From Houston Public Media:
The 22nd Congressional District stretches from Webster in Southeast Harris County across northern Brazoria County. But the heart of the district is Fort Bend County, accounting for 70 percent of the vote. And for the last two election cycles, Fort Bend County has been trending Democratic. Craig Goodman teaches political science at the University of Houston-Victoria.
“I think this is one of those districts that is maybe kind of a carbon copy of what we’ve seen in other suburban districts around the state and around the country – that districts that are more diverse are becoming more open to Democratic candidates.”
Five Democrats are vying for the chance to flip the district. Leading the pack is Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former diplomat who ran but lost against Olson in 2018.
“Fort Bend County is the second-most diverse county in the entire country, and we had to go to a lot of communities where nobody had really talked to them. So for example in the Asian community, 72%of them had never been talked to by a Republican or a Democrat,” Kulkarni said.
Kulkarni is fluent in Hindi and Mandarin Chinese, as well as Spanish, which gives him an advantage in reaching out to the district’s large immigrant population. He also has a big fundraising lead over his Democratic rivals. As for his top issue, it’s personal.
“We go to community after community where their number one issue is healthcare,” Kulkarni said. “Everybody, you know, no matter what your background is, somebody has a story just like mine, my family’s story, where my dad got cancer when I was 18, and when he died when I was 19, we were on the point of bankruptcy.”
Aside from healthcare, Kulkarni is focused on flood control and gun control. The latter could be a difficult sell in a district that’s long been a Republican stronghold. But he’s convinced that momentum is on his side.
“It was our effort, it was actually the effort of grassroots volunteers which pushed Pete Olson into dropping out of the race,” Kulkarni said.
In an e-mail, Congressman Olson’s office denied this was the case, saying the only reason Olson was retiring was family.
Not everyone agrees Kulkarni’s 2018 showing makes him the best Democratic standard bearer this time.
“I believe unfortunately in the last cycle the Democrats had a very strong chance of winning, but the ball was dropped,” said Nyanza Davis Moore, an attorney and one of Kulkarni’s opponents.
Moore is also heavily focused on healthcare. She recently lost both her sister and her father, and she’s furious at Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But she said she feels Kulkarni lost in part because he didn’t spend enough time in Brazoria County – which is majority-minority, like Fort Bend County, but more Republican.
“I never got a knock on my door, not one time, from anybody in the Democratic Party on that side, and I live in Pearland. I never got a sign in my yard. No one ever called me…And if you’re not touching the people in my area…then you’re not going to win,” Moore said.
Derrick Reed is a former Pearland city council member and another of Kulkarni’s Democratic rivals. He too sees healthcare as the pivotal issue for the district.
“The one thing that I’ve continuously heard from every person that I’ve spoken with the main concern is healthcare,” Reed said. “That’s the main thing, from a business owner’s perspective, from just a layperson’s perspective, they want access to better, more-affordable healthcare.”
Other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination include Chris Fernandez and Carmine Petrillo III.
If there’s one other thing Reed, Moore and Kulkarni all agree on, it’s that the district’s diversity provides the Democrats’ best chance to turn the 22nd blue this year.
“This was historically the district that Tom DeLay did his best to gerrymander, you know, back in the early 2000s. And the dynamics of the district have changed. The demographics of the district have changed,” Reed said.
All that said, GOP voters are sure to turn out in force to vote in November when the race for president tops the ballot. Most analysts view the congressional race as one of the tightest in Texas.