Texas House race highlights Democratic division on party's policy agenda

Democrats have had difficulty advancing some of their major priorities. This has prompted a debate about whether they should push for bold policies, or accept piecemeal progress

Texas House race highlights Democratic division on party's policy agenda

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D.Mass., will travel to Texas this week to campaign for Jessica Cisneros, an attorney, in her high profile primary race against Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar. Warren will not be making this her only stop.

Warren will be heading to Austin on Tuesday, where a new battle is raging over the future and the Democratic Party's future.

Warren will gather volunteers Wednesday to support Greg Casar (ex-Austin City Councilmember), who is running for the Democratic nomination in the 35th District. This seat, which spans from Austin to San Antonio, is a deep blue seat.

Casar and Eddie Rodriguez, his chief primary rival in the ideological struggle in the 28th District are claiming the progressive title. They differ on tactics and this has triggered a Washington debate between Democrats about how to best advance their priorities.

The 35th District was opened up by Lloyd Doggett, Democratic Rep., who decided to run for the new 37th District. The eventual Democratic nominee will most likely go to Congress. If the new lines had been in place in 2020, President Joe Biden would have won this district by 45 percent points.

The race, like other open House races in Democratic Territory, gives the opportunity to shape next Congress' Democratic caucus.

Pedro Lira, codirector of Texas Working Families Party which supports Casar, said that "the question for us was not, 'Will you send a Democrat?" "It was, instead, 'What type of Democrat will we send to Congress?'

This race could be a hint as to what tactics Democrats will adopt moving forward. Democrats have had difficulty advancing some of their main priorities, leading to a debate about whether to push for bold policies and/or settle for incremental progress.

Casar stated that elected officials are needed to move things in Washington in an interview with NBC News. There are many examples of politicians who talk a lot about progress but don't stand up for entrenched interests.

Casar said that the belief that moderates and corporate Democrats are the ones who get things done is not supported by the Congress in the past year.

Casar started his career as an organizer and has been at the forefront for some of the most controversial policies in Austin. He was the leader of the effort to reduce the budget for police and allow homeless encampments within public spaces. This initiative was later defeated by Austin voters.

Rodriguez, a state legislator for many years, used Casar's homelessness problem to attack him. He used the controversy to illustrate how decisions were made in a hurry and weren't planned for.

Rodriguez stated that "a lot of it is tone," during an interview about the differences between Casar and him. He later added, "It's never my way or the highway every time."

"Greg is passionate in his approach," stated Ed Espinoza of Progress Texas Democratic Group, who has not endorsed the race. "I believe Eddie's approach was: Did passion get you what you wanted?"

The race has split Democrats within Congress. The political arm of the moderate New Democrat Coalition backed Rodriguez on Friday, while Casar was endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

"People who know how to use elected office for organizing are part of how we build a progressive movement within Congress" said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the caucus chair who traveled to Austin to campaign for Casar.

She stated Casar was "exactly the type of person who will be able hit the ground running."

Casar's fundraising has been boosted by the attention of prominent progressives like Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other groups such as Justice Democrats. Rodriquez has raised $420,000, while Casar's campaign has raised $743,000.

If no candidate wins the March 1 primary vote, the race could go into a runoff. Rebecca Viagran, a former San Antonio City Councilmember, has been slow in raising funds but is still considered a top contender.

The majority of votes will likely come from Austin, where Casar or Rodriguez have strong support. It's not yet clear which areas voters will vote for.

Christian Archer, a Democratic consultant, said that the socialist Democratic message is not working outside of Austin.

Casar is a member of Democratic Socialists of America. However, the group no longer supports him due to his opposition to the boycott divestment sanctions (BDS), movement against Israel. Casar stated that he is part of a "large range of progressive organizations."

He said, "At my core, I identify as someone that has been an organizer of labor and an organizer for immigrant rights."

Rodriguez did not attack Casar because of his socialist ties but stated: "The district was clearly a Democratic district. It is a progressive district. However, I am not certain that it is a democratic socialist area.

Rodriguez stated that voters will vote for the person they believe is best representing them and getting things done.


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