There are very few political contests at the moment that dramatize the choice facing the nation in November better than the one in this district, which includes a wide swath of the Houston suburbs.
Crenshaw probably likes his chances. He’s a well-known incumbent with a significant edge in fundraising so far.
Yet Ladjevardian is smart, tough and persistent. And her biggest ally could be the same factor that is gradually threatening the GOP’s lock on the Lone Star State: demographic change.
Texas is a magnet for immigrants, and that has already transformed the politics of the state’s big cities. “There is an inevitability to this process. By 2050, all of America will look like Houston does today,” Stephen Klineberg, a professor of sociology at Rice who has published an annual survey of Houston residents since 1982, told me. “No force in the world is going to stop Houston and the rest of America from becoming less Anglo as the 21st century unfolds.”
Klineberg says the triple whammy of the pandemic, the fall in oil prices and corresponding economic problems are the key issues facing Houston voters this year (not to mention deep outrage over systemic racism). They could prove to be catalysts for groups that have traditionally had low voter participation.
A Crenshaw loss would be one of the most defiant repudiations of Trumpism imaginable. It would also reflect the changed reality of Houston, which has gradually become one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the country. In Harris County, where Houston is located, roughly 45 percent of the population is Latino, 19 percent are Black and 9 percent are Asian, while only 33 percent are White.
Crenshaw might already be on your radar. He rose to national prominence in 2018 after “Saturday Night Live’s” Pete Davidson made an ill-judged joke about Crenshaw’s loss of an eye in combat. Crenshaw later joined the show to forgive Davidson for the lapse.
Since then, though, he has squandered the widespread goodwill he earned with his appearance by increasingly siding with and amplifying Trump. First, he questioned the patriotism of fellow Purple Heart recipient Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both of her legs in the Iraq War. More recently he’s become a conspicuous circulator of covid-19 misinformation.
That could give a crucial boost to Ladjevardian, since Houston has been hit hard by the pandemic. When she recently received an endorsement from former president Barack Obama, Crenshaw seemed rattled.
When she was 12, Ladjevardian and her family fled Iran on the eve of Iran’s 1978 revolution, settling in northern California. Her father and grandmother had been members of parliament in Iran, so politics is in her blood. Before getting involved in political organizing in Texas, she had a thriving legal practice. Ladjevardian and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala D. Harris graduated in the same law school class. She’s also a lifelong Star Wars fan; the family dog is named Jedi.
“She’s up against a man who enables the most nativist, racist, anti-immigrant president we’ve ever had,” O’Rourke told me in an email exchange. “Imagine what we can do in a presidential cycle with Trump at historically low approval ratings.”
If she does win, Ladjevardian would be the first person of Iranian origin elected to a national office — a huge milestone for the community. Yet she says that’s not what her candidacy is about.
“I’m not so much running as an Iranian American, but as a mom, a breast cancer survivor and a political activist,” Ladjevardian told me. “As an immigrant, I understand the value of why our votes matter and why it’s essential to be civically engaged.”
For her, she says, that means above all ensuring adequate health care for her constituents in a state that currently has the largest number of people without health insurance. The pandemic, and the state’s fumbling response to it, has dramatized that issue in a way that few other emergencies could.
Last month, more than 100 Texas doctors signed a letter condemning Crenshaw’s response to the coronavirus, saying that he had “spewed lies for the past four months — minimizing the threat we face and spreading dangerous disinformation for self-indulgent headlines.”
Right now, though, Texas Democrats believe Crenshaw’s fate is tethered to Trump’s. If health care and the pandemic become the deciding issues in the race, Crenshaw could be in trouble.
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