The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, has begun pumping money into Texas.
The campaign committee announced Tuesday it had paid for 5 new digital ads in Republican swing districts.
Among them were the DCCC’s first-ever Hindi and Chinese language video ads, targeting Texas’ 22nd congressional district, a Houston area suburb in Fort Bend County where Democratic candidate Sri Kulkarni is vying to flip a congressional seat held by Republicans since 2009.
The ads target Kulkarni’s opponent Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls, warning voters about his firing from the Richmond Police Department for allegedly destroying evidence and Nehls’ downplaying of the county’s human trafficking problem.
The same digital ad was released in Chinese and Hindi.
The micro-targeting effort follows closely the strategy being carried out by the campaign of Kulkarni, a former diplomat who has capitalized on his ability to speak six languages and his background as the son of an immigrant to mobilize the district’s growing Asian American population.
The 2018 American Community Survey estimates the district is home to more than 180,000 Asian residents, making up about 19 percent of the district’s total population.
“We are running in one of the most diverse districts in the country,” Kulkarni told the Signal. “That’s why we’re reaching out to voters in 21 different languages and leveraging relational organizing to connect with communities that have previously been ignored by the political process.”
Reacting to the new DCCC ads, Kulkarni said, “I’m glad that more voters in this district will get the chance to learn about fired cop Troy Nehls’ history of controversy. We are committed to meeting our voters where they are and ensuring all communities in TX-22 have a voice.”
Kulkarni and his campaign’s Asian American outreach made headlines during his first congressional run in the same district in 2018. Kulkarni came within 5 percentage points of unseating Rep. Pete Olson — just one of Texas’ many retiring congressional Republicans that are vacating seats in 2020 in vulnerable swing districts where Democrats like Kulkarni came within striking distance.
Varun Nikore, president of the Asian American-Pacific Islander Victory Fund, endorsed Kulkarni in 2018 when the campaign’s micro-targeting efforts caught their attention.
The super PAC, which has raised $623,935 this year and is making plans to invest in Texas, has endorsed Kulkarni again along with two other Democratic congressional candidates backed by the DCCC: Gina Ortiz Jones in South Texas and Sima Ladjevardian in the Houston area.
Nikore said while other campaigns have tried to move away from identity politics, Kulkarni’s campaign has doubled down on its micro-targeting efforts as a way to understand voters and communities more deeply.
“Sri’s campaign not only epitomizes the granularity that one should go through in order to achieve victories, but frankly, it’s a model throughout all those [swing] states on how to win,” Nikore said of states like Texas and Arizona.
Nikore pointed to polling showing an overwhelming share of Asian Americans in 2018 voted for Democrats.
“One Asian vote might be worth two other votes because of the high degree of probability that somebody is going to vote for a Democrat,” Nikore explained. “When you look at Sri’s specific congressional district, when you’ve got such a high number of Asian American-Pacific Islanders, the challenge becomes less of a persuasion game than it does become a get-out-the-vote game.”
In 2018, Kulkarni came within 15,000 votes from unseating Olson. This year, the campaign says it has registered 40,000 new voters with its outreach.
His strategy is not just impressive, it’s essential for any Democratic campaign seeking to break ground in Fort Bend County, said Ling Luo, the founder and chair for the Asian American Democratic Club.
“It’s long overdue,” Luo said of national Democratic investment into Texas’ Asian American-Pacific Islander community. “We’ve never seen Democratic investment in this area for any election.”
Luo directed Asian American outreach for the district’s previous Democratic incumbent, former Rep. Nick Lampson. Elected in 2009, Lampson held the district for one term before being ousted by Rep. Pete Olson. Lampson is the only Democrat to be elected in the district since 1977.
Luo is now leading Chinese American outreach for the Biden campaign. She advised that Democratic candidates campaigning in Fort Bend County should expand how they reach voters — like exploring Chinese social media app WeChat — and should carefully craft their message to issues important to Chinese Americans, like education, immigration, and crime.
“If the message is not there, the language is nothing,” Luo said.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at email@example.com