DALLAS — When Kenny Marchant announced in 2019 that he would not be running for reelection to the Texas 24th congressional district, people everywhere started speculating on the future of its representation. Now, with only seven weeks until the election, a district that has been comfortably Republican for more than a decade is a toss-up.
The race is between Republican Beth Van Duyne, the former mayor of Irving, and Democrat Candace Valenzuela, a former board member of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District. In many ways, this local race for a district that encompasses much of the northern suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth mirrors what’s going on nationally. Suburbs, which have long been Republican strongholds, are now in play.
For the 24th district, Tom Marshall, a professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington said this is because of demographic change.
“This is a district that I used to call a little old white people district,” Marshall said. “It became a largely Hispanic, decidedly more Hispanic, to some degree a little more Black, to some degree a little more young people.”
The changing demographics of the area were part of the reason Marchant came so close to losing in 2018 to an unknown and underfunded opponent. Marchant eked out a victory with 50.6 percent of the vote over Jan McDowell’s 47.5 percent. In contrast, he faced off against McDowell previously in 2016 and defeated her then, 56.2 percent to 39.3 percent.
The closer-than-expected results of the 2018 election forced everyone on the national political stage to take a second look. Then, when Marchant announced he was retiring, national groups immediately mobilized. Now the Democrats see this race as one they can win, while Republicans are fighting to maintain control.
“It becomes an open seat that becomes way more competitive because there aren’t a lot of open seats,” Marshall said. “When you have an open seat, the money pours in.”
When it comes to money, Valenzuela stresses that she doesn’t take any from corporate political action committees to show her independence and the grassroots nature of her campaign. But, despite that, both campaigns are receiving money from their national political organizations, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Marshall said he expects $10 to 12 million to be spent on the race in total.
Because this closely-watched race has national money pouring in, it was almost inevitable that the candidates would run on larger national issues. Van Duyne has campaigned by using her party’s standard-bearers as her shield for Conservative street cred. President Donald Trump endorsed her, along with former governor Rick Perry and Rep. Dan Crenshaw.
“We live in a very fragile time for our nation, our families, and the future of the American Dream,” she says on her election website. “Socialism is on the rise, our border crisis has never been worse, and we face constant threats from hostile nations willing to use cyberattacks, nuclear weapons, and terrorist jihad(s). When I think about my two children, I want them to have the same opportunities in life that I did; I want them to be able to grow up safe and proud of our country.”
On the other hand, Valenzuela is running on issues the national Democratic Party has outlined as part of the platform, including social service programs and healthcare.
“As a child, after my mother left the military, we experienced homelessness,” Valenzuela said in a recent phone interview. “My brother was still in diapers, and we ended up bouncing from place to place. What helped us get on our feet was (Housing and Urban Development) and public education. These lived experiences aren’t something you can glean from the top down. Ultimately, my constituents know who I’m here for.”