House Democrats think their Texas turnaround begins in places such as the 22nd Congressional District, which takes in a series of leafy Houston suburbs.
Republican Rep. Pete Olson is retiring from the House after 12 years. The race to succeed him reflects changing demographics and voter attitudes in Texas that give Democrats hopes of breaking the longtime GOP political hammerlock on the Lone Star State.
The Democratic nominee, Sri Preston Kulkarni, represents the sort of professional-class resident increasingly common in the 22nd Congressional District, which was once a bastion of oil wealth. Kulkarni earned a master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and was a foreign service officer in the State Department for 14 years. Assignments took Kulkarni, 41, to Israel, Jamaica, Iraq, Russia, and Taiwan.
His Republican rival, Troy Nehls, has a more traditional background for a Texas politician. The Liberty University graduate, 52, is sheriff of Fort Bend County. Nehls enlisted in the Army Reserve at age 20, seeing tours of duty in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Iraq — and earning two Bronze Stars along the way. Back home, Nehls joined the police department in Richmond, Texas, and earned a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Houston-Downtown.
The district is ancestrally Republican, previously represented by libertarian icon Ron Paul, as well as Tom DeLay, who led House Republicans with an iron fist in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2012, voters there backed Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama 62%-37%. But in 2016, President Trump beat Hillary Clinton by a narrower margin, 52%-44%.
This is Kulkarni’s second try for the seat. He ran against Olson in 2018 and lost with 46.5% of the vote in the district’s closest race since Olson was first elected.