Candidates all over the Lone Star State are pouring their hearts, souls and resources into their campaigns. The primaries in Texas are only three weeks away.
While resources are a major challenge for every candidate, that’s particularly true for those with little name recognition. Some organizations like Emily’s List and Annie’s List are making money available to the record number of female candidates running this year. but the money is not available to everyone.
Both Emily’s List and Annie’s List support women who want to run for office, by coaching them and by funding them. But, Annie’s List Executive Director Patsy Woods Martin says they only fund one kind of candidate
“We endorse – let’s be very clear – based on their position on choice,” she says.
Meaning: the group will only fund candidates who support abortion rights. And that complicates things for some candidates.
“Usually we see this with Latinas,” says Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, who teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. She says a Latina candidate in Texas, even if she supports abortion rights, will struggle to say so publicly and that is a challenge.
“Because your constituent base tends to be pro-life so you’re literally stuck between a rock and a hard place,” DeFrancesco Soto says.
Supporting abortion could release funding by these big organizations but it could also alienate community support.
“It’s a very polarizing topic,” says Elizabeth Simas, who teaches political science at the University of Houston. She says views on abortion are like boulders – they stay put – they don’t change
“if you track social issues since like the 70s – especially if you want to compare it to something like same-sex marriage – support has steadily gone up. Abortion has stayed almost static,” Simas says.
Among Latinos and Hispanics, regardless of party affiliation, abortion is sometimes the single issue when deciding which candidates they’ll support. Opposition to abortion is cultural, deeply rooted in Roman Catholic and evangelical values. And that is not a stereotype – data from a new study by the Pew Research Center on religious groups and their views on abortion shows most evangelicals believe abortions should be illegal while Catholics are split down the middle.
The issue is so sensitive that if a candidate can avoid talking about it, they will. In fact, every Latina candidate I reached out to, except one, politely declined to be interviewed.
Lina Hidalgo did speak to me. She’s a Democrat who wants to be the next Harris County Judge because she believes she’d be better at preparing the county for the next hurricane, she believes maternal deaths could be prevented and also believes spending could be done in a smarter way. But since she’s a first-time candidate, people around the county want to know her views on abortion
“To me it’s a tragic personal health issue. I think for a girl or a woman to be pregnant when she doesn’t want to, it’s complex, it’s multilayered, it’s part of a bigger battle,” Hidalgo says.
Wait – did she say she supports abortions or not? When I asked again, she told me it’s complicated.
See, Harris County is majority-minority. The largest minority are Hispanics with 42 percent of the population. If they voted as a block in support of Hidalgo, she could feasibly win this election. But Hispanics don’t vote as a block. So, Hidalgo doesn’t want to alienate anyone, including funders
“Ultimately, if you wanted to choose a label, I’d probably fall in the side of “pro-choice” but that’s not an issue under the purview of the County Judge and the Commissioner’s Court,” she says.
True. But it matters to voters and funders alike. Right now, Hidalgo is not being funded by any of these women’s groups, though she has applied for support from Annie’s List.
Will she get it? Is she enough of an abortion supporter? At the same time, is she mindful enough of her community’s concerns? Is this too much of a dance for Latina candidates? Perhaps, but some have done it before and been successful
During her run for lieutenant governor in 2014, Leticia Leticia Van DePutte was supported by Annie’s List even though she’s a devout Catholic who opposes abortion. So how did she get that endorsement?
“I mean – look – I had six children in nine years. I lived my Catholic faith. But, as an elected official I took my responsibility of making sure that I upheld the law. And the law of the land is Roe v. Wade and that means that each woman gets to make that decision,” Van DePutte says.
When Van DePutte ran for lieutenant governor, she already had a long political career. So, it may have been easier for her to navigate the minefield of politics and abortions. It’s different for first time candidates and political races are expensive so this decision could make or break a campaign.
The Texas Tribune estimates that local races in Texas require about half a million dollars, while state wide races are in the $20 million range.