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Midterm Elections Heat Up In Texas


And now we turn to the midterm elections. Leading up to next month's voting, we've been bringing you stories from some of the key districts across the country. Texas' 23rd District is viewed as one of the Lone Star State's only real, true swing districts. And that's where we find our own Rachel Martin. Good morning, Rachel.


Hey, Noel, good morning from Del Rio, Texas. That's where we're broadcasting from this morning, right near the U.S. border with Mexico. This district is huge - not in terms of population, necessarily, but in terms of just actual landmass. It goes all the way from just outside El Paso to San Antonio. And the suburbs around those cities are really key in the upcoming elections.

Republicans and Democrats are both fighting for the votes, in particular of white, suburban women like the two women we're going to introduce you to right now. We drove into Hunter's Creek neighborhood and quickly noticed a pattern. We passed Hunter's Circle, Hunter's Gate, Hunter's Dew.

JANET OGLETHORPE: Every street starts with Hunter's, yes. It's kind of silly, right? It just makes it that much more confusing I guess.

MARTIN: This is Janet Oglethorpe. She and her husband made a good living in real estate. They are retired now. And she teaches part time pilates at the gym nearby.

OGLETHORPE: And so that makes it more cardio.


OGLETHORPE: And a little sweatier.


OGLETHORPE: Have you taken pilates?

MARTIN: We met her at her house in a well-manicured cul de sac. Janet says people here are friendly enough. But on the whole, everyone sort of keeps to themselves, which actually suits her just fine. She filled up water bottles. And we headed out for a walk.

Are we going straight?

OGLETHORPE: Yeah, actually, let's go this way.

MARTIN: In many ways, Janet represents a lot of white, liberal women.

OGLETHORPE: When Trump was elected, I kind of fell apart. And to get back together, I actually, you know, did a lot of reading of, you know, OK, how to survive this. And the advice was, get busy.

MARTIN: For her, that included volunteering for a group she cared a lot about, Planned Parenthood.

OGLETHORPE: And I actually got a pink cape my first year volunteering there because I put in more hours than any other (laughter). And people kid me about it. Come on, Janet, you don't have to wear the cape again today.

MARTIN: Janet follows politics more closely than she ever did before. She registers people to vote. She donates to campaigns. She even lets campaign staffers stay in her house.

So is it an overstatement to say that it has been a political awakening for you?

OGLETHORPE: Oh, it's - I've always been aware politically. But I've also been complacent. I mean, look around. We're in this relatively affluent area. I got mine. You know, I don't really have to worry that much. And I hate that about my history. I wish I'd done more earlier for progressive candidates. I just didn't think it was so necessary. And now I do.

MARTIN: We keep walking around the island in the middle of the street where the cactuses are painted to look like pumpkins for Halloween.

OGLETHORPE: So if you like, we can cut right through here to my house.

MARTIN: Yeah, let's do it.


MARTIN: There are a lot of campaign signs in Janet's front yard, all for Democrats, including Beto O'Rourke, who's running a surprisingly competitive race against Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz. Janet's not the only one. Campaign signs have stirred up an internecine battle on the website Nextdoor.

It all started when one guy said someone had stolen his Ted Cruz sign. Then he and others on the site talked about rigging their signs with a power cord to electrocute the next person who tried. Janet reads us comments off the thread.

OGLETHORPE: Here's one. (Reading) I wouldn't want to kill them. But I would share the video of them being shocked until the breaker kicked. Good for you.

It just goes on...

MARTIN: For her, Cruz supporters are in the same camp as Trump supporters. And she just can't understand where they're coming from.

OGLETHORPE: I think Trump's base is lost. I think - when I hear them described as a cult, that makes sense to me from what I've heard and seen - that whatever he says is fine. Whoever he hurts is fine.

MARTIN: Janet's neighbor, Ellen Pfeiffer, is a big fan of Donald Trump.

Hi, Ellen, thank you so much for doing this.

ELLEN PFEIFFER: Absolutely, I'm excited.

MARTIN: We were supposed to talk with her the same day we saw Janet. But then Trump came to Texas for a rally, and Ellen had to go. She and a couple friends drove up to Houston, stood in line for hours and got to see the president do his thing. We spoke the next morning.

How was it?

PFEIFFER: It was great. It was everything that you hear on TV that it's going to be and more.

MARTIN: Ellen likes the direction that the country is moving. She likes Trump's tax cuts, the low unemployment rate. She also likes the president's position on immigration.

PFEIFFER: The obvious onslaught of migrants coming up, the inability of the countries they're coming from and coming through to staunch the flow, it's very concerning. And there's just no accounting for all these people flowing in.

MARTIN: I told Ellen about my conversation with her neighbor, Janet Oglethorpe, in particular the bit where Janet said Trump's base acts like a cult. Ellen says she doesn't think of herself as a radical. She's voting for Ted Cruz and Republican Will Hurd in the congressional race, but she thinks of herself as open-minded.

PFEIFFER: I block walked with a liberal in a very liberal neighborhood all summer and - because I thought she was the best person for the job. So I don't - you know, I don't think I'm part of that cult.

MARTIN: I guess I would close by just asking, if you could change anything about our current political moment, would - what would you change?

PFEIFFER: I think I'm out there every day, you know, trying to be - to be the opposite of a cult and have open arms to people. And I, you know - I hope that I can lead by example. And I think I do. We might have political differences, but we all are, you know, working towards the same goal.

MARTIN: But, Noel, that sentiment that you heard Ellen expressing there really is aspirational. She - she totally feels the divides between parties right now. So does her neighbor, Janet, as we heard. They are each making their case to their neighbors to try to see the world as they see it.

KING: And these voters are going to be making decisions in two really big races. How are they talking about the Senate contest between Beto O'Rourke and Senator Ted Cruz and about the congressional race?

MARTIN: Right, so we should say, the congressional race pits the incumbent, Republican Will Hurd, against the Democratic challenger, Gina Ortiz Jones. And according to a recent poll by The New York Times, Will Hurd is up in that race by 15 points. So that's a really big spread. You know, he's got an advantage. Not only is he the incumbent, but he's really positioned himself as a moderate in a swing district, which he has to do. And that is working to his advantage.

O'Rourke and Cruz, much closer - Cruz is up by 7 points. Beto O'Rourke is making a play. We'll see if all the miles he's put on his car, all the face time he's put in with voters, will make a difference. But it would be - it would be a tectonic shift in Texas politics.

KING: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.