The weather could not have been better for the middle of December. That likely helped turnout at a recent Beto O’Rourke lunchtime campaign event at a Lubbock park. Hundreds showed up to hear from the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
Attendees cheered as O’Rourke highlighted his plans should he win the governorship this year. Comments about abortion rights, legalizing marijuana and working on relationships across political party lines struck a chord with the crowd.
The energy in the audience shows the prevailing assumption that there are few Democrats in Lubbock is not necessarily true. But that energy is not inspiring local Democrats to run for office.
Excluding statewide races, over 30 Republicans are listed on the Lubbock County party’s March primary ballot. Compare that to two people who filed to run for local races on the Democratic primary ballot. That includes incumbent Justice of the Peace for Precinct 3 Aurora Hernandez and Juan Gatica, who is running for county commissioner in Precinct 3.
Gracie Gomez, chair of the Lubbock County Democratic Party, said she is disappointed in the lack of candidates. There are layers of reasons why she thinks few people threw their hats in the ring. One of them is political polarization in a conservative community.
“It’s always been horrible, but even more so now,” Gomez said. “I think they’re just reluctant to even make it a go.”
Local attorney John Gibson pinpoints other issues. He ran as a Democrat for House District 84 during the 2020 general election. That seat is opening up this election cycle, after Republican Rep. John Frullo announced he would finish out his term but not seek another after a decade in office. Four Republicans are vying for the position, but no Democrats filed to run.
Gibson said he wishes his timing was different. The political climate of 2020 inspired him to run then.
“I ran because I felt like I needed to,” he said.
While he said he enjoyed the political process, Gibson also found it to be exhausting.
“I would come home from work,” he said, “eat dinner with my family real quick, and get back to it.”
Running for office also takes a lot of money. Gibson said he understands why local Democrats are not enthusiastically signing up to do it when the odds aren’t in their favor. He lost his race with about 39% of votes, which is a higher percentage of ballots than President Joe Biden received in Lubbock, according to data from the Lubbock County Elections Office.
“The reality of it all is that any candidate that runs, no matter how strong they are, they have an uphill climb,” Gibson said.
Stuart Williams, executive director of The 134 PAC and former chair of the Lubbock County Democratic Party, said it has been so long since the area elected a democrat for a statewide office, many do not think it is possible.
“It’s inside their head that this is an impossible place,” Williams said. “It’s not impossible.”
A yellow-dog Democrat, Williams is in tune with the reasons why his party thinks the area is impossible. But he is more interested in solutions. Williams said that starts with engagement.
The 134 PAC is working to organize and encourage Democrats in the red-voting counties west of Interstate 35. The political action committee identified the lack of Democratic candidates on ballots as one of the greatest obstacles the party has in rural areas.
“The rhetorical question that I will leave with people: where are you? You’ve got to start showing up,” Williams said. “You cannot wait for Beto to save you.”
Back at Mae Simmons Park, Beto O’Rourke said Democrats should focus on showing citizens they care. He said that includes engagement, but also, stepping up.
“We’re not going to win elections if we’re not on the ballot,” O’Rourke said. “We’re not going to win more votes if we don’t show up in the neighborhoods and precincts where these voters live.”
For now, the Lubbock County Democratic Party said it will focus on supporting statewide candidates like O’Rourke. They hope success for the party at that level will generate local momentum.
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