Mike Siegel and Pritesh Gandhi Vie for Dem Nod in Texas' Congressional District 10
Both candidates are looking for the chance to bounce Michael McCaul from congress
In three of the six congressional districts that cross the city of Austin, the Democratic primary outcome has been settled, but three races remain to be determined by the May 26 run-off. And for Austin voters, the most prominent of these is the gerrymandered TX-10, which runs from Austin to Houston and includes all or part of nine counties. The district, hotly contested in a three-way first round, has since 2005 been held by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-West Lake Hills. Of more than 80,000 Democratic votes cast in TX-10 on or before Super Tuesday, more than 51,000 were in Travis County, so we can expect much of the campaign action in the next two months to be nearby.
Returning candidate Mike Siegel (who narrowly lost to McCaul in 2018) begins with a lead, at 44%, over Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, at 33%. (Shannon Hutcheson came in third with 23%.) After election day, Siegel celebrated his "strong plurality," credited his volunteers and staff, and said he was outspent – "5-to-1," he estimates, including in that ratio not only funding directly spent by Gandhi and Hutcheson, but notably that of the independent, pro-Gandhi 314 Action PAC that supports "science-based" campaigns. Siegel credits not only his running start as a returning candidate and "strong combination of staff and volunteer power," but what he calls a "sophisticated electorate" that engaged with the candidates and their programs.
The candidates will spend the next few weeks countering each other, but with at least one eye on McCaul and the general election. Gandhi told the Chronicle last week that at this point, he's not emphasizing "distinctions with Siegel" and is rather "laser-focused" on uniting Democratic voters against McCaul, and on building a coalition of organizations and voters intent upon "improving the lives of Texans." He said he's worked hard to expand his name recognition and reputation across the district. On election day, he made a whirlwind tour of polling places, ending with four in Travis County's Eastern Crescent – the broad region that includes most of metro Austin's poorer neighborhoods where many people of color reside and where his primary care practice (at People's Community Clinic) is based. He said he wants the "disenfranchised and the underserved" among voters to "know that they are seen." In the recent weeks of the coronavirus crisis, Gandhi's press releases have featured his own medical experience and his advocacy of medical expertise over the Trump administration's brazenly politicized strategy.
Former Austin Assistant City Attorney Siegel, in addition to his years of grassroots organizing and field work, cites his support for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal as differentiating his campaign from Gandhi's, and believes that his first-round lead reflects strong support for those policies in TX-10. He said Gandhi's skepticism about those policies – generally dismissing them as "impractical" and unachievable under current political conditions – is short-sighted as policy and counterproductive among more progressive Democratic voters. The run-off might come to reflect a miniaturized version of the presidential Democratic debate between the party's loosely defined "moderate" and "progressive" wings.
The outcome will certainly depend to a great degree on the second choices of Hutcheson's 18,000-plus voters – though the May 26 turnout will undoubtedly be lower overall, with only the most engaged Democrats likely to return. Both candidates say they'll be asking Hutcheson (silent thus far) for her support going forward. The most recent tweet on her Twitter feed (March 5, two days after election night) is a retweet of Public Citizen, featuring flags of the dozens of "countries with a woman leader before the U.S."