McNeely: Four Texas Democrats who've lost hoping to flip congressional districts

Ask people to vote for you, as much as possible.

Think of politics as a team sport. Help your fellow Democratic candidates as they help you. We’re all in this together.

Don’t get so involved in arguing about the perfect solution to the problem that you lose sight of what the problem is.

Be ready, and eager, to work across the aisle.

Those were some tips from four Democrats hoping to flip four Texas congressional districts currently held by Republicans.

Each of the four lost their last election — which for three of them was also their first election.

The four are former Fort Worth state senator Wendy Davis; former diplomat Sri Kulkarni; former Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones; and retired Air Force pilot Col. Kim Olson.

The four districts are among the six the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted in Texas — considered a swing state in 2020 for the first time in decades.

The four participated in a panel discussion Friday as part of The Texas Tribune’s annual TribFest in Austin.

Here’s more about the candidates, and the districts:

Wendy Davis, 56, is a former state senator from Fort Worth (2009-2015). She was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014. She lost to then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, by more than 20 percent, in what Davis called “a tough election cycle.”

Now living in Austin, she is running in the 21st Congressional District, which takes in parts of Austin, San Antonio, and several counties further west.

Republican Chip Roy, 47, a former chief of staff for Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, was elected in 2018 after longtime U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith retired.

In the usually solid Republican district, Roy won by just 2.6 percent over Democrat Joseph Kopser.

Davis said she is enjoying running in a contained district rather than statewide, because she gets more direct contact with people.

“I’m back in my comfort zone,” Davis said.

Sri Kulkarni, 40, is running again in the 22nd Congressional District, in southeast Houston and Fort Bend County.

The Republican incumbent, Pete Olson, 56, beat Kulkarni by 4.9 percent in 2018 — his narrowest victory since his first election in 2008. Olson says he is not seeking reelection.

Kulkarni said he learned in his earlier race how demographically diverse and continually changing the district is. The former diplomat, who speaks six languages, said his team in 2018 worked to target and ask for votes in at least 15 different languages.

For 2020, he’s already got a lot of voter lists and the languages in which to communicate, and a better grasp of how to contact as many people as possible to ask for their vote in their own first language.

Gina Ortiz Jones, 38, an Iraq War veteran and Air Force intelligence officer is running again in Texas’s largest district – the 23rd, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso along the Texas-Mexico border, and is larger than 30 states.

In 2018, she lost to Republican incumbent Will Hurd, 42, by 0.44 percent — 926 votes.

Hurd, himself a former intelligence officer, who is in his third term in the swing district, is the only African-American Republican in Congress. A few weeks ago, he said he won’t seek reelection, In recent days, he has mentioned running for president in 2024.

Jones, the daughter of a Filipina single mother, who grew up in poorer sections of San Antonio, said she can best represent the district because she knows what its residents have experienced.

She went from free-lunch programs to earn an ROTC scholarship to Boston University before serving in the Air Force and Iraq. Eventually, her military and national security experience resulted in her working in the executive office of the White House.

Kim Olson, 61, is a retired Air Force pilot and colonel. She was the Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner against incumbent Republican Sid Miller in 2018. He beat her by 4.6 percent.

Olson, who after her Air Force retirement served as human resources director for Dallas ISD, is seeking to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant in the 24th Congressional District in the Mid-Cities area between Dallas and Fort Worth.

After 18 years in the Texas House, Kenny Marchant was elected to congress in 2004. But in 2018, he beat Democrat Jan McDowell by just 3.07 percent. She is running again, along with Olson and several others.

Now 68, Marchant decided not to seek reelection.

For the record, understand that all four of the candidates mentioned here face contested primary elections to become the Democratic nominee in their districts.

— Dave McNeely is an Austin-based columnist covering Texas politics. His column appears Thursday.

Today's Bible verse

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

— Psalm 42:11

Get news sent to you!

Sign up to get our newsletters emailed to you.

Upcoming Events

Featured Businesses