Democratic divide texas runoff sets up battle between progressives and moderates us news the guardian v lab electricity


The city is covered by six districts that extend far out into conservative strongholds, diluting the influence of Travis County, where Hillary Clinton won 66% of the vote in 2016. Austin residents comprise a minority of each district’s population; five of the six are in Republican hands.

In a year when the Democratic base is highly energised and the 21st’s Republican incumbent, Lamar Smith, is retiring, the district is a test case for whether Democratic prospects are best served by a candidate who can inspire exceptional turnout from liberals or one that could woo moderate crossover Republicans, disturbed by the party’s direction under Donald Trump.

Wilson, a minister and former math teacher, believes that the Washington establishment, in the form of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), favours her runoff rival, Joseph Kopser, a decorated army veteran and entrepreneur with endorsements from a number of party figures. The DCCC has not officially endorsed a candidate in the race.

“How did I, this lifelong Democrat, become that ‘anti-establishment’ candidate?” she asked. “Well, I became that because the DCCC decided they liked my opponent’s story, they thought somehow he can win, and lo and behold he [raised] nearly $800,000 on a primary and came in second and didn’t even break 30% of the vote.

“I don’t know why then we should consider him to be the most viable candidate to win in November when he couldn’t win in March with every advantage. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I think quite frankly what that really points to is what the voters want is something different than what the DCCC has picked.”

Despite being a virtual unknown who raised only $40,000, Wilson finished ahead of Kopser in the primary. “I think that we are in an election cycle in the United States right now where voters want more female voices,” she said. “Being a progressive-minded person, social justice advocate – and being a female social justice advocate – really fits the tenor of the mood in the country right now.”

If Wilson wins on Tuesday her path to victory in November will require a high turnout in Austin and San Antonio. Kopser believes he can persuade substantial numbers of Republicans to cross sides in a district represented for three decades by Smith, a notorious climate science sceptic and favourite of the fossil fuel industry who is chairman of the House science, space and technology committee.

“You have two candidates, Mary and I, who line up very nicely on all the progressive issues we’ve been fighting for as a community for so long,” Kopser said, “whether rights of women, rights of immigrants, rights of workers, rights of the working middle class, protecting the environment, doing all of it. The only difference is we just have a very different set of backgrounds.”

A similar battle is taking place to the east in the seventh congressional district, which covers some of the wealthiest parts of Houston. Home to Ted Cruz and George H W Bush, it first attracted national attention as a traditionally Republican area that could be ripe for a surprise result.

Then, in February, the DCCC released opposition research designed to discredit Laura Moser, fearing the anti-Trump activist and writer is too leftwing to stand a chance in November. The moved seemed to backfire by galvanising her campaign, which enjoyed a fundraising boost.