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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

DeLay’s District Turning on Him?

It appears that Democratic Party campaign strategists can now add Tom DeLay’s District to the list of possible wins in ’06. In his article “DeLay of the Land: Home Invasion,” in The New Republic, senior editor John Judis argues that changing demographics and a growing number of Republicans disenchanted with DeLay’s ethics problems and his pandering to religious extremists give Democrats a solid shot at winning DeLay’s house seat in ’06. Judis, co-author with Ruy Teixeira of The Emerging Democratic Majority, describes the dynamics of DeLay’s district:

DeLay’s 22nd district, which he designed in a 2003 redistricting effort that aimed to net seven more Republican seats in Texas, has also begun to change in ways that will not benefit an outspoken Christian conservative like himself. When DeLay first won office, the district was predominately white, with a few pockets of black voters. Because the area’s population has ballooned 18 percent since the 2000 census, there are no dependable figures about the district’s overall composition, but both Republican and Democratic leaders agree that, without losing its high levels of wealth and education, it is becoming a “majority-minority” district, in which whites are outnumbered by other ethnic groups. Latinos and blacks moved into the district in the late ’80s. And, in the ’90s, middle-class Indians, Pakistanis, Vietnamese, and Chinese immigrants began to pour in. Two Hindu temples now vie for attention with the Baptist megachurches.
Extrapolating from the census would put the African American population at about 10 percent, Latinos at over 20 percent, and the Asian population at close to 15 percent. The results in Fort Bend County are even more dramatic. In 1980, the area’s public schools, which attract all the area’s children, were 64 percent white, 16 percent black, 17 percent Latino, and 3 percent Asian. Today, they are 29 percent white, 31 percent black, 21 percent Latino, and 19 percent Asian.

Judis notes that DeLay received only 55 percent of the vote in his district in 2004 after outspending his relatively unknown Democratic opponent 5-1. The politics of demographic reallighnment in the 22nd offer hope that Delay’s excesses will translate into a Democratic 22nd district: As Judis points out:

Most of the black and Latino voters are Democrats…But the Asian vote is more complex. The Indians are the most Democratic. The Pakistanis used to be Republican, but, along with other American Muslims, turned to the Democrats in the face of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment after September 11. The Vietnamese and Chinese were also initially Republicans, but have become increasingly receptive to Democratic support for civil rights.
If you put the district’s disillusioned white professionals together with a majority of the Asians and large majorities of blacks and Latinos, you get a coalition that could unseat DeLay and, over the long run, perhaps, lay the basis for a Democratic resurgence in the area. This potential was evident in two races last year. In a state representative’s district adjoining Fort Bend County and somewhat similar to it in ethnic composition, Vietnamese businessman Hubert Vo, running as a Democrat with the help of Tameez, pulled off an astonishing upset over eleven-term conservative Republican Talmadge Heflin, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Vo won because he mobilized the district’s Asian vote, which is about one-fifth of the electorate. Says Texas Monthly executive editor Paul Burka, “That demographic tidal wave is headed Tom DeLay’s way.”

Nor will DeLay, who made himself poster-boy for political meddling in private family matters during the Terry Schiavo tragedy, find much encouragement in recent polls. As Judis reports:

A poll conducted this month by SurveyUSA found that 51 percent of the district’s residents disapproved of the job DeLay was doing in Washington…A Houston Chronicle poll this spring revealed that 68 percent of the 22nd district’s voters disapproved of government intervention in the Schiavo case.

Winning DeLay’s seat will not be easy, concedes Judis. And it will require some astute politicking to win the support of non-white voters, who are rapidly becomming a majority in the 22nd and Republicans concerned about DeLay’s ethics and financial shenanigans:

Whether Democrats can defeat DeLay will depend partly on their funding a credible candidate to run against him–one who will not scare away the district’s registered Republican majority. Says Leonard Scarcella, a conservative Democrat who has been mayor of Stafford since 1969: “Someone needs to park himself to the right, and take everything to the left of that. You don’t have to convince anyone on the left. You have to convince voters that you can represent conservative values on religion and fiscal stability.”

Political commentator and former Clinton advisor Paul Begala, who grew up in what is now DeLay’s district says the slogan of DeLay’s opponent should be “I’m a conservative, not a crook.”
Regardless of the outcome of the race for DeLay’s seat next year, the 22nd’s political and demographic dynamics are emblematic of what is happening in many districts across the nation, particularly in the south and west. If Democrats will pay attention and target their investments and resources carefully, they can end GOP domination of Congress sooner, rather than later.