- Khizer Zamani
The 23rd Congressional District of Texas is an interesting congressional district. It is a district that shows how the demographics of Texas, and of the United States more generally, are changing. The district is a predominantly Latino one and until the 2014 election, had a Democratic representative; however, the 2014 election caused Republican Bill Hurd to win, unseating Democratic representative Pete Gallego (Ballotpedia, 2014b).
As is often the case in politics, it is important to look ahead to the next opportunity. For 2016, how can someone defeat Bill Hurd? One important aspect is, naturally, campaigning. The role of money in politics is increasingly strong, yet it is also important to spend money on media that reaches the target demographic. The 23rd Congressional district is an important one for politics: “Texas’ 23rd Congressional District was a battleground district in 2014 due to the fact that the seat was held by a Democrat, but the district had a slight Republican lean and was won by the Republican presidential candidate in both 2008 and 2012” (Ballotpedia, 2014a).
The district is more than 70% Hispanic (Ballotpedia, 2014a) and has a 70% high school graduation rate (Ballotpedia, 2014a), a median household income of approximately $46,000 (Ballotpedia, 2014a), and a college graduation rate of about 21% (Ballotpedia, 2014a). The unemployment rate is 6.5% (Ballotpedia, 2014a), and the population is just over 650,000 (Ballotpedia, 2014a). The area is largely rural: “About the closest thing to a swing district would be freshman Rep. Quico Canseco’s (R-Texas) big and rural 23rd district, running from San Antonio to El Paso” (Blake, 2011).
All of these factors indicate that this “swing” district is winnable by the opposition if they consider how this type of voter works. Marketing segmentation will help here (Weaver, 2013). Dividing up the potential voters on the basis of identity categories will help identify key issues and approaches to meet voters in order to achieve victory. Marketing segmentation is closely related to analyses of voting turnout (Nagler, 2013, p. 27).
The typical voter in the 23rd Congressional District in Texas is a relatively lower middle class individual. He or she is likely to be a high school, but not college, graduate. He or she is likely Latino and a hard worker with aspirations for a better life. He or she is likely relatively concerned about their personal economy and is slightly more socially conservative than Texans in other districts, but likely advocates for gay rights. He or she is likely a nominal Catholic or grew up in a culturally Catholic home that informs their ideas about life (Kemp, 2005). This means that the voter may have certain ideas about gender roles, which in turn could influence their votes.
The younger median age in this congressional district means that the voters are likely far more digitally connected than the older generation, and they tend to get their news from less traditional sources such as Facebook and even The Daily Show (Baumgartner, 2006). This means that they are actually rather well informed, but have an expectation for immediate responses and irreverence. Despite the problematic aspects of these trends (Popkin, 2006), it is still important to respond to them if victory is the most important thing. Therefore, the hypothetical, proposed campaign – which will be discussed below – will be digital, yet tailored to the demographics of this specific district.
Therefore, the ideal candidate for 2016 will be a male of Latino heritage who can appeal to the working class, ideally because he exemplifies the American dream and has worked his way up from humble circumstances. The ideal candidate would be the owner of a blue-collar business and whose personal narrative goes something like he came to the United States at a young age, overcame poverty due to a strong family relationship, went to trade school and now owns a successful, but relatable, business in a blue collar field such as plumbing or HVAC. This would ensure that the candidate is relatable to the economic and cultural dynamics of the congressional district.
This does not mean that the path to a democratic victory involves simply dragging out an average Joe or Juan and convincing him to run. It will be a difficult campaign, partly because “The traditional view in electoral research holds that Congressional election campaigns are principally aimed at highlighting the virtues of the individual candidates” (Kim & Leveck, 2013, p. 492). Further, incumbents have a distinct advantage, because they are more experienced at campaigning, because voters often go for that which they already know (Kim & Leveck, 2013, p. 492), and because they tend to be higher quality candidates (Kim & Leveck, 2013, p. 492).
