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Democrats line up for new Texas target

Last year Democrat Jan McDowell couldn’t beg her party to take her race against longtime Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant seriously. This year, she’ll face stiff competition for the Democratic nomination in a district that national operatives say is rapidly becoming more appealing.

On Sunday Kim Olson, Democrats’ nominee for agriculture commissioner in 2018, announced plans to run for Congress in Texas’ 24th district in a text message to supporters, according to a Facebook post from the Palo Pinto Democratic Party. Olson confirmed to the Star-Telegram in an email Monday that she’s “seriously considering” the race.

Olson finished five percentage points behind Republican incumbent Sid Miller in her statewide race last year.

The district gave President Barack Obama 39 percent of its vote in 2012, before narrowly favoring President Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton four years later.

Still McDowell’s roughly three percentage-point finish behind Marchant last fall shocked national political operatives, who declined her requests for help in the race.

This year the majority suburban district is rated a “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which told the Star-Telegram that changing demographics have made it more likely to flip parties than the seat both parties spent millions targeting in north Texas last year, held by Democrat Colin Allred.

Marchant’s seat was also named a top target by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is eyeing six seats in Texas in 2020.

The district’s residents are highly educated (roughly 45 percent have a college degree), and the minority populations make up about a third of the eligible voters, according to data provided by the DCCC.

McDowell’s campaign told the Star-Telegram this month she’s already gearing up for a tough primary in 2020, after finishing outright against three other Democrats in 2018. The certified public accountant continued campaigning and raising money over the Christmas holiday after her loss, and has hired a professional fundraiser.

She raised just over $100,000 for her 2018 contest. She spent it on radio ads targeting the district’s Korean population, as well as Spanish language print ads.

“I was convinced that (Texas) 24 was a winnable district in 2018 because it’s suburban and highly-educated, just the picture of all the special elections that I kept hearing around the country were flipping,” McDowell told the Star-Telegram in an interview Monday evening. “Surprise, now everybody says ‘This is a winnable district, I think I’ll get in.’”

Marchant, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, ended the year with roughly $1.5 million is his campaign account.

Texas Republicans have already signaled concern about federal races in Texas next year, and requested help from their national party.

This post has been updated to include comments from Olson and McDowell.

Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a Corinth, Texas, native and graduate of the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University. She returns home frequently to visit family, get her fix of Fuzzy’s Tacos and cheer on the Horned Frogs.