Feb 7, 2022 - News

Bernie Sanders group wades into Austin political races

Bernie Sanders greets a crowd in Austin
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a 2020 presidential campaign event in Austin. Photo: Nick Wagner/American-Statesman-USA TODAY Network

A national political group aligned with Sen. Bernie-Sanders is flexing its organizational muscle in hyper-local races in Austin.

Driving the news: Immigration and criminal defense attorney Jose "Chito" Vela III will be sworn in Monday to represent a city council district in North Central Austin.

  • District 4 includes a small area of Windsor Park to the south, runs between Lamar Boulevard and Dessau Road, and stretches north to Braker Lane.

Between the lines: Our Revolution, the political action organization that spun out of Sanders' 2016 presidential run, put muscle behind the Vela campaign.

What they're saying: "We're a small national organization with a massive list for get-out-the-vote operations," Aaron Chappell, political director for Our Revolution, told Axios.

"We're not a money operation, we're a person operation."
  • Chappell said races like the Vela won are about "building a bench."
  • "This is our vision and something Bernie talked about, about getting progressives to run for office, from dog-catcher on up. You can't get to a congressional race and hope candidates just come out of the woodwork," Chappell added.
  • The texts, emails and social media support from Our Revolution, given the "large membership and a robust network of activists," Vela told Axios, "were a big help" and boosted the campaign's ability to raise money.

By the numbers: Chappell says Our Revolution had conversations with several hundred voters in Vela's district.

  • Vela received 2,137 votes. None of the other six candidates cracked 500 votes.

Yes, but: Vela's victory in the progressive District 4 was unsurprising — this is the seat previously held by Greg Casar, who announced in November that he would leave the council to run for Congress.

  • Plus: Our Revolution supported Vela's losing primary bid for a state House race in 2018. The national political outlook for Democrats remains grim, as Republicans look to take the House and Senate.

What's next: Chappell tells Axios that Our Revolution will announce its support on Monday for Susanna Ledesma-Woody's Democratic primary challenge to the Travis County commissioner, Precinct 4 incumbent Margaret Gómez.

  • The organization previously pledged its support for Bob Libal in his Democratic primary challenge against incumbent Brigid Shea in the Travis County commissioner Precinct 2 primary.

And Our Revolution is supporting Casar's run in the 35th Congressional District — the seat previously held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who decided to run in the newly drawn District 37, which is centered on Austin.

  • Doggett's old seat takes in parts of East Austin and eastern Travis County and stretches down to San Antonio.
  • Among Casar's challengers is long-time Democratic Texas Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.

Chappell said Our Revolution has 17,000 contacts in the 35th Congressional District, 16,000 in Travis County Precinct 2 and 14,000 in Precinct 4 — all potential voters.

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