Dems Focus on Flipping GOP Strongholds 04/24 06:06

Dems Focus on Flipping GOP Strongholds 04/24 06:06

   DALLAS (AP) -- As Dallas has evolved from reliably red to deeply blue, 
joining many other big cities, one enclave has remained the beating heart of 
country club conservatism --- home to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, oil tycoon T. 
Boone Pickens and former President George W. Bush.

   Just north of downtown, it's where suits-and-cowboy-boots culture meets the 
high-powered banking circuit and Southern Methodist University's immaculately 
manicured campus.

   Still, this longtime Republican stronghold could now help determine whether 
Democrats can break the GOP's control of Congress. If Republicans lose their 
23-seat margin in the House in this fall's election, as some GOP leaders fear, 
the swing may be built on unlikely urban and suburban areas like this, where 
until recently Democrats couldn't even muster credible candidates --- but that 
have slowly become more diverse, well-educated and politically competitive.

   Now considered key battlegrounds are exclusive Dallas haunts and 
mini-mansion-lined blocks of Houston, the oceanfront condos in Miami's South 
Beach and the mountain-flanked California home of Ronald Reagan's presidential 
library. Also possibly in play are a district north of Milwaukee that's backed 
a Democrat for Congress just once since World War II, and one anchored in 
Cincinnati that's been Republican since native son William Howard Taft became 
president in 1909.

   Nationally, the Republican Party relies on white voters, who account for 86 
percent of its totals. More than half are whites without a college education. 
Democrats run stronger among ethnic minorities and the college educated. As 
cities have become magnets for minorities and young professionals, the GOP has 
compensated by peeling off congressional districts in some white, blue-collar 
places like upstate New York, in northern Michigan and southern West Virginia.

   But this year the balance seems to favor Democrats. In addition to the 
traditional fall-off in support for the president's party in midterm elections, 
three dozen-plus House Republicans have decided to retire, opening up more 
opportunities. Also, while President Donald Trump remains strong in rural 
areas, his popularity is weakening among women and college-educated 
Republicans, including those in upscale neighborhoods.

   In Dallas, Colin Allred, a former Tennessee Titans linebacker and civil 
rights attorney, is hoping to oust 11-term Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, whose 
seat is considered among the vulnerable.

    "This is a highly educated district with a lot of people who are paying 
attention," Allred said. "And a lot of those people don't like what they're 
seeing."

   First elected to Congress in 1996, Sessions is so entrenched that he didn't 
face a 2016 Democratic challenger. But Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Trump 
in his district, which had backed Mitt Romney by 15 points in 2012. Sessions' 
territory is now more than a quarter Hispanic and nearly another quarter black 
and Asian.

   Allred was raised in Dallas by a single mother. A neck injury ended his 
five-year NFL career in 2010, but he used savings from his NFL salary to pay 
for law school before serving in the Department of Housing and Urban 
Development during President Barack Obama's administration.

   Sessions, a prolific fundraiser, says he's not worried because his territory 
remains full of Texans who reject "the big government shackles that liberal 
Democrats always try to force on us."

   Allred still has to win a May 22 Democratic runoff against Lillian Salerno, 
a fellow veteran of the Obama administration who finished nearly 20 points 
behind him in the primary last month. Allred raised $400,000-plus in the year's 
first three months while Sessions got $600,000-plus.

   National Democrats are investing in the race. The Democratic Congressional 
Campaign Committee has been buying anti-Sessions digital and radio ads for the 
last year. It also has full-time organizers in Dallas, Houston and 18 other GOP 
districts.

   The prospect to flip in Houston is Rep. John Culberson's affluent district, 
which has voted Republican since first sending George H.W. Bush to Congress 
half a century ago. But Clinton beat Trump there in 2016, and it's now nearly a 
third Hispanic, while about a fifth of residents have post-graduate college 
degrees.

   "The socio-economic fabric of the district has changed," said Mustafa 
Tameez, a Houston-based political strategist who has worked for Democratic 
candidates but also was a homeland security consultant for George W. Bush's 
administration.

   To counter the Democratic push, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a 
political group with ties to the outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, has opened a 
field office in Culberson's district --- one of nearly 30 the group now has 
protecting Republican House incumbents nationwide.

   Shifting demographics are also challenging for veteran Republican Rep. Steve 
Chabot of Cincinnati. Traditionally white and heavily Catholic neighborhoods 
have become more racially mixed, while the center city has seen an influx of 
young, well-educated professionals.

   For a Democrat, "It's still an uphill climb," said Caleb Faux, executive 
director of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, but he noted that Aftab 
Pureval, an Indian-American Democrat challenging Chabot, won a county position 
in 2016 that had been Republican-held for a century-plus.

   Other districts in flux include Republican Rep. Steve Knight's, encompassing 
part of Los Angeles County and Ronald Reagan's presidential library in Simi 
Valley. It hasn't voted Democratic since 1964 but has a swelling Hispanic 
population. In Miami, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring after 30 
years in Congress, creating an opportunity in a district where Clinton beat 
Trump by 20 points. A parade of top Democrats, including former U.S. Health and 
Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, is vying for the party's nomination.

   Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman's rural-suburban seat has been GOP-controlled 
since 1967, but Grothman admits he's "very apprehensive about the future."

   Back in Dallas, some, like 70-year-old retiree Julie Bengtson, see similar, 
once unthinkable trends.

   Bengtson was a Republican for decades but skipped sending Christmas cards 
last year to avoid political discussions with Trump-supporting friends. She 
said she's now finding more friends uncertain about their votes.

    "Even in our area, it's happening," Bengtson said. "More and more people 
are leaving the party."


(KA)

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