The Democratic Party hasn’t put up a serious fight in Texas elections since the early 2000s, when they lost control of the Texas House of Representatives. So I was surprised to see Texas’ 21st congressional district on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s newest list of Democratic targets for the 2018 midterms. TX-21, a seat just vacated by 30-year incumbent Lamar Smith, stretches from West Campus to San Antonio.
It’s unclear why Smith stepped down, but one suggestion is that he may have felt vulnerable for the impending midterms, a midterm season where national Democrats hope to ride a wave to a House majority. It’s clear that Democrats have a chance to compete in this seat for the first time in decades. One poll, taken before Lamar Smith stepped down, showed a generic Democrat down just five points against a generic Republican in this district – hardly a secure lead.
The Democratic fight for Texas seats reflects the Democratic action plan for retaking Congress in 2018, which can be summed up simply:
Look at where the trends lie. Where have there been shifts in the last few election cycles? Put as many districts on the board as possible. Create the biggest battleground in a decade. National Democrats seem confident that 2018 will defy expectations, pointing to the 23 congressional districts that were carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, but were won by Republican candidates last fall.
Maybe TX-21 made the list because Democrats are trying to put as many districts into play as possible. Or maybe it’s because the party sees an opportunity, a perfect storm. A strong incumbent stepping down in a district that voted less Republican than it ever has, with a decorated war veteran waiting in the wings to flip the seat? Feels like opportunity to me.
That war veteran is Joseph Kopser, an inspiring West Point graduate with 20 years of military service, earned the Combat Action Badge, the Army Ranger Tab, and the Bronze Star. Since retiring from the military, he’s established himself as an entrepreneur and business owner, making him the ideal Democratic candidate to flip a suburban seat like TX-21. On top of all of that, he outraised Lamar Smith for two consecutive quarters before Smith’s retirement, no small feat given that big donors typically flock to committee chairs like Smith.
If a safely Republican seat like Lamar Smith’s flips, it’s highly likely that the Democrats will be retake the House of Representatives in 2018. This would imperil President Trump’s legislative agenda or even lead to stronger support for congressional impeachment proceedings.
“We’re expecting a backlash to the national and local Republican brands in the coming midterms,” said national Democrat strategist. “And Joseph Kopser strikes a strong profile in the district.”
Though Kopser’s presence was a large part of the reason TX-21 made the DCCC’s target list, it still won’t be easy for him to flip this seat. A large slate of Republicans appears lined up to maintain this Republican seat, with the strongest contender being state Rep. Jason Isaac.
Texas was the largest state to vote for Trump last fall, with 36 of its 38 electoral college delegates casting their ballots for him. It’s funny to think, then, that such an important state to Trump’s win could be the key to flipping Congress away from him next fall. At the very least, Texas’ suburban districts, like TX-21, will likely play a far more important role than they have in decades. Et tu, Trump?
Price is a government sophomore from Austin. Follow him on Twitter @price_zach.