When the Republican-led Texas Legislature rearranged the state's congressional districts in June, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett recognized immediately that he'd face a tough road back to Washington.
The nine-term Congressman, a staunch progressive in a sea of red, saw his Austin-based District 25 shifted into much more conservative rural territory, and found the only nearby opening for a Democrat in the newly drawn CD-35 stretching 80 narrow miles from East Austin to San Antonio.
State Rep. Joaquin Castro looked at that same meandering, Vietnam-shaped sliver of Central Texas, and saw the next step in his promising career and a chance to give its majority Latino population a new voice in Washington. A five-term veteran of the Texas House, Castro is seen as a bright-eyed rising star among state Democrats, one of the leading figures working to ensure Texas politics start reflecting the state’s changing demographics.
With Latinos accounting for 58 percent its voting-age population, the 35th was drawn as a so-called minority opportunity district — something groups have already sued in federal court saying the maps don’t include enough of. By pinning Doggett’s reelection hopes onto one of Texas’ few districts built for Latino representation, Texas Republicans scripted one of the most engaging rounds of political drama the state will see this year.
It’s a story of the state’s changing population, which is now 38 percent Latino and 45 percent white. When Gov. Rick Perry talks about Texas’ booming population, the huge numbers of people drawn here for jobs, Latinos accounted for 65 percent of that growth. Increasingly, political battles in Texas between youth and experience will, like this one, be between Latino and white candidates.
That it’s happening in one of the state’s few Democratic Congressional districts is a testament to how effective Texas Republicans have been at fending off the change.
“That's what the Republicans want. They tried to draw it to where it was a battle between it was a battle between an Anglo congressman and a Hispanic challenger,” said Travis County Democratic Party Chair Andy Brown, who says it’s the same strategy that put Doggett in an even more oddly shaped district, stretching far to South Texas, in 2004. Doggett won that race, and this time around Brown said, Democrats know the score. “I think that Travis County’s going to stick together, and won't be divided that way,” he said.
But Austin-based Democratic consultant Harold Cook, who isn't working for either campaign, said Doggett hasn’t faced an opponent as formidable as Castro.
"The strongest candidate who could have run against Doggett is the one who is," Cook said. "This is going to be a different challenge."
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