Both sides of ballot in contest for radically gerrymandered seat

Both sides of the ballot have gone to run-off in the contest for Texas’ 17th Congressional District, a radically gerrymandered seat that extends from North Austin east to Brazos County and northwest to Waco. For the Dem­o­crats, 2018 nominee Rick Kennedy will face newcomer David Jaramillo, a Waco-based Marine veteran who quit his job at the Veterans Administration to run for this position. Kennedy, a software engineer, lost handily to incumbent Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, two years ago, but Flores is retiring, the GOP primary was inconclusive, and Kennedy believes he’s the “most viable Democratic candidate” to flip the district on his second try. At 48%, he nearly won the primary outright on March 3, while Jaramillo garnered 35% and William Foster III finished at 17%.

The two Dems are not sharply distinguished on policy matters – both support pragmatic approaches to universal health care, for example. Kennedy wants to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act, while Jaramillo advocates for what he calls “Medicare for All with safety nets,” based on his experience with veterans’ health care. Jaramillo also described himself this week as “the only candidate who doesn’t support a border wall,” citing Kennedy’s defense of existing, conventional boundaries near ports of entry. Kennedy called that “a gross misrepresentation of my position,” which has consistently been supporting humane immigration reform and ending “deterrence by cruelty.” Kenne­dy’s lead was somewhat weaker (46% to 40%) in Travis County, which produced more than 41% of the total vote; he plans to pay closer attention to Austin in the run-off.

The winner will face either former GOP Congressman Pete Sessions or businesswoman Renee Swann, after a 12-person first round left Sessions with 32% and Swann with 19%. Kennedy expects Republican voters to coalesce around Sessions – “He’s represented some of these counties before, and they’re not going to want to risk losing this seat.” (Sessions was unseated in 2018 by Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, in TX-32, which is entirely within Dallas County; he’s originally from, and has moved back to, Waco.) Dems will have to turn out in still greater numbers – 46,000 voted in the primary, compared to nearly 69,000 on the Republican side. It will take a major blue wave in Texas to close 2018’s 16% gap between Flores and Kennedy.