NBC News officially moved Texas to “toss-up” status today, indicating that Joe Biden has something close to a 50/50 chance of winning a state that used to be a Republican anchor. And if he does, a lot of the credit will go to remarkable candidates like Julie Oliver, who is running herself to flip the state’s 25th Congressional district.
The district is a product of egregious gerrymandering, so much so that despite all the focus on Texas, no one paid all that much attention when Oliver first ran in 2018. We covered the race here at Progressives Everywhere anyway — she was just too inspiring and impressive a candidate to ignore. And Oliver way exceeded expectations, eventually losing by less than 9 points, the first time a Democrat had come within single digits in the district since it was reshaped by Gov. Rick Perry (some years, there wasn’t even a Democrat on the ballot).
Now, Oliver has a legit chance to finish the job and flip the district blue. To be transparent, I’d be rooting for her no matter what, given her party affiliation and the fact that she’s in Texas. But Oliver is also running a full-on progressive campaign — she’s proudly in favor of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, for example — and is devoting more of her life to the cause not because she ever wanted to be a politician, but because she feels the moral calling to help in such dire times.
“I’ll be honest with you, after the 2018 election, I felt like, Oh my gosh, I didn’t do everything I could I have done and I let people down,” she told me earlier this week. “I just felt this tremendous weight on my shoulders. I looked at my husband in March  and was like, ‘Honey, I have a terrible idea. I think I’m gonna run for Congress again.’ And he was very apprehensive because it’s a huge family commitment.”
First, it’s absurd to think she let anyone down, but Julie Oliver is pretty used to defying the odds — she’s done it all throughout her life. You can read her story here, but here are the basics: Oliver grew up poor, dropped out of high school and ran away from home, then got pregnant at 17 years old. She moved back home on the condition that she continue her education, which she did all the way through law school.
Now she’s a mother of four, a successful executive, and a candidate running a smart, data-driven campaign for Congress. And a campaign with really good ads:
The first thing that Oliver did after the conversation about running again was research whether there was a viable path to victory. She met with a friend and together they analyzed the 2018 election results, combing through the data to see where they might be able to turn out or swing more votes in 2020.
Oliver’s goal is to turn out more voters in suburban Travis County and Hays County while cutting into Williams’ margins in the much more red Johnson County. She’s even running to get the veteran-heavy Bell County to get out and vote, calling it the campaign’s “secret weapon.”
(The fact that she’s running against Roger Williams, a slick Trumpian millionaire Republican who took millions in PPP money for his car dealership while the rest of the district missed out on stimulus money, makes it a little bit easier, too.)
It’s unconscionable that there are so many (13!) large counties in the district, but that’s the power of gerrymandering. The 25th district stretches from Fort Worth down to Austin, covering nearly 2500 square miles. The shape of the district is preposterous — as Oliver puts it, “it looks like somebody took a jalapeño and smashed it on top of the middle of Texas and then pixelated the edges.”
Given the fact that the district was engineered to be a GOP stronghold, you’d expect Oliver to play it cautious with her policy prescriptions, as many Democrats in the state have done. But she sees it the other way around — Texas has long been turning purple, demographics are working in Democrats’ favor, and people are looking for major change.
Before COVID hit, Texas already had the most uninsured people of any state, and that number has spiked during the pandemic — at this point, just about 30% of all Texans under the age of 65 don’t have health insurance. As a former healthcare executive, Oliver says she “knows how to explain Medicare for All” in a way that makes the problems with the convoluted and indubitably stupid way medical coverage is financed easy to understand.
And let’s be real, no matter their political convictions, people aren’t clamoring to deal with Aetna or Blue Cross Blue Shield.
“People want health care coverage, they don’t want a health insurance company,” Oliver says. “In fact, I have yet to meet the person who actually likes to be on the phone with their insurance company. If they loved their insurance company that much, then you would find somebody who likes to talk to the insurance company. And so far, I haven’t found that person.”
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Instead, she hears story after story from people who are drowning in medical debt, desperate just to even consolidate the bills they get from various providers, let alone not have to go into financial ruin to deal with an emergency. One family told her on the campaign trail that they lost their employer-based insurance due to the pandemic, which has put them on the hook for the tens of thousands of dollars being billed for their young child’s cancer treatments.
“It’s just so sad that we’re in a pandemic, you have a child with cancer, the last thing you should be thinking about is, oh my god, how are we going to pay for this?” she says.
Early voting has already started in Texas, with a record-setting 8 million ballots already filed. Oliver’s campaign is running TV ads and fanning out across the massive district to get out the vote with canvassing, dropping off literature at people’s doors in as many target areas as possible. It’s also working with Sisters United, a data-driven organization in Texas that tries to turn out women who are registered to vote but rarely do so.
And with a week left, she’s not only feeling good about her chances, but also satisfied that she won’t have any regrets this time around.
“I can tell you that two years ago when I ran, the week before the election, I was like, Oh my gosh, I need three more months to campaign,” Oliver says. “I can honestly say that I feel like we have done absolutely everything you could possibly do, especially in a pandemic. It’s just so cool, feeling like, wow, we’ve really connected with hundreds of thousands of voters. It’s amazing.”
Want to help Julie and her campaign finish off the flip and win a huge victory for progressive Democrats?