Want to guarantee a campaign throwdown? Toss two major American cities, two large minority populations and 15 candidates into one newly drawn congressional district.
The primary battle in Congressional District 33, a horizontal swath that spans Dallas and Fort Worth, has the makings of a political circus. Eleven Democrats are vying for the district, home to politically active black communities and a voting-age population that is more than 60 percent Hispanic. Two Republicans, a Libertarian and a Green Party candidate are also running, though the district’s population has voted overwhelmingly Democratic in the last two statewide elections.
The perceived Democratic front-runners have distinct bases: Marc Veasey, a commercial real estate agent and state representative from Fort Worth, is black. Domingo Garcia, a Dallas lawyer, past City Council member and former state representative, is Hispanic. But they're not the only candidates with a fighting chance.
There are David Alameel, a Dallas dental center mogul who has poured his fortune into advertising; Kathleen Hicks, a Fort Worth City Council member; and Steve Salazar, a former Dallas City Council member.
Chrysta Castañeda is a lawyer who has represented Dallas County in litigation; Carlos Quintanilla is a Dallas-based Hispanic community activist; and J.R. Molina is a Tarrant County lawyer and past municipal judge. Rounding out the group are Jason Roberts, a Dallas business owner and neighborhood organizer; Fort Worth Justice of the Peace Manuel Valdez; and Fort Worth minister Kyev Tatum.
Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said that on the Democratic side, the May 29 primary will simply narrow the field for a July runoff — where he expects to see Veasey and Garcia.
Jillson said that despite Garcia’s widespread name recognition, he thinks Veasey could edge him out because much of Veasey’s state House district is in the new Congressional district.
“As the Hispanic population growth continues and, one assumes, voter turnout increases, the weight of this district may well tilt toward Dallas,” Jillson said. “Currently, it tilts toward Fort Worth.”
Both Garcia and Veasey acknowledge they cannot just target their respective bases; to get elected, they will have to build allegiances in their neighboring cities, and within both minority groups.
Garcia, who said he has built “black-brown coalitions for over 25 years,” has the support of state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, both prominent black leaders.
“You’ve got to build across geographic lines, across ethnic lines,” Garcia said. “That’s where I think my strengths are the best of any candidate in this race.”
But Veasey, who said he repeatedly “got out the vote with a very diverse group of constituents” in a House district that is 45 percent black and 35 percent Hispanic, won a coveted endorsement from The Dallas Morning News. The endorsement suggested Garcia, the paper’s hometown candidate, had an “authoritarian” reputation, and might not play well with others.
“The skepticism of Democratic insiders will be a problem for Garcia,” Jillson said.