Mike Siegel, Progressive-Populist in Texas House Race, Qualifies for Runoff

Progressive-populist Mike Siegel on top after early vote.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - JULY 02: Mike Siegel, former public school teacher and civil rights lawyer running for Congress in the Texas 10th speaks during #CloseTheCamps: MoveOn, United We Dream, American Friends Service Committee, and Families Belong Together led protests across the country at members of Congress's offices to demand the closure of inhumane immigrant detention centers that subject children and families to horrific conditions. Constituents delivered a letter asking the members to visit a detention facility this week, stop funding family detention and deportation, and use all their powers to close the camps on July 02, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for MoveOn.org Civic Action)
Mike Siegel, former public school teacher and civil rights lawyer running for Congress in the Texas‘s 10th District, speaks during a #CloseTheCamps protest in Austin, Texas, on July 2, 2019. Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images for MoveOn.org Civic Action

With a commanding performance in the early vote, Mike Siegel, a civil rights attorney running on a Texas progressive populist platform, has moved to a runoff in the state’s 10th congressional district. Siegel won 47 percent of the roughly 40,000 early votes cast, according to a county-by-county assessment, and with nine percent of election day precincts reporting, was pulling in 39 percent. Both totals put him on top of his two rivals, but short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.

In 2018, the 10th Congressional District — which stretches from the Austin suburbs to the Houston suburbs — was written off by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, having gone to incumbent Michael McCaul in 2016 by 19 points. But Siegel, with a focus on organizing a major field operation, closed it to within 5 points. That drew the attention of deep-pocketed donors, who fielded corporate management lawyer Shannon Hutcheson to challenge Siegel for the nomination. Pritesh Gandhi, a doctor who is running to the left of Hutcheson but to the right of Siegel, also jumped into the race, setting up what looked like it could be a rerun of a knockdown, drag-out primary in California that followed a similar trajectory.

In 2016, Doug Applegate ran a lonely progressive campaign against Republican Darrell Issa and lost a surprisingly close race by just 1,600 votes. The blood in the water brought in a school of candidates in 2018; Issa stepped aside, making the seat that much more winnable for Democrats. Applegate ran again, but finished behind the eventual Democratic nominee, Mike Levin, as well as Sara Jacobs, the well-financed granddaughter of Qualcomm billionaire Irwin Jacobs. (Levin won the general election, and Jacobs switched districts, now running for the seat that was vacated by Susan Davis.)

If the 10th District had gone the way of the California primary, Siegel would have been nudged, and the carcass devoured by larger prey. But Siegel’s grassroots operation, which has hardly let up since the last election, powered its way to a strong finish.

On Sunday, after The Intercept suggested that Siegel’s main challenge was to finish in the top two and get to the runoff, Siegel called me to respectfully object. We’re going to win, he forecast. (That’s a paraphrase; I was at the playground and not taking notes.)

The two other candidates spent the final weeks of the race attacking each other. A hybrid Super PAC backing Gandhi spent big attacking Hutcheson.

Hutcheson, meanwhile, was the clear Washington favorite. She has been dogged in the primary by her corporate law work, particularly her defense of a prison guard accused of assaulting migrants, among other controversial cases. She voted in the 2010 Republican primary, the year of the tea party backlash to President Barack Obama, and has the strong support of her husband’s law firm, which is connected to the Texas GOP machinery.

Join The Conversation