When I started Progressives Everywhere last year, it was with candidates like Miguel Levario in mind. In order to truly rebuild a better Democratic Party, we need to work to build it everywhere. Too many states had been instantly surrendered to Republicans, which, along with enabling corrupt politicians to govern millions of people, had the effect of making our political map smaller and smaller.
There were far too many districts that didn’t even field Democratic candidates for local and federal office in 2016 — including Levario’s northwest Texas district, TX-19, which includes cities like Abilene and Lubbock and major schools such as Texas Tech University.
Levario is a professor of history at Texas Tech and the first Democrat to seriously run to represent the district since 2004, when Texas’s extreme partisan gerrymander made it deep red. But between Texas’s seismic and ongoing demographic shifts, the district’s changing profile, and the wave of progressive energy sweeping a nation disgusted with GOP grifters, Levario figures he has a pretty decent shot at pulling off the upset. His opponent is against an unremarkable Republican, Rep. Jodey Arrington, who is running for re-election for the first time, improving his odds even further.
“In the 19 months we’ve been running, I’ve met more independents than in the first 11 years I lived here,” Levario told Progressives Everywhere last month, laughing at the observation. “Before, everybody was proud to be a Republican and proud to be conservative and they didn’t hide it. Now, whether it’s because of the White House or Congress or just the divisiveness in society, I have Republicans telling me, ‘I can’t believe I’m meeting with a Democrat and I like you.'”
The northwest Texas district is still predominantly rural, but the growth in the universities and the further development of medical/biotech hubs in Lubbock and Abilene have brought an influx of younger, more progressive residents in more urban and suburban areas.
That leads to some divergent concerns, but Levario is bridging the gap by running on an unapologetically progressive platform that aggressively challenges entrenched corporate interests, addresses cultural divisions pushed by the GOP, and includes policies such as Medicare for All.
“We’re not getting the anti-Obamacare rhetoric, even from Republicans. When we talk about healthcare, they’re afraid they’re going lose the little bit that they have,” Levario reports. “In our smaller areas, they’re already seeing the clinics close down and at the very least they’re seeing services being taken away because they simply cannot afford it because Texas did not take the Medicaid expansion. I find it ironic that some of our clinics are in heavily Republican, pro-life areas, yet they can’t deliver babies because they can’t afford to it.”
He’s no longer hearing misguided hysterics over “socialized medicine,” given the rising cost of healthcare and the increasingly limited availability. One voter that he met on the trail told Levario that he had to go to Europe to get affordable care for his cancer; many others have had family members or friends forgo medical care, due to the expense, until it was too late.
The cruel reality of the modern medical business, even in a district with so many medical research centers, has changed the attitude of voters there.
“We haven’t moved our platform to the center,” Levario says. “We believe in people. We don’t shy away from Medicare for All because that’s what people want.”
It also helps that Arrington is such a hardcore more Republican. He worked for George W. Bush when he was both Governor and President, now supports Trump’s Muslim ban, and uses bible verses to justify cutting off food stamps. It puts him far outside any American mainstream, and as Republicans lose grip on Texas — look at the Beto O’Rourke surge against Ted Cruz — it also puts Arrington further on the right wing even in that state.
Still, when Levario began his campaign, he heard from plenty of old-school Democrats — the remains of the party, those that didn’t convert to the GOP after the LBJ years — that he had to play it safe to have a shot.
“They said you’ve got to be more moderate. People 60 and older were still believing that we’ve got tread lightly here, saying we live in a conservative district and we should more in the middle,” he relayed. “I listened, but then as I said, when we go and talk to people, they don’t want ‘moderate,’ they want what they want. They want healthcare, they want funding for their schools. They want their teachers to get paid.
“We don’t frame it as being liberal, progressive, socialist, or Democrat,” he continued. “That might turn off people because of the cultural context here. But the platform and the plans and proposals that we offer are certainly along those lines of a progressive candidate.”
The growing Hispanic population in the district has yet to equate to a political shift, but as Levario notes, he’s the first Latino candidate to run for office there, and he’s predicting the beginning of the sea change that many have been bracing for in Texas.
“The thing is, Latinos vote. They just never had somebody to vote for. Lubbock is a very segregated city. So we’ve spent time in the neighborhoods that are predominantly Latino and African American. They know us and they said, yeah, you’re the first and only candidate that’s been out here in God knows when.”
That points to how Levario is running his campaign. Money is often tight, as it’s hard to get big Democratic donors to look at rural Texas when so many more obvious swing districts are at play. They’ve eschewed many TV ads or billboards on Texas highways, instead relying on grassroots support, going door-to-door in both cities and rural neighborhoods, holding events and shaking a lot of hands.
An influx of donations would go to digital campaigning — social media and Google ads — instead of the tradition of pouring money into TV or local radio, which provides less and less bang for their buck.
The core of the Levario campaign will always being present in the community, opening minds to Democrats and progressive policy one voter at the time.
“I always tell people it’s more expensive to avoid your constituents,” the candidate says. “You’ve got to make commercials and all kinds of stuff so that you can avoid them, but if you just confront them, it’s actually much cheaper. Just have to pay for gas.”
If Democrats can win a district like this, the GOP’s hold on so much of the country will no longer be a sure thing. And that would truly change America.