candidates who lack campaign experience need more help — and getting that advice isn’t cheap.
“Unless you've worked in elections before…you don't know how it's done,” he said. “And so, you got to hire that kind of expertise. And to do that, you need money.”
Jillson said money buys visibility. And the higher the race, the more it costs.
Most of the Republicans in Collin County are outpacing Democrats with their fundraising. Michel said she’s not worried.
“We want them to spend all their money in the primaries so they don’t have any left in November,” she said.
So far, Collin County Republicans don’t appear to be too worried about Democrats.
But Democrats in Collin County won seats on city councils and school boards last May. That came up in a recent Republican primary debate. Shelby Williams said the Republicans need to get more involved in local elections. He’s a Plano city council member and is running for Collin County Republican Party Chair.
“I was the only GOP endorsed candidate who won, and I was not the only incumbent,” Williams said. “It wasn't just being an incumbent. We got completely skunked.”
Collin County is diversifying as it grows. Jillson said that could benefit Democrats — but it may be a while before that leads to success at a higher level.
“It's more in terms of decades than it is in terms of election cycles,” he said.
Plesa said Collin County flipping blue will cause a ripple effect.
“When Collin County goes blue, the rest of Texas will go blue,” she said.
And if that day comes, Democrats in Collin County may have to compete amongst themselves to gain voters’ support — just like the Republicans are right now.
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Caroline Love is a Report For AmericaCorps member for KERA News.
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