A surge in Democratic candidates in Texas could be a turning point for the party, experts say.
According to the Texas Democratic Party, a candidate is running for every congressional seat this year and for almost 90 percent of seats in the state Legislature.
Even though Democrats are unlikely to win a lot of those seats, political strategists say this year’s election could be an opportunity for the party to increase its number of experienced candidates.
Just a few months ago, Texas Democrats were wringing their hands about the party’s recruiting power. It has historically been difficult to recruit a Democrat in Texas to run for seats where the party doesn’t typically have a good chance of winning.
In fact, in the last several years, Democrats have had a hard time finding strong candidates to run for statewide office.
Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, says 2018 could end that streak, though.
“This time around, we are seeing Democrats able to recruit multiple candidates in districts that are really top tier,” he says.
Democratic Party officials in Texas say this is 1.) because Democrats are fired up these days in response to President Trump’s administration, and 2.) because there has been a larger effort among Democrats and left-leaning groups aimed at convincing people to run for office.
“A number of organizations in this state all worked really hard together to talk to candidates, to get them involved, and to get them committed to go ahead and sign up,” says Manny Garcia, deputy executive director with the Texas Democratic Party. “You know a lot of times all it takes is somebody telling you, ‘You know, I think you would be a great candidate and you should run. You should serve.’”
Garcia says a lot of people – from diverse backgrounds – followed through and decided to run this year. Many are running for the first time.
“We have a tremendous number of veterans, teachers, doctors, lawyers – folks from every kind of walk of life,” he says. “A lot of women. It’s really exciting to see these folks decide to step up.”
This diversity among new candidates could also appeal to Republicans and independents, says Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist in Austin.
“The Democrats are smart to recruit people like veterans and people who have had successful business careers and things like that,” he says. “If those are the folks that they nominate in March and in May in the runoffs, then they'll have a greater likelihood of some success in the fall.”
Even if they don’t win, Jones says, this is good for the Democratic Party. He says this new crop of Democrats has a lot to gain just from running for office.
“They will demonstrate name recognition and gain experience,” he says.
According to Jones, that will make them even stronger candidates in 2020 and 2022, when Texas is likely to have new political maps that will be more favorable to Democrats.