Progressive Texas candidates reflect on 2020

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Progressive candidates who defined the 2020 election cycle in Texas sat down recently for a roundtable discussion on election losses in November. 

The 6-person panel included U.S. Senate candidate Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, congressional candidates Mike Siegel and Julie Oliver, Texas state House candidates Lorenzo Sanchez and Akilah Bacy, and Texas Senate candidate Clayton Tucker.

The big questions of the hour: went wrong for progressives and what can be done differently next time around. The discussion kicked off with messaging. 

Clayton Tucker, a rancher serving as the statewide director for Our Revolution Texas, ran a populist campaign for SD 24 in rural Central Texas. He said voters were on board with his ideas until they found out he was a Democrat. 

“Thunk, walls came down,” Tucker said, recalling one voter who said he would vote for Tucker if he was on any other ticket. “The brand is so toxic and unfortunately that’s one of the major obstacles.”

Akilah Bacy, an attorney who came up three percentage points short in her Houston area state House race, said Democrats needed to be better at simplifying and localizing their message.

“We need to make sure that we’re talking in a language that everyone can understand,” Bacy said. “One thing I saw so much of, in my race included, is that we talk about percentages, we talk about data, and we talk about the policy and what it looked like three or four years ago, and then we turn around and we see Republicans saying this very simple one-liner — and that’s what sticks.”

She said it was especially important to have a strong, solidified message and narrative, especially since Republicans would often put Democrats on defense by making up positions they supported. 

Further up the ticket, congressional candidate Julie Oliver said she regretted focusing her paid digital and TV ads on her opponent’s corruption. She said that unlike issues like rebuilding the economy or high-paying jobs, focusing on Roger Williams’ corruption was too narrow. 

Oliver also stressed how challenging it was to not be able to go door to door during the pandemic. 

“We did everything virtually and probably, for the most part, were singing to the choir on these Zoom calls,” Oliver said. “The problem with phone calls and phone-banking is that people stop answering their phones when thousands of candidates or organizations are calling them.” 

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who came in third in a crowded Democratic U.S. Senate primary that ultimately saw the nomination of MJ Hegar, said progressives had momentum in the state but needed more infrastructure to carry them across the finish line.

“I really hope that the idea that in Texas you run a moderate Republican-lite candidate, that doesn’t know how to speak to the diversity of the state or build a multi-racial coalition, is dead,” Ramirez added. 

At least two candidates, Oliver and Lorenzo Sanchez, said they outperformed Hegar in their respective congressional and statehouse districts. 

Sanchez ran for a Plano area state House seat and lost by three percentage points. 

“I was outperforming MJ in a lot of these precincts. If you are outperforming, as a statehouse race, your senatorial candidate, it’s hard to believe people are actually going and flipping,” Sanchez said of the attention given to swing voters. 

The most common point throughout the discussion: don’t be dissuaded from running on progressive ideas. 

“Don’t allow people within our party or Republican Party to gaslight huge swathes of our Democratic base by saying, ‘these are things you can’t talk about,’” Sanchez said. 

“Middle of the road candidates are not going to motivate people,” Mike Siegel said. “Just look at what Trump does. Look how far right — dude’s a facist, and he motivates people. Not to say we need to go all the way the other direction, you know full communism now, but we need a real progressive message that gets people excited and says we’re fighting for change.” 

You can view the full discussion here

Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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