For the first time in a generation, there is a Democrat running for Congress in every single district in the state.
Most of those candidates vying to unseat Republicans will likely lose. Many are running in districts where President Donald Trump and the GOP incumbent won by double digits in 2016. But campaign finance reports show that a significant number of these Democrats are running professional campaigns, hiring staff and making their presence known in their communities.
And in this effort, they are bringing big money into the state.
Back in 2016, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates raised an aggregate sum of $32.3 million at this point in the cycle, nearly three times as much as Texas U.S. House Democratic candidates, who raised $11.4 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of campaign finance reports.
Two years later, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates have raised an aggregate sum of $34.8 million so far this cycle, similar to where they were in 2016. Democrats in Texas meanwhile, have nearly doubled their haul, having raised $21.8 million.
These figures do not reflect the more than $30 million raised so far in the state’s high profile race for U.S. Senate between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Former Houston radio personality Dayna Steele decided to run for Congress when she realized no other Democrat was running against her congressman, U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville.
“When I discovered nobody even bothered to run against him, I was like ‘Hell no. That’s not democracy,'” she said.
She’s raised over $500,000 for her current bid. She hopes to win her race, but short of that, she aims to reduce the stigma of being a Democrat in her conservative East Texas district.
To be sure, the GOP still has the dominant upper hand in fundraising in Texas, particularly when factoring in Gov. Greg Abbott’s daunting financial advantage over Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez.
And some Republicans argue that the kind of money Steele is raising is an example of wasted enthusiasm on unwinnable races.
But these new numbers show a new development in Texas Democratic politics: growth.
And this is purely organic. Nobody from the national party recruited Steele and many other candidates this year, nor are the Democratic National Committee or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sending them staffers or money as they often do in more high-profile races.
Former state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat who went through a brutal, nationalized gubernatorial race four years ago, said she had no qualms with these mostly female candidates raising and spending the money without Washington input.
“I trust these women to have an understanding of the motivating message for their communities,” she said. “That will yield a much greatest success than someone sitting in D.C. who might dictate how a campaign might run or what a campaign message might be.”
Below is a snapshot of how much the incumbent and the challenger have raised in all of Texas’ 36 congressional district since last year, compared to how much the 2016 candidates raised at this point two years ago.
Based on fundraising, Texas Republicans are not seriously challenging any of the 9 congressional districts where Democrats are running for re-election. That mirrors the same pattern from two years earlier.
Among eight open races this year, those to replace Republican U.S. Reps. Ted Poe of Houston, Lamar Smith of San Antonio and Joe Barton of Ennis stand out for how much the Democrat is holding his own in fundraising.