Race to watch: Iranian-American activist faces Texas conservative

Sima Ladjevardian, a Beto O’Rourke aide, is challenging Trump-surrogate Dan Crenshaw to represent the diverse district.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw is being challenged by progressive Sima Ladjevardian in Texas [AFP/Sima Ladjevardian campaign]
Congressman Dan Crenshaw is being challenged by progressive Sima Ladjevardian in Texas [AFP/Sima Ladjevardian campaign]

A congressional race between staunchly conservative House Republican Dan Crenshaw and Iranian American progressive Sima Ladjevardian has garnered national attention while encapsulating the shifting Demographics in the one-time Republican bastion of Texas. 

Crenshaw and Ladjevardian are competing to represent the state’s second congressional district, which includes parts of northern and western Houston. 

Both have earned their party’s bonafides in recent years.

Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL and purple heart recipient, has become a solid Trump surrogate and rising star who was given a prime-time slot at this year’s Republican National Convention.

Ladjevardian was a key adviser to Beto O’Rourke during his expectation-defying attempt to defeat Republican Senator Ted Cruz for his seat in 2018. She was recently endorsed by former President Barack Obama, who has thrown his weight behind several races in the state. 

Crenshaw is considered a favourite in the race and as of the end of June, had vastly outraised Ladjevardian. However, observers see a potential opening for Ladjevardian’s immigrant-friendly policies, particularly as the residents of the increasingly diverse area struggle with the economic and social fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“As an immigrant, I understand the value of why our votes matter and why it’s essential to be civically engaged,” she told the Washington Post in late August, while adding she was running more as “a mom, a breast cancer survivor and a political activist”.

Shifting Demographics

Texas will become one of just three states whose eligible voter population comprises more than 50 percent minorities in 2020, according to the Brookings Institution, the other two being Democratic strongholds California and Hawaii. The District of Columbia’s eligible voters are also majority-minority. 

Houston, in particular, has become “by many measures, the single most ethnically diverse major metropolitan area in the country”, Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University, told the Los Angeles Times. 

He added that 2019 census projections for the US in 2050 reflect “Houston today”. 

Ladjevardian was born in Iran and fled the country with her family in the late 1970s during the Iranian revolution.

She graduated from Hastings Law School and has said she was motivated to run for office to give everyone a chance at the “American Dream” that she was able to achieve. 

An activist and non-profit co-founder, Ladjevardian became a senior adviser and campaign finance liaison for O’Rourke. The campaign went on to break fundraising records. 

Officially filing her Congressional candidacy just hours before the deadline on December 9, she shook up the Democratic primary and quickly garnered an endorsement from her former boss, O’Rourke. 

After winning 48 percent of the vote in the first primary vote, she avoided a runoff when candidate Elisa Cardnell dropped out of the race. 

Attempt to unseat Crenshaw

Ladjevardian’s general election campaign has focused on Crenshaw’s response to the coronavirus, with an emphasis on healthcare informed by Ladjevardian’s own experience with breast cancer. 

Crenshaw, meanwhile, has been accused of downplaying and spreading misinformation about the virus, which has killed nearly 200,000 amid more than 6.8 million cases in the US. 

In July a group of more than 100 Houston-area doctors, medical professionals, and emergency room physicians slammed Crenshaw in a letter, accusing him of “undermin[ing] the advice of our public health experts at every turn – enabling millions of his followers to the same”.

His messaging, they said, left health workers “handicapped in our mission”.

The freshman congressman had gained national attention after appearing on Saturday Night Live after a performer on the show ridiculed his missing eye, which he lost in combat in Afghanistan. 

His hardline anti-abortion rights stance, opposition to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, aversion to universal background checks for gun owners, and support for Trump’s immigration policies have bolstered support among conservatives in the district. 

However, recent faux pas may make him vulnerable with more moderate voters. Those include suggesting Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, who is also a purple heart recipient after losing her legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq, supported the “destruction of America”. 

Ladjevardian, in contrast, supports abortion rights, universal background checks for gun sales, and a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants. 

Following Crenshaw’s RNC speech, Ladjevardian saw a surge in campaign donations, raising more than $100,000 in the immediate aftermath, which included 2,000 new donors, according to the Texas Signal. 

Source : Al Jazeera

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