While Texas’ 24th Congressional District has long been a Republican stronghold, this election, it’s emerged as a key battleground. The district spans smaller cities and northern suburbs across Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant Counties.
To some political observers, it’s a sign of progress that this race has come down to two women.
“That just makes me happy,” said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, assistant dean for civic engagement at the University of Texas Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. DeFrancesco Soto said in much of Texas, the demographics of suburban districts have shifted since the last election.
“So what had traditionally been a more homogenous majority white area is now a diverse area with white, Latino, Black folks living together and making districts that were previously not competitive extremely competitive,” DeFrancesco Soto said.
The race for Texas’ 24th Congressional District was left open after Republican incumbent Kenny Marchant announced he would not seek reelection. Texas Democrats seized on the opportunity, throwing their support behind Candace Valenzuela, a former trustee on the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School Board.
“I best represent this district because of my lived experience, because of my governance experience,” Valenzuela said. “I started running for Congress because the opportunities that helped me go from being homeless as a kid to becoming the first in my family to go to college to becoming the first woman of color on the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School Board, those opportunities need to be available to everyone.”
Valenzuela said she was the most progressive member of that school board, and she learned to work across ideological lines to get results. She’s now championing policies like a public health insurance option and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. If elected, Valenzuela would be the first Black Latina in Congress.
“It’s an honor, but also, it’s a little embarrassing that 2020 is the first year that we are seriously having a discussion about the first Black Latina ever being in Congress,” she said.
Valenzuela’s opponent, Republican Beth Van Duyne, who is white, says she’s not running on “identity politics.”
“Vote for me because I’m the strongest candidate,” Van Duyne said. “I’m the most dedicated, I’m the most effective, and I can show you results.”
Van Duyne is a familiar, conservative voice in North Texas politics. She was on the Irving City Council and served two terms as the city’s mayor. Van Duyne drew a flood of national attention in 2015, after she raised concerns that a local Muslim mediation group was operating as a Shariah law court. The group’s leaders had explained their aim was to help resolve disputes in the Muslim community, and their decisions were not legally binding.
Van Duyne went on to serve as a regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She was appointed to the position by President Donald Trump, who has endorsed her in this Congressional race.
Van Duyne’s policy priorities include looser regulations on healthcare, like being able to buy plans across state lines. She’s also for tougher border security.
“Being on the city council for six years and being mayor for six years of one of the top 100 largest cities in the country with the most diverse zip code, I have had to work to bring jobs and economic development into the city working with all types of people, and at the same time, I also recognize that safety is a priority,” Van Duyne said. “Suburban moms, that’s something they are very focused on and concerned about at this point.”
It remains to be seen if the growing diversity of Texas’ 24th Congressional District is reflected at the ballot box.
“It really boils down to registration and mobilization of turnout, because sure, by sheer numbers, it looks really diverse, but it comes down to who shows up at the polls,” said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto.
She said this suburban North Texas district will remain competitive beyond 2020.
“If Beth Van Duyne wins, the Democrats are going to make a run at it,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “If Candace Valenzuela wins, Republicans are going to make a run at it two years later, so I think this is going to be one of the few swing districts that we’ll have in Congress for a while at least.”