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Democrats See Opportunity In Dallas Suburb Thanks To Once Reliably GOP Voters


For Democrats to win back the majority in the U.S. House, they will have to defeat some GOP incumbents in places that have been safe for Republicans for a long time. Democrats see one opportunity to do that in the Dallas suburbs. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is in Texas and brings us this report.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is one of those sprawling districts made up of suburbs that just seem to go on forever. Texas 32 has a powerful incumbent - 11-term Republican Pete Sessions. He's a favorite of the NRA, an establishment figure. Two years ago, the Democrats didn't even run a candidate against him. This year, says political scientist Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University, Sessions is wise to look over his shoulder. The reason - President Trump.

CAL JILLSON: Trump wants to be the disrupter in chief. Most of these Republican voters in the 32nd are comfortable enough that disruption is worrisome to them.

GONYEA: Meaning these are pretty wealthy suburbs. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton carried this district by a slim margin - a big change from when GOP nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain each won it easily by double digits. Jillson says that swing toward Clinton was aided immensely by moderate Republican women.

JILLSON: It's that wealthy Republican and suburban Republican that is watching Trump very closely. And female voters among those constituencies are quite concerned about Trump.

GONYEA: It's not that a majority of such voters abandoned Trump, but enough did. Democrats now hope for an encore. They have two first-time candidates in a May runoff to choose a congressional nominee. They are former professional football player, now-civil rights lawyer Colin Allred and entrepreneur and attorney Lillian Salerno. Both worked in the Obama administration.

In a neighborhood north of downtown, 58-year-old Nancy Breitfeller is a one-time corporate executive who backs Salerno. Breitfeller says she's an independent who voted for Republicans for president until 2016.

NANCY BREITFELLER: I guess I would be a right-leaning centrist - right-leaning independent until very recently.

GONYEA: Meaning?

BREITFELLER: Meaning until the party lost its mind (laughter). Can I say that?

GONYEA: You can say that. You can say that. Ask her what happened, she answers, Trump.

Now to another Dallas suburb, 39-year-old Laura Tyson - she owns a landscape design business, she's married and has two kids. She says she's a former lifelong Republican, now volunteering for Democrat Colin Allred.

Tyson says Trump's disrespect of women goes back years. She hears all the time from Trump backers that they should just focus instead on the good things they're getting, like the tax cuts and the judicial nominees. She says, no.

LAURA TYSON: I guess we have a different idea of what certain things are worth. I have a daughter. It's not worth it to me. I'm a woman. It's not worth it to me.

GONYEA: The question is ultimately whether such Trump disapproval will impact a veteran congressman in this heavily suburban district. Incumbent Pete Sessions is a skilled campaigner, but it'll be a balancing act trying to hang onto voters who just wish he'd stand up to Trump while not alienating Trump loyalists. Sessions will need them both. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.