Former Beto O’Rourke Organizers Rally Behind New Texas Senate Candidate

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez’s campaign wants to mobilize young voters and voters of color around progressive issues against incumbent Sen. John Cornyn.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez. Photo: Courtesy of Cristina for Texas

In April, Becky Bond and Zack Malitz left Beto O’Rourke’s staff, less than a month after they’d helped the former Senate candidate rake in $6 million in the first day of his presidential campaign. It was seen, at the time, as a strategic shift for O’Rourke — away from the “big organizing” vision that drove his unexpectedly impactful 2018 Senate run. Now, Social Practice, the firm created by Bond and Malitz, who also worked on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign for president, is turning its “big organizing” vision toward Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who on Monday announced her run for Senate in Texas.

Tzintzún Ramirez, a longtime organizer and the founder of a Texas-based nonprofit that mobilizes young Latino voters, is the latest candidate to jump into a crowded Democratic primary race for the Senate seat currently held by Republican John Cornyn — but she may be the Democrats’ best bet, considering her team and progressive platform.

Tzintzún Ramirez, who describes herself as a proud Irish Mexican American, is embracing progressive policy stances like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, “massive divestment from Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” and rejecting all corporate PAC money. She also plans to roll out a “bold” immigration plan meant to “protect the rights of immigrant workers and families.”

And the 37-year-old hopeful’s campaign will be stacked with veterans from O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate race: Malitz, a key player on the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign who went on to help create O’Rourke’s massive field operation in 2018, will serve as a senior adviser on Tzintzún Ramirez’s campaign. Katelyn Coghlan, former statewide deputy field director for O’Rourke’s campaign in 2018, will be campaign manager, and Ginny Goldman, co-founder of the Texas Organizing Project, will be a campaign chair. Bond said that she’ll also be helping Ramirez.

Malitz told The Intercept the campaign is hoping to raise $100,000 in the first 24 hours of the campaign and that early indications suggested the goal was attainable.

Tzintzún Ramirez’s campaign plans on unseating the three-term GOP incumbent through the mobilization of the kind of voters that the political system has “underestimated and discounted,” like young voters and people of color, Tzintzún Ramirez explained. Unlike the establishment Democrats who run to the middle to try to peel off mythical moderate voters, the campaign hopes to prove that a progressive can win statewide by energizing a diverse coalition of voters.

And she comes with more than a decade of organizing experience, including her time as the executive director of Jolt Texas, which describes itself as the largest progressive Latino organization in the state, and as a co-founder of the Workers Defense Project, an Austin-based immigrant workers group that focuses on the construction industry.

“I’m not a career politician, I have not previously run for office,” she said. “I was recruited to run by folks that I think really wanted to have a candidate that represents the ordinary Texan and to advocate for their interests, to protect their rights, and fight for them.”

O’Rourke brought Democrats closer to winning statewide than they had been in decades. Though O’Rourke ultimately lost to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, his campaign smashed fundraising records and generated excitement that helped Democrats win two U.S. House seats and flip more than a dozen seats in the state legislature. And thanks to a recent string of Republican departures in the House, the 2020 map is looking increasingly favorable for Democrats. Four vulnerable incumbent Republicans — Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Will Hurd, and Mike Conaway — all announced they will not be seeking reelection in 2020. Heidi Sloan, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, announced her campaign for Texas’s 25th district on August 11.

So far, Tzintzún Ramirez is the fifth serious contender to join the primary race. She’ll have to catch up to M.J. Hegar, an Air Force veteran who narrowly lost a 2018 House race in a Republican-leaning district. State Sen. Royce West and Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards are also running.

Hegar, who wasn’t a committed Democrat until recently, is currently leading the pack in fundraising with more than $1 million in campaign contributions. She’s also against Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and instead supports a Medicare buy-in option, fixes to the Affordable Care Act, and rejoining the Paris climate agreement.

There are two other progressive candidates already in the race, Chris Bell, a former congressman, and Sema Hernandez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America who challenged O’Rourke for the 2018 nomination, winning 24 percent of the vote. Hernandez, who has yet to file with the Federal Elections Commission, told The Intercept she has no plans to cede the race to Ramirez. She said she met with Ramirez in summer 2018, hoping Ramirez would offer her a job as an organizer at Jolt, but Ramirez wanted to lobby her to endorse O’Rourke, which Hernandez ultimately did. She said she told Ramirez she planned to run against Cornyn, and Ramirez advised against it, suggesting she run for a position like city council first. Ramirez jumping into the crowded field, she said, was a betrayal. “If you support Latinas in office, why didn’t you support me?”

Hernandez has a trail of social media posts that would be easy to use against her, including missives accusing Hillary Clinton of vast conspiracies and posts that offer praise to Donald Trump. “Trump is elected as POTUS and is getting rid of the Establishment that Bernie was talking about,” reads one post. “The problem with Gov is the Status Quo #NoMoreStatusQuo #DrainTheSwamp #FeelTheBern #MAGA.” Hernandez said the posts circulating are taken out of context, and that she’s a far cry from a Trump supporter.

Tzintzún Ramirez makes the case that she’s uniquely equipped to mobilize Latino voters, who are poised to become the largest nonwhite eligible voting bloc next year. Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, Jolt knocked on the doors of 40,000 Latino voters, many of whom had never voted before. The advocacy group also made headlines for its voter engagement efforts at quinceañeras, the Hispanic tradition celebrating a young girl’s coming of age. Similarly, Tzintzún Ramirez said the campaign’s Latino outreach strategy will be “more grounded in cultural community events,” with a particular focus on young people on college campuses.

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