Rebecca Viagran pins hopes on San Antonio voters in congressional race
In Texas’ 35th congressional district, San Antonio’s lone candidate in the Democratic primary is banking on San Antonio voters to run for her.
But Rebecca Viagran, a former four-term city councilor, faces competition from her Austin-based opponents who are scrambling to make inroads with those same voters. Political watchers are warning her that she faces an uphill battle in the March 1 primary, and recent campaign finance reports reinforce that notion.
Viagran’s campaign issues overlap with those of its competitors, including former Austin city councilman Greg Casar, a Democratic Socialistand Texas House Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, listed by the Texas Tribune as among the most liberal members of the State Chamber. Basically, all three present themselves as progressives and say they would fight for access to abortion, expanded voting options and more affordable housing.
Viagran said it hopes to attract voters who are progressive “but also want to see results.”
Whoever wins the Democratic primary will likely fill the seat vacated by Democrat Lloyd Doggett, the only representative the decade-old district has ever had. Doggett runs for newly created district in the Austin area. The newly redesigned 35th Congressional District encompasses most of eastern Austin and Travis County east of Interstate 35, but also winds its way along the freeway to eastern and southern parts from San Antonio.
The neighborhood is predominantly Hispanic and leans heavily Democratic, FiveThirtyEight Reports. The Republican primary ballot has 10 candidates.
Viagran’s tenure as an advisor was marked by significant economic activity on the South Side, including the growth of the Brooks campus and the grand opening of Navistar’s truck manufacturing plant. She helped secure a UNESCO World Heritage designation for the Spanish Colonial Missions of San Antonio.
His campaign focuses on that career and his upbringing in San Antonio. She said she considers her base to be voters in Bexar County, as well as those in more suburban and rural areas of Travis County and the rest of the district. And as the only prominent female candidate, she also hopes to woo women from across the district.
“Too many members of Congress don’t understand what it means to be a woman and what it means to live paycheck to paycheck,” she said. Her website’s campaign pitch, a short paragraph below her photo, begins with “I believe representation matters.”
She received the endorsement of prominent local officials, including Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, former Mayor Henry Cisneros, VIA Metropolitan Transit Board Chairman Fernando Reyes, and council members Adriana Rocha Garcia. and Melissa Cabello Havrda, among others.
But Viagran’s hopes of racking up votes in San Antonio could be a tough game to win, said UTSA political science professor Walter Wilson. Not only has part of the San Antonio district shrunk under the recent realignment — including much of the former Viagran district — but San Antonio’s turnout is generally lower than Austin’s, a- he declared.
His best bet is a second round, Wilson said.
Daron Shaw, chairman of state policy at the University of Texas at Austin, made a similar assessment. He wrote in an email that “City Council seats may be the basis for a successful primary race, but I have yet to see evidence that it has a San Antonio base that will come forward and do her a threat in this race.”
Viagran faces a significant fundraising shortfall compared to Casar and Rodriguez. She raised just over $47,000, of which she spent just $2,200, according to campaign finance reports ending Jan. 31. $220,000 remaining in cash. No fundraising information was available for the fourth Democratic nominee, Carla-Joy Sisco, an Austin-based business process consultant.
Only two Republicans raised funds for their primary, led by Marilyn Jackson, an Austin business owner who raised less than $5,000.
Casar’s progressive endorsements
Viagran isn’t the only candidate courting support in San Antonio.
Casar, who led Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance that preceded a similar measure in San Antonio, received endorsements San Antonio board members Teri Castillo (D5), Ana Sandoval (D7) and Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2). It has also received endorsement from local labor groups, such as the San Antonio Teachers and Support Staff Alliance, as well as a recommendation from the San Antonio Central Labor Council.
In addition to those local endorsements, Casar has also been endorsed by national figures such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
The New York congresswoman is set to make an appearance with Casar at a campaign event at the Paper Tiger nightclub on February 12. Jessica Cisneros, a candidate challenging U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar in the Democratic primary for the 28th congressional district, is also expected to attend.
Casar said he has volunteers and field organizers knocking on doors in Bexar County. His campaign has also held get-togethers, like the one held in a supporter’s backyard in Tobin Hill last weekend, and he fills local mailboxes with a steady stream of countryside.
Casar said he was running to be a “two-city worker champion.” While cities have differences, he said, his working families share many of the same concerns about gentrification and paying the bills, while “big business makes windfall profits.” Although gentrification is more advanced in Austin, he said San Antonio has its own issues with demolitions in low-income neighborhoods.
“There is power in having these working and largely black and brown communities connected in one district,” he said.
Casar served on the Austin City Council until Friday.
Rodriguez’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. In campaign mailings, he touted his accomplishments in the Texas Legislature, including passing a Invoice which provides property tax exemptions for homes owned by a charity and used to address homelessness. At the same time, he took aim at Casar by linking him to Austin’s issues with homelessness.
Rodriguez is backed by the New Democrat Coalition, a caucus of centrist congressional Democrats.
And he, too, is seeking the attention of San Antonio voters.. His campaign posted on Facebook plans to rally volunteers to knock on the city’s doors on Sunday.