What Demographic Shifts In Fort Bend County Say About Electoral Dynamics

Fort Bend County has been a longtime GOP stronghold, but now the state’s 22nd Congressional District is competitive, with most analysts rating it as a tossup.


This story originally aired on the PBS NewsHour.

With Election Day just over three weeks away, polls suggest congressional Republicans are struggling in suburban areas of the country. At the same time, Democrats are trying to take advantage of changing demographics in these districts. One such example is the diverse county of Fort Bend, Texas, a longtime GOP stronghold that is now competitive.

Fort Bend County makes up the lion’s share of Texas’ 22nd Congressional District. Since 2009, it’s been represented by Pete Olson, who regularly won double-digit landslides, that is, until 2018, when he eked out a five-point win over Sri Preston Kulkarni.

Kulkarni is a 14-year veteran of the Foreign Service. He’s once again the Democratic nominee. But, this time, he’s running for an open seat, as Pete Olson is retiring — and most analysts rate Texas’ 22nd as a tossup.

“We are campaigning in 27 different languages, trying to run the most inclusive campaign ever in Texas history,” said Kulkarni.

Kulkarni was born in 1978, two years after the last time Democrats carried Texas in a presidential election. The prime issues of his campaign are fighting the pandemic and protecting health care. But he also focuses on the need to help small businesses and reopen schools safely, issues that could help him appeal to independents and dissatisfied Republicans.

“We have problems with our economy. One in six small businesses here have failed this year alone,” he said. “We have problems with education. Our families are concerned that their children aren’t going to get a proper education this year if we don’t do something about the coronavirus.”

PBS NewsHour repeatedly sought an interview with Kulkarni’s Republican opponent, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls, but received no response. We did speak with one of Nehls’ supporters, small business owner Ramana Reddy. A native of Hyderabad, India, Reddy is also planning to vote for President Trump.

“The Democratic Party, what I felt and I still strongly feel about it is, they want to appease the minorities, rather than create jobs and help the minorities to go up the ladder,” said Reddy.

Most demographers believe it’s only a matter of decades before most of Texas looks like Fort Bend. The question is how long before the state’s politics follow.

If and when the state does turn blue, it’s likely to be because of places like Fort Bend County.

Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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