They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and in politics, that saying has never been more true. The realignment of the country’s suburbs is being felt and talked about arguably nowhere more so than in the Lone Star State. The Texas suburbs were some of the first places in the American South to become Republican bastions, and the Texas GOP, located in a heavily suburban state, reaped the rewards; they have not lost a statewide race since 1994 and over the last thirty years have seen two Bushes occupy the White House. However, the party finds itself in a precarious position as those same suburbs drift to the left. Among its 36 congressional districts, one stands uniquely emblematic of the change, TX-24.
Located in northern Dallas, TX-24 was once the a solidly Republican district. It contains the cities of Coppell, Carrolton, and Southlake. In 2012, it backed Romney by twenty-three points, and Kenny Marchant always won by big margins, but in the age of Trump the district has flown to the left. Trump only won the district by six points, barely receiving fifty percent of the vote. Looking at the demographics, it was only a matter of time. According to the Census, the district is majority minority and nearly half of adults age 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree. Given the district’s newly purple tint, it’s no surprise that Marchant decided to retire.
The 68-year old Marchant had been the model Texas Republican for decades. He was elected mayor of Carrolton in 1984 and elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1987. He served in the legislature until 2005 and styled himself a strong ally of George W. Bush during Bush’s term as governor. Elected to the House of Representatives in 2004, Marchant had since lived a quiet political life and until 2016, this district allowed him to do just that.
TX-24 in 2018 indisputably resembled a competitive district. Even more striking is how sharply Marchant’s margin dropped between 2016 and 2018 (he won by 17 in 2016) despite running against the same candidate, CPA Jan McDowell, who he heavily out-raised and outspent in both years. Another concerning trend for Republicans in this district its change relative to the state as whole. In 2016, the district was three points to the left of the state, but in 2018 it moved to six points to the left. One of the reasons this is a rare Democratic pickup opportunity in 2020 is because if the district were to stay six points to the left of the state, it’s not hard to see the Democratic nominee carrying TX-24. Trump won the state by nine last time, so even if Democrats make only some of the gains they are hoping for in Texas, this district still becomes a possible win for Democrats on the presidential level.
Of course, the last part of the 2020 equation is the candidates themselves. Given Marchant’s retirement, the race for both party’s nominations was wide open. On the Republican side, the front runner is Beth Van Duyne. Van Duyne is the former mayor of Irving, Texas, and was appointed to a spot in Trump’s HUD in 2017. She’s the only candidate who’s raised enough money to run a serious campaign, and because the filing deadline in Texas just closed it looks as if she will be the nominee. She’s running with a strong emphasis on her socially conservative views and story as a self-made woman who became the first female mayor of Irving. Additionally, her candidacy is appealing to Republicans given the fact that the party has emphasized electing more women to office, especially in newly competitive suburban seats like this one.
The race is more interesting on the Democratic side. McDowell is running again, but her previous two runs saw her struggle to generate exposure or fundraising. Two other candidates have gotten the bulk of the exposure this time around: 2018 Democratic nominee for Secretary of Agriculture Kim Olson and Carrolton School Board Trustee Candace Valenzuela. Olson leads in fundraising, but Valenzuela boasts a number of endorsements from important players in party including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Emily’s List. Olson is touting her military experience, while Valenzuela is emphasizing her story rising from poverty and domestic violence as well as her roots in the area. The primary will likely be highly competitive down the stretch, and expect Valenzuela to talk about her background in the area frequently as Olson is not actually from the district.
In the general election, it’s hard to see this race as anything but a toss-up. The district will be close at the presidential level and areas such as this have been ground zero for large Democratic gains. Either party could come out on top, even if their party’s presidential nominee is narrowly losing the district. Its toss-up status and demographics make the district a critical litmus test for both parties because Republicans need to stop the bleeding, and Democrats have to win in places like this if they hope to ever truly compete in Texas. In 2020, it’s possible that as the TX-24 goes, so goes the nation.