3 Ex-Obama Officials Face Off In Democratic Primary In Texas

Originally published on March 6, 2018 8:21 am
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We are in Dallas, Texas, this morning because voters in the Lone Star State will go to the polls today in the first primary vote of this year's midterm elections. One race in suburban Dallas features a few candidates who worked in the Obama administration. KERA's Christopher Connelly followed them on the campaign trail.

CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: Going door to door in this primary, Colin Allred wants even his knock to sound friendly.


CONNELLY: Allred is out talking to Democratic voters about why he is the right pick to unseat Republican Pete Sessions, who's held the seat for 15 years. Allred focuses on health care and education. And he's got an unusual resume.

COLIN ALLRED: I'm a former NFL player-turned-civil rights attorney. So after I finished my career, got into civil rights, worked with President Obama.

CONNELLY: And the pro football career - that's the standout part. The I-worked-for-Obama part - well, he's actually one of three Democrats running in this district who can claim that. Nationwide, Obama alumni are littered across ballots from California to Michigan, Colorado to New Jersey. Allred says the former president inspired people.

ALLRED: He attracted a diverse group of young people to get involved in government, probably in a way that hasn't happened since John F. Kennedy. And I think those of us who have been a part of that believe in the power of good government.

CONNELLY: Lillian Salerno says she saw government's ability to do good firsthand at the Agriculture Department, where she focused on rural business issues.

LILLIAN SALERNO: We gave out a lot of small business loans to people all over the country. So I basically was like a banker for the government.

CONNELLY: A lawyer and a small business owner, Salerno decided to run in part because of the last days she spent working in Washington as her department got ready to hand over the keys to Donald Trump's transition team.

SALERNO: We prepared so much, hundreds of briefing notebooks, and they didn't come. They didn't come in December. They didn't come in January. They didn't send people.

CONNELLY: A lot of members of Congress once worked in a presidential administration. Geoffrey Skelley from the University of Virginia says the experience often comes with connections that help with fundraising or endorsements. And right now, he says, ties to Obama are an asset all on their own.

GEOFFREY SKELLEY: Barack Obama left office fairly popular, you know, with an approval rating above 50 percent and a very high approval rating - close to 90 percent - among Democrats.

CONNELLY: Republicans are happy to see Democrats tie themselves to Obama. Jack Pandol is a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee.

JACK PANDOL: We see it as a legacy of big government, of slow job growth, heavy-handed regulation, you know, weak foreign policy. I just don't think that the American people, particularly in Texas of all places, really have an appetite for that.

CONNELLY: But Ed Meier disagrees. He's the third former Obama official running in this Dallas district. He worked in the State Department. And he's by far the best-funded among the seven Democrats running for the nomination, a list that also includes a former local TV reporter and an immigration attorney. Meier was also the first to put an ad on TV. In it, he talks about his dad, a doctor who helped kids all over the world.


ED MEIER: That inspired me to go into public service both in the Obama administration and here in Dallas. And Dad taught me that every family, rich or poor, deserves good health care. In Congress, I'll oppose Trump's plan to repeal Obamacare and fight to cover everyone by passing universal health care.

CONNELLY: For the record, Meier says Obama twice in just nine seconds there. It's a sure sign that he thinks the former president is part of a message that can help flip this reliable Republican seat next fall. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Connelly in Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF KARRIEM RIGGINS' "FLUTURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.