Redistricting has changed the 23rd district in a way that arguably made it more susceptible to voting Republican (Blake, 2011). This means that the incumbent candidate will find it easier to campaign, too, because the voters there are already well matched to his outreach programs know (Kim & Leveck, 2013, p. 492). This means that the proposed challenger will have to engage in a campaign that reflects several different aspects.
One of these will have to be funding. Money matters in politics, and money changes votes. The individual will have to have much of his own money and will have to obtain support from many powerful people.
In terms of the campaign itself, the candidate will likely find success by focusing on the economy and on the Republicans’ distaste for Latinos. Playing up the opponent’s Tea Party ties, if any, could be a useful strategy given that the Republicans in the 23rd district tend to be more moderate and have rebuked the Tea Party in this district (Martin, 2012).
The campaign should therefore be heavily focused on digital engagement that dismantles arguments by the incumbent, plays up the hyper-conservative, Tea Party nature of Republicans and their vicious disapproval of Obama’s amnesty policies for undocumented workers.
The campaign should still focus on the candidate’s relatability, particularly in terms of his personal narrative and economic success (Coleman & Manna, 2000). The campaign should have manifold opportunities for younger people to interact digitally. This could include official social media accounts, contests, and opportunities within the geographically large district for people of all ages to interact with the candidate in person.
The gerrymandering that has been undertaken in Texas may have redrawn the district maps, but it has not changed the increasing tide of changes in the state’s demographics. It has not changed overall social trends towards a growing Latino population, increasing economic uncertainty, a more tenuous existence for the middle class, and skepticism regarding rigid belief systems such as homophobia. At the same time, it still means that the district has a large population of conservatives, although they are moving towards a more economically conservative and socially moderate viewpoint.
It is possible to flip the 23rd district back in 2016, but it will require planning beginning now. It will require a strong candidate who has an impeccable personal record, yet is still relatable enough for the humble lifestyle of this region. It will also require someone who is capable of traveling across the vast geographic expanse of this district in order to make an impact with constituents and potential voters and to meaningfully campaign in person. This is all doable, but it is important that the right candidate be found immediately and that the campaign launch as soon as possible after the candidate is vetted.
Ballotpedia. (2014a). Texas’ 23rd Congressional District – Ballotpedia. Ballotpedia.org. Retrieved December 15, 2014, from http://ballotpedia.org/Texas’_23rd_Congressional_District
Ballotpedia. (2014b). Texas’ 23rd Congressional District elections, 2014 – Ballotpedia. Ballotpedia.org. Retrieved December 15, 2014, from http://ballotpedia.org/Texas’_23rd_Congressional_District_elections,_2014
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Blake, A. (2011). The GOP’s big Texas gerrymander. Washington Post. Retrieved December 15, 2014, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/the-gops-strong-texas-gerrymander/2011/06/02/AGP56VHH_blog.html
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Kemp, C. (2005). Hispanic Health. bearspace.baylor.edu. Retrieved September 19, 2014, from https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Charles_Kemp/www/hispanic_health.htm
Kim, H. a., & Leveck, B. L. (2013). Money, Reputation, and Incumbency in U.S. House Elections, or Why Marginals Have Become More Expensive. American Political Science Review, 107(03), 492–504. doi:10.1017/S0003055413000245
Martin, G. (2012). Canseco concedes to Gallego in District 23 – San Antonio Express-News. MySanAntonio.com. Retrieved December 15, 2014, from http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Canseco-concedes-to-Gallego-in-District-23-4023778.php
Nagler, J. (2013). Who Votes Now? Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States. Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States. Princeton.
Popkin, S. L. (2006). Changing media, changing politics. Perspectives on Politics, 4(02), 327–341.
Weaver, J. (2013). Market Segmentation. Bournemouth University Foundation Degree Southwest. Retrieved November 26, 2014, from http://media3.bournemouth.ac.uk/marketing/07segmentation/04strategies.html
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