Texas Democrats Debate How To Win The 7th Congressional District Seat

May 21, 2018
Originally published on May 23, 2018 6:18 am
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Texas primary elections go to a second round tomorrow. Some congressional districts have runoffs after nobody received more than 50 percent of the vote the first time. A runoff outside Houston is a big deal to Democrats. They hope to unseat Republican John Culberson. First, they must decide between two candidates who represent two very different forms of the Democratic Party. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: The seat has been safe for Republicans going back to the time George H.W. Bush held it. It will be hard to flip, but attorney Lizzie Fletcher thinks she knows how.

LIZZIE FLETCHER: Our plan is really to talk about how John Culberson isn't serving us the way that he should be. And I think there are a lot of people who are receptive to that message, both Democrats who haven't voted in the midterms as well as Republicans who may have even voted for Culberson in the past.

DETROW: The other Democrat in the race is skeptical. Laura Moser says the party needs to focus on exciting its own voters rather than being, as she puts it, slightly less offensive to Republicans. I ask her if she could still pick off the needed Republican votes given her support for policies like Medicare for all.

LAURA MOSER: We'll see. You know, we've tried the other thing, and it hasn't worked. I think that people...

DETROW: The other thing being moderation?

MOSER: Being trying to be, like, less bad - you know, the Republican lite thing.

DETROW: The biggest differences between Moser and Fletcher are stylistic. Moser's campaign headquarters are in a former bridal shop next to a poker club. Fletcher's suite in an office building is filled with more staff. She has more endorsements and more money. But some of their substantive splits are the things Democratic strategists are spending a lot of time worrying about. There's single-payer health care and also impeachment. Here's Moser.

MOSER: I mean, I think that's one of my advantages as a candidate, that I'm certainly willing to say yes, I will impeach him. I will vote, you know, to start impeachment proceedings as soon as I have the opportunity.

DETROW: Fletcher answers like the longtime attorney she is. She says she isn't a fan of Donald Trump.

FLETCHER: But I'm also a big fan of the Constitution. And for me, I think we need to let the Mueller investigation get completed. And I think that Congress then needs to look at the evidence and be prepared to bring charges of impeachment if they're warranted.

DETROW: National Democrats think Fletcher's overall approach is better. That's one reason the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took the unusual step of plopping itself right in the middle of the race just before the March primary to try and sink Moser's campaign.

MOSER: I can't believe you bring that up. Wow.

DETROW: The party intervention backfired when Moser advanced out of the crowded primary into tomorrow's runoff. And it made her the poster woman for progressives who have felt squeezed by the national party.

MOSER: They do interfere in lots of primaries, and they've always done it. But it's never been so obvious or ham-handed as it was with me. But I think it's good that it's out in the open and that we're having a conversation.

DETROW: Fletcher says she's puzzled by stories casting her as the establishment candidate.

FLETCHER: I haven't run for any elected office since I was in school. And so I see myself as much of an outsider as anyone else.

DETROW: The 7th District is the exact type of high-income suburban seat that Democrats see as the key to their chances of retaking the House. No matter what happens tomorrow, the party will put up a first-time female candidate against an entrenched Republican.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Houston.

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