A surge of Democratic women are running for office — and winning — in Texas

East Austin native Elisa Rendon hands out campaign material for Democrat Chantal Eldridge in Austin on Tuesday.

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East Austin native Elisa Rendon hands out campaign material for Democrat Chantal Eldridge in Austin on Tuesday.
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Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images

  • On Tuesday, 25 Democratic women won their primaries or will advance to a runoff in Texas – marking a surge in Democrats, particularly women, seeking elected office in the red state.
  • Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, both of whom won their primaries in safely blue districts, will likely become the first two Latinas to serve their state in the US House.
  • Gina Ortiz Jones, an openly gay former Air Force intelligence officer, has a good shot at taking Republican Rep. Will Hurd’s seat in November.

The morning after securing a sweeping win in the Republican primary, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released a campaign ad in the form of a country jingle titled, “If you’re gonna run in Texas, you can’t be a liberal man.”

But on Tuesday, voters in the red state gave several liberal women their own wins.

Among these women are Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, both of whom won their primaries in safely blue districts and will likely become the first two Latinas to serve their state in Congress. They would grow the number of women in Texas’s 38-member congressional delegation from three to five.

Much like the rest of the country, Texas has seen a surge in women – particularly Democratic women – running for office. This year, 50 women – 37 of them Democrats – filed to run for office in Texas. Just 18 did so in 2016, and 33 did so in 2012, when there were also eight open US House seats, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Gender Watch 2018 project.

Twenty-nine of those 50 women – 25 of them Democrats – secured their party’s nomination or are advancing to a May runoff.

Gina Ortiz Jones, an openly gay former Air Force intelligence officer, took 41% of the Democratic vote in the 23rd congressional district, a vast portion of southwest Texas that stretches from El Paso to San Antonio. Three of her four Democratic opponents, including establishment-endorsed former prosecutor Jay Hulings, received between 15% and 17% of the vote each.

If Ortiz Jones, perhaps the most liberal candidate in the primary, secures the Democratic nomination in the May runoff, she will likely have a strong shot at beating the incumbent Republican, Rep. Will Hurd, who won reelection in 2016 by just one point. The seat is one of the Democrats’ best pick-up opportunities.

“When we excite the base with the kind of candidate that shares our values and is going to lead on issues, that’s what gets folks out and excited,” Ortiz Jones told Teen Vogue this month. “And I think that’s what’s really going to be needed to turn this ship around.”

And the 23rd district saw a surge in Democratic engagement on Tuesday. About 13,000 more voters cast their ballots for Democrats in the primary than for Republicans in a district that Hillary Clinton won by four points in the 2016 presidential election. (A total of just over 44,000 voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary, while nearly 31,000 voted for Republicans.)

Kelly Dittmar, a professor at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, says that Ortiz Jones’s unique background and credentials may be the source of her success.

“While her professional background demonstrates her expertise on national security and defense, issues more often associated with Republicans and men, her experience as a young women, daughter of an immigrant, and lesbian remind voters that she is not a candidate that represents the status quo,” Dittmar told Business Insider in an email.

She added that support for Ortiz Jones from powerful Democrats, including EMILY’s List, a national group that supports pro-choice Democratic women, gave the candidate a helpful boost.